Noah is gaining consideration as a potential successor to Jon Stewart, the Comedy Central mainstay’s longtime host, according to a person familiar with the matter, and if successful, could get a crack at becoming one of the more influential voices in latenight.
There is no guarantee that Noah will inherit Stewart’s seat, and no final decision has been reached, this person cautioned. Comedy Central’s selection process has accelerated in recent days, this person said. And Noah, a South African comedian, has moved to a short list being put together by executives at the Viacom-owned cable outlet.
A Comedy Central spokesman declined to comment on whether Noah was under consideration, or on efforts to identify a new host for “The Daily Show.”
The looming choice is crucial for Comedy Central. “The Daily Show” is arguably the network’s signature show, and Comedy Central last year bid farewell to another latenight mainstay, Stephen Colbert. He anchored “The Colbert Report,” a half-hour program following “The Daily Show” that gave Comedy Central a one-two punch in the fight to woo young audiences to its schedule. He will soon take up David Letterman’s place on CBS’ “Late Show.” The search for Stewart’s successor takes place as Comedy Central is showing a new program in Colbert’s 11:30 p.m. slot, “The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore,” which uses comedy to explore culture, politics and race.
Comedy Central is already the only network to feature an African-American host in latenight: Larry Wilmore, a veteran producer and writer whose program has won some plaudits even as it continues to experiment with its format. Should Noah get the nod, the network would add a black comedian to the timeslot as competitors rely on white males and as many TV networks recognize the need to appeal more directly to America’s growing multicultural viewership.
Like Stewart, Noah is no stranger to tackling thorny issues. In South Africa, he was known for riffing on the topics of race and politics, even using his mixed-race parentage to get laughs. Noting that his mother is a black South African and his father a white Swiss, he once told an audience, “I was born a crime,” according to a 2013 report in the Wall Street Journal.
And he has experience with wee-hours programming, He hosted a latenight show in South Africa for two seasons, according to a biography located at his website, which bills him as the first standup comedian from South Africa to appear on either NBC’s “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” or CBS’ “Late Show With David Letterman.”
Since Stewart announced in February he expected to step down from his perch at the program sometime between July and the end of 2015, a number of obvious candidates to succeed him have made plans of their own. Samantha Bee, a veteran “Daily Show” contributor, has accepted a deal to start a similar “funny-news” program at Time Warner’s TBS. Both she and her husband, “Daily Show” contributor Jason Jones, are also producing a comedy for that network, in which Jones will star. Jessica Williams, another rising “Daily Show” presence, recently took to Twitter to declare herself “unqualified” for the role.
“The Daily Show” has had just two hosts since launching on Comedy Central in 1996: Craig Kilborn and Jon Stewart. Both were in their 30s when they took the reins of the program, and both were seen as up-and-comers, not entrenched players in the TV business. Noah was born in 1984, which would make him about 31 years old.
Under Kent Alterman, president of original programming, Comedy Central has sought people able to articulate a unique world view. The network has found success with programs featuring comedienne Amy Schumer as well as Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, a duo who star in the program “Broad City.”
Cynthia Littleton contributed to this report.