Trevor Noah had a pleasant, strange goodbye — and now The Daily Show 's future looks grim

Why is Trevor Noah leaving The Daily Show? Um, maybe because it's doomed? I know, us idiots said that seven years ago. Compared to 2022, though, 2015 looks like 2015. Comedy Central is dangerously spectral, all Office reruns leading into aging franchises. Comedy's center shifted long ago: Noah's last guest, Neal Brennan, took a break from discussing his Netflix special to congratulate Noah on his Netflix special.

Late night lately is cancellations, retirements, and whatever broke up Desus and Mero. Yet somehow political comedy is still overcrowded. Two of Jon Stewart's ex-correspondents have acclaimed shows. Stewart himself hosts a thoughtful series that certainly exists. You never know when a reformed Man Show lug will start advocating for pediatric health care. Social media churn makes the sharpest topical joke sound years late by 11 PM ET. Comedy about the news cannot always keep up with the comedy of the news; I'm not sure any joke about Herschel Walker was funnier than anything Herschel Walker ever said. That's bad news for the Republic, worse news for any comedian trying to add something beyond eye-rolls.

The Daily Show with Trevor Noah final show
The Daily Show with Trevor Noah final show

Comedy Central Trevor Noah on 'The Daily Show with Trevor Noah'

To be clear, The Daily Show's correspondents still have a lot to contribute, and aren't (apparently) going anywhere. The biggest laughs on Thursday came when Noah said farewells to his fake news team. I treasure Dulcé Sloan's subtle-megaphone delivery, enjoy Ronny Chieng's deadpan chatterbox act, admire how Michael Kosta plays such a poignant gasbag, and thought it was very funny when Roy Wood Jr. demanded Noah: "Just admit it, you ain't African, for real!" Jordan Klepper had a nice swingback appearance, offering Noah some farewell clips from random people in midtown.

Wood looks like the obvious heir. Any current correspondent would do fine. It takes three weeks, tops, to pick a new pope. Why is Comedy Central dragging this through 2023? That's lost time in a non-election year for a new host to evolve their style. Or maybe there won't ever be just one host — another gross miscalculation, abetted by the Extremely Online notion that one voice is never enough. You cannot stand out from the pack by bragging about how big your pack is. Sometimes you must commit to one perspective, however imperfect, however unformed, however disinterested, however focused they maybe always were on their own brand.

So, Trevor Noah: Biracial, octolingual, born a crime, the rare comedy immigrant from further away than Toronto. Not some white guy touched by the hand of Lorne, not someone who seemed to even notice The Daily Show's legendary status. He wrote a book about a mother's love. He maintains a collaboration with Microsoft, your father's evil tech company. He is, quite simply, the most interesting man in the world. The histories note Noah's rough start, and his rapid post-2016 ascension. His hoodies were a calming COVID presence — especially, I think, for trapped singles who couldn't relate to the network dads. He somehow got more comfortable during the global shutdown, growing the kind of facial scruff only Brad Pitt ever pulled off (and only in the late '90s).

This was not someone who strained to speak about the racial issues our racist 45th President forefronted. I don't even think virtue signaling is an actual thing, and I'm still glad Noah didn't do it. When he choked up in his final moments — "If you truly want to know what to do or how to do it? Or maybe the best way or the most equitable way? Talk to Black women." — you remembered how thoughtful he could be at terrible moments in world history.

This was right after he explained why Earth is really a friendly place: "At the end of the day, we're all just trying to smash." The devoted son and the jerk who can get it: A bit of the Noah mystique there. He makes jokes about Switzerland and then jokes about Disney. He does accent humor – so much. Take advantage of silly accents if you can get away with them, I guess, though a little of that goes a long way, and a lot of that makes you wonder if decolonization needs its own Jeff Foxworthy. But his cool demeanor was an unusual approach, in a period when so many late night hosts went screamy and theme-y. If I had to pick out one ultimate Trevor Noah Daily Show one-liner, it would be from his first show post-January 6th. He was glad the insurrectionists didn't kill Mike Pence: "No one should have to die a virgin." That's somehow edgy and expired, a bleak joke about murderous fascists that also exemplified how four terrible veep years produced no material more complex than Crazy Christian prudery.

One final paradox from Noah's tenure is that he was someone who could ask Barack Obama tougher questions than Will Smith. The host certainly wasn't grilling the 44th President last month, to be clear. (Every host wants Obama to like them; I understand this instinct, because I want Obama to like me.) But there was a bit of electricity when he started off: "What does it say about the state of the Democratic Party that they always need you?" The very next episode, Smith received a stroke job for the ages. The first half of the interview danced around the obvious with movie chatter. Finally, Noah got to the point — and then talked much more than Smith, at times apologizing on behalf of the star: "I don't think any one of us in life deserves to be defined by the f--- up."

Ah, ha, well. In a sincere comedy era, Noah's best quality was often the f---s he didn't give. Still, I wonder how much the foundational controversy around his hiring stuck with him. "That's what happens when you get a new job, people dig through your tweets": Noah on November 9, 2016, finding some unexpected common ground with Donald Trump. In the finale's rambling interview, Noah recalled getting to know Brennan on late 2000s social media: "That's when people were still telling jokes on Twitter." I guess that's a joke, but he sounded a bit sad.

"I don't have anything lined up at the moment," Noah insisted in the finale. That is certainly what someone says when they're negotiating with Netflix. But I buy exhaustion as an explanation for his sudden departure. The best and worst thing about Noah was that air he had of always having something better to do — a hard persona to wrap your head around, coming from Jon Stewart's manic look-at-me-working-overtime self-deprecation. His exit announcement apparently caught everyone by surprise, and may explain the occasionally rushed feel of this finale. A farewell video package somehow included Oprah Winfrey, Hillary Clinton, and Vice President Kamala Harris — big whoas! — and also Nick Offerman and Jesse Williams, nice to see. (Bill Gates, too: Seriously, Trevor, Microsoft, WTF?) The celebrities said farewell to Noah, and then all seemed to realize simultaneously his Daily Show time coincided with all the worst things happening everywhere. A funny enough bit, though how weird that there was no Stewart, or any other past correspondents from Noah's tenure.

This would be a great moment for a network in transition to set a bold course for its defining series. Instead, Comedy Central plans an outbreak of guest hosts: Al Franken, Chelsea Handler, D. L. Hughley, Leslie Jones, John Leguizamo, Hasan Minhaj, Kal Penn, Sarah Silverman, Wanda Sykes, and Marlon Wayans. I would believe half those names on The Masked Singer, and three-quarters of them on Dancing With the Stars. Funny people, to be clear, but you come to The Daily Show to watch the new talents go from good to great. I don't believe the network has any helpful idea where to go from here, and I wonder if they realize just how much of Noah's success was battlefield surgery.

He kept the lights on, until he didn't want to anymore. His final speech was long, mostly laughless. He noted that America wasn't really divided into Democrats and Republicans, that politics is just the artifice laid over genuine issues. He said context was important and pleaded with viewers to seek out the background of every video clip. He said the world is much friendlier than social media. He sounded like someone who did not want to even watch The Daily Show, a TV series with a big social media footprint that builds much of its comedy on rapidfire video clips and the eterna-feud between Democrats and Republicans. He said goodbye. Then Hell of a Week with Charlamagne Tha God came on, and Charlamagne started with a joke about Herschel Walker.

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