Trevor Noah is participating in his first Television Critics Association press tour panel on Wednesday morning, but he’s already built up some good will.
The incoming “Daily Show” host performed a stand-up set for TV critics Tuesday night at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica. Later, in the theater lobby, Noah faced eager reporters in a busy scrum of digital recorders. The 31-year-old comic handled himself beautifully on both stages.
Below are 5 things that we learned from Noah’s set and post-show unofficial Q&A.
1. He’s a Funny Dude
Noah’s hour-or-so set was good, particularly up front. There were big laughs, strong setups, poignant pauses and some applause breaks. The chatter afterward was all positive — so that’s a pretty solid start.
With one performance, Noah managed to turn some of his toughest (literal) critics into fans, instilling confidence in the crowd that those big shoes he has to fill might actually fit like Cinderella’s slipper.
2. He’s Also a Really Smart, Thoughtful Fella
After his closer, Noah took some time with a big scrum of reporters, answering every question thoughtfully, looking each reporter in the eye and taking even some silly (and/or stupid) queries seriously.
“Without comedy, what do we have? At the end of the day, without laughter, what do we have?” he told reporters. “You look at how people got over 9/11, you look at how in South Africa, Nelson Mandela was notorious for telling jokes. Even after 27 years in jail, the man would tell a joke. If we don’t laugh, we would all be extremely depressed.”
On using comedy to fit in as an outsider, Noah added: “If you laugh with somebody, then you know you share something.”
3. Critics Like Him
Noah got what we’d estimate was an 85 percent standing ovation last night from critics and their guests — an uncommon response from a usually tough bunch. We’re actually not supposed to clap or show any emotion during the actual Summer Press Tour panels, so Noah can expect a less hearty welcome Wednesday — even if people are now not-so-secretly pulling for him.
Side note: Comedy Central made a smart decision catching critics on Day 1 of the near three-week press tour. Tuesday night’s jovial mood may not carry over into mid-August.
4. He’s Not Afraid
With a huge show resting on his shoulders and a media-fueled Twitter controversy in recent memory, Noah could have chosen to play it safe win his act — especially in a room of writers who helped get him in hot water. But he did.
Noah’s material was half (if not mostly) race-based, with a few risky jokes that could have fallen flat, particularly given his audience. Perhaps the most trying moment was when he compared American airports to concentration camps, but it worked well enough that the gasps didn’t last.
5. Tough Timing
It’s a bit odd that Comedy Central and Noah are charming us mere days before Jon Stewart bids adieu next week. Perhaps a mid-July exodus for the long-term host would have actually worked out better in the public baton-pass.
Last night, after heaping tons of praise on his current boss, mentor and soon-to-be predecessor, Noah spoke a bit about Stewart’s final show. He’ll definitely attend and participate in some way, Noah said, but the details are still under discussion.
Noah takes over Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” on Sep. 28; Stewart’s final show is Aug. 6.