BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. — "The Daily Show With Trevor Noah," which debuts on Comedy Central on Sept. 28, will be a little different from Jon Stewart's show, but it will be mostly the same. But it will also be different. (And the same.)
Comedy Central confirmed last week at the Television Critics Association summer press tour here that most of "The Daily Show's" key staff members — including five longtime executive producers — are staying with the late-night show after current host Jon Stewart departs after 16 years at the desk.
The set will change a bit and the perspective will shift, but: "The show still has its voice," new host Noah, a 31-year-old comedian from South Africa, told reporters during a Q&A session. "It's just that I'm at the helm."
Noah also said he thinks the show will move on from some (already!) outdated notions of a 24-hour news cycle. More notably, this "Daily Show" will be less obsessed with what gets said on Fox News, a favorite Stewart target.
"News is changing," Noah said. "The way people are absorbing their news in soundbites and headlines little click links. ... The biggest challenge (is) how do we bring all of that together, looking at through a bigger lens as opposed to just going after one course, which was historically Fox News."
One thing hasn't changed: "The Daily Show" wants very much to be about the news, but Noah quickly fell back on Stewart's insistence that the show should primarily be seen as a comedy show.
Noah's comic sensibilities are still the biggest unknown in the next step for "The Daily Show." Aside from YouTube clips of his stand-up act and a kerfuffle over some old, ill-considered tweets in his Twitter archive, most viewers have no idea if Noah is even funny.
At Comedy Central's invitation, a few dozen critics attended Noah's one-hour stand-up show last week in Santa Monica — and the chatter afterward was mixed. Noah's humor is engagingly worldly, peppered with observations from a man who says he speaks seven languages and barely has a foot planted in American culture. He does lots of accents and impressions of various ethnic and culture types — in many cases, what some might call stereotypes.
Noah told humorous yarns about the heightened stress of air travel between the African continent and the United States during the Ebola outbreak; about being pulled over by a police officer in Pasadena and freaking out and asking if the cop if he'd been pulled over because he's black ("I don't know how not to die" is Noah's refrain to being a black man in America); he also recounted two encounters he says he had while performing a show in Lexington, Kentucky, in which two people he described as "charming racists" called him the n-word. (In a polite way, he marveled.) Parts of Noah's act were hilarious; parts of it seemed tentative and unpolished. He also seemed a little green.
During a Q&A, reporters pressed him for more details about the anecdotes he told in his act: Which airline decided to fumigate the cabin with "pesticide" (as Noah referred to it) as passengers from Africa were boarding? (He said he couldn't remember.) How exactly did his traffic stop in Pasadena proceed?
Noah seemed surprised that the previous night's stand-up routine was getting a fact-checking. "Everything is real that I do in (my) comedy," he said. "I obviously exaggerate a few things for comedic effect. I got pulled over by a policeman. I did ask him the question, 'Is it because I'm black?' but I was panicking at the time ... (The airline episode) wasn't as horrific as I make it sound."
It was, again, an example of the blurry area between fact and satire that a "Daily Show" host now occupies.
It's not as if Noah has been appointed to a nightly newsanchor's chair, where his personal stories of what he's seen and what he has heard other people say would come with the reasonable expectation that it's true. But he is inheriting a show in which his words will be parsed and judged; he's the face of a show known for having a significant influence on public opinion and young voters.
Noah, who handled reporters' questions with relative skill, will have the help of a seasoned staff of writers and producers. But it was easy to see how far he has to go and how big the shoes are to fill. "I hope to have the same impact (as Stewart)," he said. "I'll have to work very hard to achieve that."