Among the more persistent narratives in 2016 was just how odd it was to have a presidential election where The Daily Show felt largely inconsequential. There are a lot of reasons for that—not least the fact that there were essentially four Daily Shows this year, with alumni Samantha Bee, John Oliver, Larry Wilmore, and Stephen Colbert all offering their own spins on that same satirical catharsis. But most critics have laid the blame, naturally, on new-ish host Trevor Noah, whose lighter, jokier approach lacks the informed, needling, barely sublimated outrage of Jon Stewart, and who—just over a year into the job—still hasn’t been hardened and calcified into a gray-haired crank by the insanity of it all nearly fast enough for our liking.
But just as with Stewart, it will take a combination of time and finding the right sparring partner. If the grindstone of a Donald Trump presidency can’t sharpen Noah, nothing can. And that honing may have begun in earnest during last night’s talk with Tomi Lahren—an interview that’s already being called Noah’s best so far, and one in which he definitely seems to age several years over the course of its 26 minutes.
If you’re not familiar with Lahren, she’s the proudly self-proclaimed “millennial” conservative commentator for The Blaze—think Ann Coulter run through a sunny Instagram filter. As Noah notes, she has a massive presence on Facebook, where she delivers fast-talking video commentaries peppered with all-caps outrage, railing against Democrats, Muslims, the Black Lives Matter movement, Colin Kaepernick, and—her favorite target—“whiny snowflake liberals,” all in the angry, sarcastic tone that is our new National Anthem, from sea to shining Starbucks rant.
The human equivalent of one of those “Liberal Tears” mugs, Lahren isn’t an obvious choice to enter The Daily Show “lion’s den,” as she calls it. But to her credit, she did it anyway, and Noah similarly rose to the occasion by engaging her in a thoughtful debate, one where he neither soft-pedaled on confronting her, nor allowed her to sidestep his questions. Best of all, they both managed to talk without yelling over each other—no mean feat, given that Lahren delivers her commentaries at a volume pitched to angry grandpas.
The two cover a lot of ground in the full interview, including anti-Trump protesters, immigration, Obamacare, the First Amendment, the “mainstream media,” and other things currently marked for death. But as was highlighted in the abbreviated, six-minute version that made it to air, the conversation becomes most compelling when it turns to race, specifically Lahren’s grudges against Colin Kaepernick and Black Lives Matter, the latter of which she’s called “the new Ku Klux Klan.”
Not that there was much of a resolution to be found here: “For somebody who is not racist, you have to spend a lot of time saying, ‘I’m not racist,’” Noah reminded her, with Lahren pulling out ye olde “I don’t see color” to defend herself before retreating into a pat response about the awesomeness of the American flag. Noah also repeatedly pressed her on, if neither taking a knee nor taking to the streets is acceptable, exactly how a black person is supposed to air their grievances. While Lahren was mostly evasive, the fact that the two actually had a patient dialogue about these things, rather than devolving into a shouting match (or worse, jokey bromides) is notable in and of itself.
Already some are suggesting that Lahren could be to Noah what Bill O’Reilly was to Jon Stewart: a friendly enemy with whom he can repeatedly debate and disagree, but without any disrespect. That blossoming relationship was fortified on social media last night, where—after initially taking another “liberal snowflake” potshot at the show for editing their talk, Lahren later struck a more conciliatory note, posting the full interview while saying of Noah, “I respect our obvious differences but common goals,” then admonishing both her critics and her fans to take it down a notch:
Noah replied equally graciously, extending an open invite for her to return:
Could this be the beginning of a fruitful partnership in which these two can come together and confront, head-on, the mutual antipathy that has so embroiled America? We could probably use it; The Daily Show definitely could.