It is difficult to think that a company like Comedy Central, which has been so successful in commissioning comedy shows that satirise the news, could make a mistake like it did in 2015 when it let Jon Stewart go with an election around the corner.
It is impossible to believe that the company could not have persuaded Stewart to stick on and go after the November 8 voting took place this year. Perhaps it thought that its choice of replacement, South African Trevor Noah, would be able to find his groove after a few months.
In media outlets here and there, the reason advanced for bringing in a younger host is said to be the need to attract a younger audience; the argument made is that Stewart’s audience was mostly a 45+ demographic while Noah, just 31 at the time he took over, would pull in the crowd below 40, a group that the management deems to be a wealthier demographic and what it needs as it looks to the future.
But if that was the expectation, then it has not been realised. Audiences for The Daily Show, which Stewart nurtured into one of the top-rating shows in the US, have fallen by as much as 40 percent. Comedy Central says it is not worried because the profile of the audience has changed as it wanted. But Noah himself is proving to be a poor replacement as host.
It is true that practically anybody would look bad besides Stewart who, over the 19 years that he was the host, made the show into a vehicle for both satirising the news and also for often conducting more serious journalism during his half-an-hour than most TV anchors and interviewers manage in a month of Sundays.
His interviews with that serial spreader of falsehoods, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and the great New York Times liar Judith Miller, the latter of Scooter Libby leak fame, are masterpieces which any TV journalist would be proud to own.
He also nurtured a whole band of talented artists: John Oliver, Stephen Colbert and Samantha Bee all have their own shows now. Any of them would have been a better replacement for Stewart than Noah.
Noah’s shortcoming is just not that he is not an American. Oliver is British but has learnt more about American politics than many American hosts have. No, Noah’s talent lies in stand-up and not the more serious sort of comedy which The Daily Show made its own; he is the equivalent of Canadian Russell Peters who can provoke a good belly-laugh but does not make the viewer think.
At times, watching Noah on The Daily Show these days is a painful exercise. He struggles to move from one topic to another and tries various gimmicks to gain traction, all of which tend to fail. His interview skills are poor and he has the same lines in his opening every single night.
It would not surprise me if the election is Noah’s last stand and the management decides on a change after January 20 next year.