A big question hanging over the transition at The Daily Show when Jon Stewart announced he would leave the show was whether the producers would hire from the outside (as when Stewart himself took over from Craig Kilborn) or the inside (as when Stephen Colbert and Larry Wilmore respectively took the timeslot after Stewart.
With the announcement of South African comic Trevor Noah as Stewart’s successor, the answer is: Both? Sort of? Noah’s a hire from within the staff, but as he’s only been on the show a few times (having come on at the end of last year), he’s still a question mark. But a few thoughts and guesses on the hire:
* Given that Stewart has been the face of TDS since 1999, many folks thought this might be a good opportunity not only to change the host but to renovate the series itself. Noah’s enough of a new voice that he could be free to take the show in a different direction, as Stewart himself did. Whether he will, we’ll have to see: when John Oliver guest-hosted in summer 2013, we saw that the institutional voice of The Daily Show is now strong whether Stewart is in the chair or not. Now we’ll see whether he changes it or it changes him.
* And what Noah’s voice will be is also an open question, since again, he hasn’t been a correspondent on the show long enough to have established a character and voice. (In his first segment, he tweaked Americans’ popular stereotypes and lack of knowledge about Africa.) But his standup history shows his touch, pre-Daily Show, for dry social commentary. In a standup set, he talks about being born the mixed-race son of a Xhosa mother and a Swiss father under apartheid (“You know how the Swiss love chocolate”):
* This means, of course, we’re still waiting for a female host on one of primetime’s prominent talk/comedy shows. (Chelsea Handler will be doing a show on Netflix, but we still don’t know exactly what, or when, it will be.)
* That said, it feels significant that a network with a major late-night franchise saw no problem with having black hosts (his Showtime special notwithstanding, Noah was, by definition, not born “African American”) on back-to-back shows. There’s no sense–rightly–that the network already checked that box with Wilmore, who has a different background, sensibility and experience. Having a black host in late night might be progress, but having two–no differently from following Jimmy Fallon with Seth Meyers–is normalcy.
* Yet I suspect that Noah’s nationality may be as significant a difference here. Comedy Central didn’t end up signing John Oliver, but you have to wonder if there’s been an Oliver Effect from Last Week Tonight, showing the appeal and potential of taking a more global perspective on what is, after all, a very large news world. Maybe the next Daily Show iteration will shift more away from its America-centric focus on politics, elections, and Fox News criticism. If so, it could be an energizing distinction to have the show hosted by someone who’s not only from a different country but a different hemisphere.
Larry Wilmore, after all, began The Nightly Show with a map of the world oriented with the south above the north. It looks like, in Comedy Central’s new late-night universe, the outsiders are definitely on top.