Column: Hoping Trevor Noah can continue the 'War on Bulls**t' as promised

It’s been almost two months since South African comedian Trevor Noah took over America’s flagship satirical news program “The Daily Show,” following the departure of Jon Stewart. Noah’s brought his own spin and fresh perspective to the show, but he’s yet to measure up completely to the epic expectation set by his predecessor.

Ideally, satire should be an enzyme to dissolve human cruelty,stupidity and deceit. Noah’s pilot segment promised to continue the “War on Bulls**t” waged heroically by Stewart and his team for 16 years, which earned them a reputation as watchdog of the watchdogs.

The show has historically voiced concern over media coverage and political topics such as sensationalism, factual distortions, polarization, egregious bias and (ironically for a self-described “fake news” program) the blurring of entertainment and news.

“The Daily Show” is an entertainment program that takes the role of a news program in times when news programs take the role of entertainment programs.

Stewart bit into CNN at times the network was more entranced by its own graphic displays of polls than of the actual issues, seemed to just toss reporters at hugely important breaking news stories like the Boston Marathon bombing and made game shows out of presidential debates.

“I’m confident we can do better than whoever’s running that network, who I assume is just a room full angry chimps,” Stewart joked.

He put it best when criticizing CNN for throwing quick response codes (that supposedly led to extra content) into live coverage of the 2012 Republican primary debates in Manchester, New Hampshire.

“So you're suggesting that while I watch this debate I get out my phone and take a picture of this screen, launching a mobile device Internet browser to bring me to another screen filled with exclusive content deemed not good enough to put on your 24-hour-7-day-a-week-Why-don't-you-text-us-about-what-story-you-want-to-see-Lazy Susan of stupid shit?" Stewart said with rising frustration.

Stewart’s criticisms of CNN were occasionally picked up by Fox News, whom the comedian would castigate just as intensely. His parodies of Glenn Beck’s chalkboard presentations verge on absurdity while biting into sensationalist punditry.

Stewart’s 16-year tenure subsisted on a bountiful harvest of inanity and obfuscation. They didn’t make politics and news ridiculous; they simply aired the absurdity those estates made of themselves with an analytical, mirthful lens. Stuart gave us laughs, insight and the occasional sucker punch of heavy heartedness, all to get us talking about concerning trends in the 24-hour news world.

This is the massive gauntlet posed to Noah. 

He is a technically hilarious comedian; something of a mean-spirited yet charming class clown. His impersonations are spot-on and consistently hilarious, most recently shining as a narcoleptic caricature of Republican frontrunner Ben Carson.

Noah and co. have given the media the flak it needs. He bit into CNN’s pun-heavy-to-the-point-of-cringe-worthy coverage of the Democratic debates, up to and including Jake Tapper’s oddball comment that jokingly compared the debate to Mike Tyson’s immortal match with Evander Holyfield.

"That's ridiculous. No one at the debate would bite off someone's ear," Noah said, followed immediately by a picture of candidate Jim Webb smiling like a madman after telling a war story.

After Noah, as an immigrant, first experienced the American health care system for an emergency appendectomy, he lampooned similar absurdities there:

“Sir, sir you can’t faint here, sir,” Noah said, impersonating a nurse. “We need you to go to triage.”

Noah is hilarious and adept at taking the stinger out of bigshot politicians like Donald Trump, but he’s yet to go a step further. Stewart had a tendency to take the same stinger and wave it around like a madman pointing out how crazy and frustrating it is that the stinger exists in the first place.

I retain faith in Noah. I still think Comedy Central made the right choice. But he’s yet to swing a sucker-punch with force equal to Stewart’s. 

Noah is a smiley kind of cynical, but his comic persona doesn’t express anything equal to the weight Stewart seemed to carry; the weight from his decade and a half drenched with discussion of the supposed-voices of the American people at some of their absolute worst. Stewart described this burden in response to a comment from Bill O’Reilly saying that Stewart was bound for hell. 

 “Your hell doesn’t scare me,” Stewart quipped. “I make my living watching Fox News eight hours a day. I’m already in hell.”

Maybe Noah just hasn’t had the chance yet. Maybe he hasn’t had sufficient time. But I hope that in the next few weeks we get to see him wage the “War on Bulls**t” with slightly more palpable passion, precision and poignancy.


Christopher McDermott is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at christopher.mcdermott@uconn.edu.