When it was announced in 2015 that Trevor Noah would be succeeding Jon Stewart as the host of “The Daily Show,” the first reaction from viewers was a resounding “Who?”
In point of fact, he was not completely obscure. He had only just lately started working as a reporter for the comic news programme. In addition to this, he was an exceptional stand-up comedian who had a sizeable fan base in countries other than South Africa, where he was born and raised.
Although this, he had not precisely dominated the lists of top contenders to host a programme that, despite included maps of the globe in its visuals, continued to focus mostly on the United States. In September, when Noah made the unexpected revelation that he was leaving his role as host of the Comedy Central show The Daily Show, he said that the network had taken a risk on “this random comic nobody knew — on this side of the planet.”
After all, the United States of America is a huge nation with a great deal of opaque areas. And one of Noah’s triumphs, as he took a late-night institution in his own way, was to expose them, and to somewhat broaden the range of view that late night had.
Noah, whose last “Daily Program” will run on Thursday, was a Black host in a line of work that is still dominated by white people. He took over a show that had received deserved criticism for its portrayal of race, and he was a rarity as a Black host in that line of work.
But what really set him apart was the fact that he was African, which is a region of the globe that is often ignored by American news, and even more so by comic news about the news.
Many of late night’s most renowned presenters have, as part of their act, portrayed some aspect of American culture, with the exception of natives of the British Isles such as John Oliver, James Corden, and Craig Ferguson. This exception is not included in the previous sentence. David Letterman played up the effect of the Indiana weatherman gone demented, but Johnny Carson’s wide appeal was largely due to the fact that he exuded a cool that was influenced by both the Midwest and Burbank. Stewart’s performance on “The Daily Show” consisted on observing the media whirlwind from the bewildered and exasperated perspective of a Jewish guy from New Jersey.
If Noah was an anomaly in late night, he made sure to imbue his programme with the understanding that “exceptions” are the norm everywhere else in the world. Everyone has to be aware of the United States of America, but not everyone is the same as Americans, and not everyone sees us in the same light that we do.
Noah took on the role of an outsider, but he didn’t pretend to be stupid. He was intelligent, well-traveled, and had a voice that could adapt to many different styles.
In addition to that, he was the late-night presenter that expressed the most fervent feelings on the assassination of George Floyd and the demonstrations against police brutality against people of colour. It was a little ironic that the host of “The Daily Show,” who was responsible for making it more global than it had ever been before, found himself in the middle of a situation in which the globe shrunk to the size of our living rooms.
Noah has indicated, similarly to others who have just returned from working remotely and going back to their regular jobs, that his experience during the epidemic has caused him to question whether or not he wants to continue leading the same kind of life. Following his trip to India, he expressed his thoughts to The Hollywood Reporter, saying, “I found myself understanding exactly how much I’d missed out on.”
Noah, who will be leaving the chair at the age of 38 after just over seven years in it, will not have lasted long enough to define an era in late night television, in contrast to Stewart (16 years), Carson (30 years), or Letterman, all of whom have done so (11 years with NBC, 22 with CBS). Let’s be honest: the late night portion of the media landscape is far less significant than it was in the past. Perhaps his time as host of the late-night show heralded the beginning of a new age in which hosts no longer remain in the same position for the majority of their careers.
In the end, it’s possible that Noah’s departure is merely a reflection of a more fluid and quickly changing media climate, just as his humour did. If this is the case, then his most significant accomplishment may be that he remained in his position long enough to leave his imprint, and then moved on to the next thing. After all, we are talking about a very large planet out there.