Trevor Noah came home to “The Daily Show” studio at 733 11th Avenue in Manhattan on Monday, just over two years after he last taped an episode of the Comedy Central late-night series there in front of an in-studio audience.
For his first show back, Noah, who hosted the Grammys just over a week ago, brought in a vaccinated, masked-up crowd to give him the comedian-audience exchange he’d been sorely lacking in his many, many at-home “Daily Show” tapings. Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed everything, including how Noah interacts with his in-person viewers.
“I feel like you’re all robbing me,” Noah joked while chatting with the audience, where Variety was in attendance, from his desk during a commercial break. Noah encouraged “The Daily Show”-goers to ask him whatever they wanted, saying this part of the making a late-night show — the human-to-human, back-and-forth element — is what he’d missed most.
One audience member asked him if he had been wearing pants while taping his at-home shows, to which Noah responded “Yes” — and then launched into a story about how a time he was left freezing outside in his boxers because of a fire alarm prompted him to always at least be wearing a sweatshirt and pants at all times. And for loyal “Daily Show” viewers, that will be a wardrobe they are very familiar with seeing Noah in over the past two years of shows.
With the exceptions of some planned hiatuses, “The Daily Show” hasn’t stopped making new episodes during the COVID-19 pandemic. But those were made by Noah remotely, and dubbed “The Daily Social Distancing Show” in the early days of COVID. As things got slowly safer, Noah brought in his production team, some better decor and several in-person guests. But he hadn’t come back to the studio or invited a live audience to sit in until today, a show that featured “Severance” director and executive producer Ben Stiller as guest.
“Oh man, I’ve missed you guys,” Noah said at the top of his monologue Monday. “And I’m so sorry that we were separated for two years. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have left that Tupperware open in Wuhan. My bad, guys. The important part is, we’re all here together again, and the reunion sex is gonna be amazing.”
Noah spoke at length about the spiking COVID cases among politicians in Washington, D.C., quickly bringing the jokes back around as a way to play with his audience. “And this just shows that unfortunately we cannot let our guard down when it comes to COVID,” Noah said. “And I hope each and every one of you in this packed indoor audience remembers that. In fact, tell the person next to you. Pull down your mask so they can hear you clearly and tell them to stay safe.”
The “Daily Show” has been on hiatus since March 18, so this was Noah’s first time to address several big headlines within the context of the show, including Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court appointment, which he covered with pride in a segment alongside “Daily Show” correspondent Dulcé Sloan, and Will Smith’s 10-year ban from the Oscars following his slap of Chris Rock at the ceremony last month.
“When I first saw the headline, I thought this was the worst punishment ever, but then I heard he still gets to keep his Oscar and he can still win Oscars! So in many ways, this isn’t a punishment. This is a favor!” Noah joked. “Will Smith doesn’t have to go to the ceremony. He doesn’t have to get dressed up, he doesn’t have to sit through a bunch of boring awards he doesn’t care about… He doesn’t have to pretend to be happy when he loses. I wish I could get banned from the Emmys. Every year I have to go and act like I might beat John Oliver, it’s a nightmare. Put on my hopeful face. ‘It could be me!’ It’s not gonna be me. I know it’s not, it’s not gonna be any of us. It’s always John Oliver.”
Noah added: “I do think they should’ve at least consulted Chris Rock about this, because if Will was still going to the Oscars that’s at least four hours when Chris Rock knows where he is. Now he could be anywhere!”
“The Daily Show” host then came up with what he believes would be an even better idea for the Academy to have made. “Honestly, I don’t think they should have banned Will Smith at all. I actually think they should hire Will Smith to replace the ‘wrap it up’ music they play at award shows,” Noah said. “Do you know how quickly winners will finish their speeches when they see Will Smith watching them on the side of the stage?”
Noah brought correspondent Roy Wood Jr. into the studio for a traffic update that went predictably awry before Stiller emerged to talk about “Severance,” the Apple TV Plus workplace thriller that Noah feels is the “perfect” show for the COVID era and was very excited to pick Stiller’s brain about. Stiller also got in on the fun of having a live crowd, by faking that he had tripped on the way to his seat, something he had heard Noah joking about with the audience from his dressing room. You know, the kind of bit that can only work in a studio, with a live audience.
He ended the taping by thanking his studio audience, and making this TikTok video with them. While Noah said he was very happy to have such an enthusiastic, engaging crowd on Day 1 back, he’s worried they’ve ruined him for “Daily Show” audiences to come.