Jon Stewart did not rip off a catcher's mask and urge a new host to "play ball!" on the premiere of "The Daily Show With Trevor Noah," a stunt he performed for his buddy Stephen Colbert's debut on CBS late night earlier this year.
He might as well have.
Stewart's ghost loomed large over the Comedy Central staple Monday and his relatively unknown replacement wisely acknowledged the awkward situation through a series of sketches and monologue jokes that did little to expose the comic's strengths other than his willingness to poke fun of himself and the ridiculously high expectations he faces.
Perhaps that was enough. The show, which ran three minutes longer than usual, was at its best when a seemingly cool and relaxed Noah paid tribute to his mentor while pointing out that, as a South African immigrant with no high-profile gigs in his past, he will immediately be perceived as a stranger in a (very white, very male) strange land.
"In many ways, Jon Stewart was our political dad," Noah said shortly after the opening, which has smartly retained Bob Mould's opening theme number. "It's weird, because dad has left and now it feels like the family has a new stepdad -- and he's black."
In the episode's best bit, Noah threw to correspondent Jordan Klepper who was supposed to be reporting on the pressures facing whoever takes over for House Speaker John Boehner, but simply couldn't shake his concerns about the guy stepping into the shoes for the other "Jon."
The rest of the program made an attempt to stick to the basic premise of skewering politicians and the media. The Pope's visit to America was a rich target in a segment entitled "A Prayer Home Companion," a nod to Minnesota's near-papal presence, Garrison Keillor.
Keillor's sensibilities were certainly not evoked in the actual material, which included riffs about the size of the Pope's endowment and Whitney Houston's drug overdose, indictators that Noah could be more willing than Stewart to venture into sophomoric humor, a territory he explored in a series of not very clear Twitter blasts from several years ago.
His interview with red-hot comedian Kevin Hart also didn't fare well as Noah gushed over his guest while asking him "penetrating" questions about his workout routine.
Not that Stewart was Charlie Rose.His success lay in his willingness and ability to turn genuine frustration into smart humor.
Noah did little to suggest he could pull off the same trick. Then again, he didn't make you feel like Comedy Central has made a huge mistake, either.
This was a fairly benign debut, one that did little to erase doubts or call for a recount. Noah's real test will come as the presidential race gets even more intense.
That's when we'll really see if Noah is ready to play ball.