I wanna say that I, like many others, stopped watching The Daily Show when Jon Stewart left, but I stopped watching it a little bit before. It wasn’t just not having cable or not having roommates that liked to watch TV that did it, but knowing that I wasn’t really gaining anything from watching the show. It’s not actually news, as Stewart himself reminded us. It’s a comedy show. I wasn’t really being informed—I was getting a half hour intellectual handjob from Comedy Central. Sometimes you need that in a world where nothing makes sense, but increasingly I felt a greasy, post orgasmic shame when I watched it.
So I didn’t get to watch the transition from Jon Stewart to Trevor Noah. I already wasn’t watching the show—I was not actually able to gradually abandon ship like so many of my friends. I hear it’s been not great, and I don’t see very many clips from The Daily Show on my Facebook feed anymore. That made me assume the show was just bad, you know, just unfunny and awkward. I wasn’t expecting The Daily Show to have become a fucking centrist nightmare.
In truth the show was always slightly to the right of me—not actually a difficult feat for a socialist—but as detailed in Salon last month, The Daily Show has become another arm of the weak willed mainstream media it used to take to task. Case in point: yesterday, as the Supreme Court shot down an extremely harmful Texas abortion access law, some poor intern tweeted this on behalf of the show.
First of all, this is barely a joke. There’s not even really a setup or a punchline. This is an edgy statement, with the only marker of it being a joke being that it is surrounded by other jokes on all sides, and is on an account where jokes would usually appear. It is almost too banal to note until, well, you think about it for more than thirty seconds.
Tweets in general do not deserve longer than thirty seconds consideration, but since the law that was declared unconstitutional by the highest court in the land closed all but a scant few women’s health clinics in Texas, I will waste a little more time considering the impact of this non-joke. I’m not asking for a comedy show to write some teary message about the importance of abortion access. I’m just asking them not to imply women get abortions for funzies.
Back when I was into getting jerked off for being a leftist, back when I watched Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show, I was most impressed by the fact that a comedian was so willing to take such strong moral stands. I have watched Jon Stewart’s appearance on Crossfire a dozen times—most recently as it appears at the end of the documentary Best of Enemies. As Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley were the model of political punditry up until the 2010s—two men shouting at each other—Trevor Noah’s The Daily Show seems to indicate the newest turn to political commentary on TV: chill out, man. Caring too much makes you look like a fool. The truth is somewhere in the middle. You gotta hear both sides. It’s the South Park-ian, low effort, smug and uninformed rumble of people who don’t really care. It’s a huge disappointment. It’s worse than Crossfire. Jon Stewart told Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala, “Stop hurting America,” and I don’t think the current tenure of The Daily Show really cares about that anymore.
It is all too easy to hold up Jon Stewart as some kind of liberal legend, but don’t get me wrong, he was a comedian. He was a comedian with opinions, and he shared those opinions freely. The Daily Show with Trevor Noah does not have any particularly strong opinions. I would even welcome it as a hard right comedy news show, at this point, because that would be an indication that they care about something. Sure, I will get knocked up in Texas now that SCOTUS has guaranteed broader abortion access for millions of women. It turns out satire is incredibly hard when you don’t actually care about either side.
Every time I see anything from The Daily Show now it makes me sad. Even at its funniest, like when it makes a rap song out of Trump quotes, it’s doing the absolute least. Their segment about the House Democratic sit-in for a vote on gun control laws features such gems as, “That senator has probably had that pillow for a long time,” and, “They probably farted,” and, “Congressmen and Women are old and therefore do not really know what Periscope is.” Trevor Noah does a valley girl impression.
I don’t think they’re ever trying to be intentionally harmful, but they just have nothing to say. Because they have nothing to say but insist on talking anyway, they come off as smug and defensive. Trevor Noah has twisted Jon Stewart’s admonishment of a dishonest mainstream media—that it’s a shame that actual political pundits are doing less than a comedian—into a defense of doing and saying nothing at all. “We are a comedy show, you need to do more,” has turned into, “We are a comedy show, don’t expect much from us.” Have you ever tried to talk politics with anyone who gets all their political opinions from any tenure of The Daily Show? Because watching The Daily Show now is exactly like that—someone who doesn’t know much at all insisting that you hear them anyway.
Gita Jackson is Paste’s assistant comedy editor.