The Viacom-owned outlet said the comic’s debut as host would be announced at a later date.
In choosing Noah, a 31-year-old of mixed-race parentage, Comedy Central is banking that following a tried-and-true formula will keep the program that is arguably the linchpin of its schedule top of mind among its core audience of young male viewers. Twice now, executives at the network have identified an up-and-coming talent, and we’re rewarded on both occasions with a higher profile for the show. Noah will be only the third host of the program, following an early stint by Craig Kilborn and Stewart’s well-chronicled reign.
Noah has “such a unique and powerful voice,” said Michele Ganeless, Comedy Central’s president, in an interview Monday morning. Executives feel he is “a gifted comedian and storyteller,” she added. “He was not a new face to us, but he will be to a lot of people.” Stewart himself was involved as an “adviser” in the selection process, she said.
Noah has the kind of experience that would seem to be de rigueur for a host of “The Daily Show,” which, under Stewart has not only made fun of headlines of the day, but also of the news outlets that deliver them. Noah has hosted numerous television shows, including his own latenight talk show in his native country, “Tonight With Trevor Noah.” And he is no stranger to analyzing controversial topics. Born in South African to a black South African mother and a white Swiss father, he once told an audience, “I was born a crime,” according to a 2013 report in the Wall Street Journal.
With that sort of willingness to discuss sensitive topics head-on, Noah would appear to fit the bill being written under Kent Alterman, the network’s president of original programming. In the recent past, 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.”
The network does not anticipate the core of the program changing radically, said Ganeless, though Noah’s tenure may lend an opportunity to give the program a more global point of view. “The core of ‘The Daily Show’ will not change,” she said. “It is still a Comedy Central take on the day’s events.” The network also hopes to maintain “continuity” to a large degree with the producers and writers behind the scenes, she said.
Comedy Central has had a string of hits in latenight in recent years, from Stephen Colbert’s “Colbert Report” to the new social-media-themed game show “@midnight,” which launched in 2013. But a tidal shift in latenight television sparked by the impending retirement of David Letterman at CBS has thrown new hurdles at the network. Colbert ended his program late last year to prepare to take over “The Late Show” at CBS after Letterman steps down in May. Larry Wilmore has stepped into his timeslot with “The Nightly Report,” a half-hour that looks at issues of culture and race and has gained some plaudits but that is still experimenting with its format and lineup.
There were some early indications that Comedy Central executives were interested in finding a woman to fill the lead at “The Daily Show,” with speculation centered around celebrities ranging from Tina Fey to Amy Poehler to Schumer. “We talked to women and we talked to men,” Ganeless noted, but ultimately Noah “rose to the top of the list.”
Seeing the anchor role go to a show outsider also seemed more likely as a number of “Daily Show” correspondents and contributors took themselves out of the running or announced new opportunities. Samantha Bee, a “Daily Show” veteran, has already announced plans to take the helm of a similar show at Time Warner’s TBS. She will also help produce a new comedy at that network with her husband, Jason Jones, another “Daily Show” contributor. John Oliver, who gained fame by substituting for Stewart when he took a break to direct the movie “Rosewater,” recently signed a new deal that will keep him at HBO through 2017, at the lead of “Last Week Tonight,’ a satirical program that takes “The Daily Show” theme and expands it with investigative reporting. Jessica Williams, a rising presence on “Daily Show,” took herself out of the running several weeks ago.
Noah has appeared only a handful of times on “The Daily Show” since joining as a contributor late last year. He will have some time to make himself better known to audiences. Stewart has said he intends to stick around as host for several more months, noting that he could step down as early as July or stay until later in 2015.
[Updated, 8:32 AM PT]