Pope joke and a few changes make for lukewarm Trevor Noah TV debut

Washington Post critic Hank Stuever called Noah's performance a "seemingly smooth debut."

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Trevor Noah got a lukewarm welcome as new host of "The Daily Show" in a debut that featured jokes about himself, immigrants and Pope Francis, and was watched by some 3.5 million Americans.

Ratings data on Tuesday showed that Noah's first outing drew about the same TV audience as Jon Stewart's farewell in August after 16 years with the late night Comedy Central show.

However, Noah's premiere on Monday was simulcast across all Viacom Inc platforms. The audience watching on Comedy Central was estimated at just over 1 million, Nielsen data showed.

As promised, the South African-born comedian made few changes to the format of political and pop culture satire and a nightly interview that was developed by Stewart.

That proved both reassuring and a little disappointing to U.S. television critics.

Washington Post critic Hank Stuever called Noah's performance a "seemingly smooth debut."

"I just have to ask: What were we all so afraid of?" he said. ... It’s too early for Noah to crush it, but it’s enough for now to just utter a sigh of relief. 'The Daily Show' is back with its essential wit and irreverence intact," Stuever wrote.

Noah, who is little known in the United States, made his new-ness a running joke in Monday's show, quipping that the "Daily Show" family "has a new stepdad. And he's black." Since other celebrities had turned down the host's job, "once again, a job Americans rejected is now being done by an immigrant."

A joke about Pope Francis and the size of his penis, and a cocaine joke about dead singer Whitney Houston, did not go over well with either the studio audience or some TV critics.

Lloyd Grove for the Daily Beast called Noah's debut "crude, clumsy."

"His material was hit-and-miss, - even the raucously cheerleading studio audience groaned at times - and he seemed, at least in his initial outing, to lack his predecessor's valuable gift for exhuming laughs from the death of a punch line," he wrote.

At USA Today, Robert Bianco felt Noah's debut was "less than spectacular" but New York Times TV critic James Poniewozik, compared it to a new iPhone.

"It was sleeker, fresher and redesigned," Poniewozik said. "There were tweaks here and there - look, even a new font! But it still does essentially the same thing."