NEW YORK – Trevor Noah, who went from being an unknown quantity to American TV viewers to a smart, satirical voice on Comedy Central, signed off from “The Daily Show” for the final time Thursday.
Noah was reflective and subdued in front of a live audience at the studio on Manhattan’s West Side where the show is taped, often speaking at length about a seven-year sojourn that began when Jon Stewart handed over the host chair of the influential comedy talk show.
Stewart welcomed Noah into the fold in late 2014 after his producers brought the South African native’s comedy to his attention. Nine months later he became the program’s third host as Stewart moved on.
“It was a wild journey,” Noah said on his show. “The craziest journey I didn’t predict, I didn’t expect.”
The comedian was not widely known in the U.S. Being Black and not from the U.S. – or the U.K. – made him a rarity in late-night TV. Noah noted how when he started hosting after Stewart’s wildly successful 17-year run, Comedy Central was unable to fill the seats in the studio audience.
Noah brought a more global view to the program (early in his run he memorably made historically biting comparisons of Donald Trump to African dictators). While ratings for “The Daily Show” declined, as viewers moved away from watching traditional TV in favor of streaming, the median age of the program’s audience got younger while Noah was at the helm.
Younger viewers likely got to know Noah through social media sharing of his clips. As a result he developed a strong following that will continue to fill concert arenas and drive streaming numbers for comedy specials.
“I don’t take it for granted ever,” he said.
The comic’s eyes were dry at the final taping until the very end of his monologue – more than 15 minutes without the use of a TelePrompTer – when he thanked Black women for educating him and for what he believes is their ability to lead the rest of the country out of the wilderness on important matters.
“Who do you think shaped me, nourished me and formed me from my mom, my gram, my aunt – all these Black women in my life. But then in America as well – I always tell people if you truly want to learn about America, talk to Black women. … Black women can’t afford to f– around and find out. Black people understand how hard it is when things go bad, Black people know that it gets worse for them.”
“They are a lot of the reason why I’m here,” he added.
Noah give each of “The Daily Show” correspondents – Roy Wood, Jr., Desi Lydic, Ronnie Chieng, Michael Costa and Dulcé Sloan, along with contributor Jordan Klepper – a chance to poke fun at the host one more time. But during a commercial break they gathered in a warm embrace and posed for a final photo with the host.
As host, Noah was more personal and reflective than Stewart, who delivered his commentary in a stand-up shtick style, and it came through in the last show. Instead of a big-name guest to finish out, his final conversation at “The Daily Show” desk was with friend and fellow comedian Neal Brennan.
Noting that Stewart’s finale had Bruce Springsteen, Brennan said, “When I found out the last guest was me, even I was disappointed.”
As a surprise “Moment of Zen” close, producers arranged for the audience to stand and serenade Noah with “You’ll Never Walk Alone” – re-creating a ritual for Liverpool FC players when they leave the pitch for a final time. (Noah, a rabid Liverpool fan, began hugging stage crew members when the Rodgers and Hammerstein tune played).
Noah’s choice to leave “The Daily Show” after only seven years is also an indication that the newer generation of late-night hosts no longer feel the need to be on the topical comedy conveyor belt indefinitely. Predecessors such as Johnny Carson, David Letterman, Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien hung around for decades.
ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel – in his 19th season – is the longest-running late night host. Jimmy Fallon has helmed NBC’s “The Tonight Show” since 2014, while Stephen Colbert has been a late-night stalwart since 2005, first on “The Colbert Report” for Comedy Central and CBS’s “The Late Show” starting in 2015.
No replacement has been named for Noah on “The Daily Show.” When the program returns from hiatus on Jan. 17, it will turn to guests hosts including Al Franken, Chelsea Handler, D. L. Hughley, Leslie Jones, John Leguizamo, Hasan Minhaj, Kal Penn, Sarah Silverman, Wanda Sykes and Marlon Wayans.
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