It’s official. When Jon Stewart steps down from his job as anchoring one of Comedy Central’s most influential programs, a South African stand-up comedian will take his place. His name is Trevor Noah, and you very likely don’t recognize his name. He only appeared on US television for the first time three years ago after all. This means that Viacom is placing the future of their Emmy and Peabody winning program in the hands of a 31 year old that many know nothing about. I can see how that is a red flag for some. How can this new guy possibly take over and succeed? Surely he doesn’t have enough experience to steer this massive ship. Very few people actually do. Yet when you really think about it, The Daily Show went down this path 15 years ago, and look how that turned out.
That’s right. This is Jon Stewart taking over for Craig Kilborn all over again. It’s easy to forget this after he became one of the most important men on television, but Stewart didn’t have much to his name when he took over either. His claim to fame was easily his hit program The Jon Stewart Show on MTV, yet that was cancelled after two seasons because it failed in syndication. With no show to fallback on, Stewart bounced around several other projects. He appeared in a few movies and briefly lead a couple other comedy shows. Not exactly things that would turn him into a television icon.
Then Kilborn decided to leave The Daily Show and Stewart replaced him in 1999. The rest is obviously history. Stewart turned The Daily Show into the leading satirical news program on television, catapulting him to superstardom. He became the number one news source for the younger generation, even though he wasn’t even a journalist. Both Stewart and The Daily Show were in desperate need of success, and together they evolved to become a late night powerhouse. It quite honestly was a perfect match that changed the way people consume news. Stewart was finally able to be who he always was for a longer period of time.
Now here we have Noah who is poised to follow a similar path. Noah hosted his own show in South Africa called Tonight with Trevor Noah. He’s hosted a few awards shows in his native country as well, and has been a part of several comedy tours. Noah is most definitely not the South African version of Stewart, but his own career path pre-Daily Show has more than a few similarities. At this moment, there’s no reason to believe that Noah won’t use The Daily Show in a similar manner. The man is only five years younger than Stewart was when he first took over at 36. This is entirely rhetorical right now, but we may write about Noah like this 15 years in the future, should he find success.
Of course, Noah is entering the limelight at a distinct disadvantage. The Daily Show already has an identity as a satirical program with clear leanings to the left. That’s an element that Noah will have to maintain above all else. This is completely different than what Stewart had to contend with when he began. Back in 1999, both The Daily Show and Comedy Central needed to find their audience. Stewart crafted his show to his own mentality, which fortunately was shared by millions of others. Sure Noah doesn’t have to essentially create a brand new program, but he has to keep a favorite afloat without its leader on a permanent basis.
What I really can’t wait for is seeing how Noah will use his upbringing to shape his comedy. Stewart, first born as Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz, is a white Jewish man who was born in New York and raised in New Jersey. A lot of his humor and worldview stemmed from this. In contrast, Noah is a biracial man who grew up in Johannesburg. The two could not be any more different. This means that we can get a completely different perspective to late night on a whole variety of topics. Unfortunately many people might be turned off by this, but I sincerely cannot wait to see what he will do.
Noah is also in the unique position to enlighten people on what they don’t see reported in South Africa, along with the African continent as a whole. Constant stories about ebola, Boko Haram, revolutions, ISIS involvement, and starving children paint this entire region of the globe has a disease and poverty riddled hellscape. Obviously these are very real issues that afflict many people, but they only tell part of the story. What we don’t see regularly are the very developed and modern regions not filled with strife and where people live successful lives. It’s unreasonable to expect Noah to completely change this public perception on his own, but it is a step in the right direction.
While it would have been nice for a woman to take over and stop late night from being entirely male run programming, Noah taking over The Daily Show is still a step in the right direction for diversity. Comedy Central will be the only network with two black men hosting their own shows back to back. Noah is incredibly different too. He has a whole life of South African upbringing that can influence his comedy, and he is on the verge of a major career breakthrough. If Noah can pull off this change, he could easily become a household name and someone the public will turn to four nights a week.
Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television and every Saturday afternoon you can read his retro video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.