A lot has changed in late-night TV in the six months since Comedy Central announced that Trevor Noah would become the new host of “The Daily Show.” Jon Stewart left the show in August. David Letterman stepped down from “The Late Show” in May, and Stephen Colbert is now immersed in his first few weeks of it.
What hasn’t changed is a viewing audience that craves a funny voice at the end of the day to skewer the insanity of politics and culture and the news media. Over the past 15 years, thanks to Stewart, “The Daily Show” became the place to turn — and on Monday night, Comedy Central hands the high-profile gig over to Noah, 31, a little-known stand-up comedian.
A risky move? Obviously, but one that Comedy Central hopes will infuse a certain spirit in a show launching a new era. So far, much of the talk surrounding Noah (who caught the network’s attention after a brief stint as a “Daily Show” correspondent last year) has been his “outsider” status, given that he was born in South Africa and lived there most of his life. Although Comedy Central executives appreciate the global perspective he will bring, they are even more intrigued that he’s about the same age as their target viewers.
“He’s a millennial. . . . He brings a generational perspective more than a worldly perspective,” Comedy Central President Michele Ganeless said, noting that Noah will be the only member of that age cohort hosting a late-night show. “He gets his news the same way our audience gets their news.”
There are certainly advantages to a young host who can connect naturally with an audience coveted by advertisers, but Noah’s age brings downsides, too. As part of a generation steeped in the spontaneity of the Internet, he didn’t hesitate to make some poor jokes on Twitter several years ago — or think to delete them when he became an overnight celebrity.
That led to controversy this spring, when people went digging through his account and found a few offensive tweets about Jewish people and women. The outrage almost overshadowed Comedy Central’s announcement, and Noah was forced to release a statement (“To reduce my views to a handful of jokes that didn’t land is not a true reflection of my character, nor my evolution as a comedian.”) The furor mostly blew over, though it was certainly a learning experience.
“He’s said it better than I ever will . . . but what we’ve learned is that not every joke is a good joke,” Ganeless said. “You really can’t understand what a person is about from a few selective tweets.”
So now it’s time for the couple of million fans who tune into “The Daily Show” to get to know its new host. Noah has detailed his rough upbringing during apartheid, when his black African mother and white Swiss father had to hide their relationship. You may have gotten a glimpse of his personality if you have seen him perform live, or via YouTube, or when he appeared on Colbert’s show last week to joke about everything from the GOP debate to having Stewart as a predecessor. Otherwise, no one really knows how he’ll be as a late-night host.
Although details about the first night’s show are locked down, Ganeless says that it’s still the same format: monologues, correspondent segments, interviews. As with Stewart, the guests will reflect a mix of pop culture and politics; the first week includes actor Kevin Hart, Tinder co-founder Whitney Wolfe, Republican presidential candidate and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and singer Ryan Adams.
Noah and Comedy Central are well aware of the sky-high expectations for his premiere. “Every day I go, ‘What have I done?’ ” Noah joked to Colbert. “You can’t live up to Jon Stewart. It’s insane.” That’s especially the case with the people of Twitter primed and ready to pounce and judge in real-time.
Ganeless has high hopes. “The more time you spend with Trevor, the more exceptional you find he is — he really is so thoughtful about every part of the show . . . in how he is going to approach the correspondents, how he’s approaching the interviews, how he’s approaching the multiplatform aspect,” she said, adding, “He’s much less of an outsider than I think people think he’s going to be.”
So what if Noah includes a few international stories in the mix? That won’t be such a departure for “The Daily Show.”
“Jon did more stories on the Middle East than anyone,” Ganeless noted. “And he was from New Jersey.”