Following his surprise announcement that he is stepping down, many praise Trevor Noah despite a lackluster tenure.
There was a stir in the late-night talk show spectrum last week when during the Thursday taping of The Daily Show: With Trevor Noah, the host made the unforeseen report on camera that he would soon be stepping down from his assignment. Noah has been the host for seven years, and to say that his announcement was shocking might be a touch hyperbolic, but it was a surprise of sorts all the same.
As his five-year contract was coming to an end this year some in the industry believed he had struck a new deal, and this was looked to be buoyed by the fact the show earned numerous Emmy Award nominations this year. Then Noah was out there for the 6 p.m. taping and he let the gathered audience know about his desire to return to the road for standup specials, as well as work with his own production studio. Noah’s decision was completely unknown to his staff, according to Deadline.
The news was greeted with a number of rather glowing obituaries. The Los Angeles Times said this was not only going to be a blow for The Daily Show but for the late-night universe in general.
The South African comedian brought “third world” perspective — his words — to a talk-show circuit populated with white American and Anglo jokesters. As the only Black host in late-night, Noah also had the personal experience and license to tackle racism and inequity during a particularly anxious period, one that saw demonstrations over police violence against Black Americans; a Trump administration ban on Muslim entrants to the country; a spike in anti-Asian hate crimes; and attacks on synagogues and mosques.
At NPR, Eric Deggans also saw that Noah’s vacancy could portend dire things for television beyond his home at Comedy Central. The fact that other names were also leaving their desks in the post-11 pm time slot was noted, with the loss of Noah said to be the biggest challenge.
More than any departure from the genre announced so far – from the firing of Samantha Bee to the quitting of Desus and Mero and impending exit of James Corden – Noah’s goodbye could send the most dire signals yet about the future of late night TV.
But as these mournful messages and laudatory laments are delivered they are centered almost solely on Noah’s stature as a minority presence on TV; they focus on his countenance and not his accomplishments. It is surely a welcome thing to have a minority voice in this arena, and Noah is a smart individual. He has a style and comfort that delivers incisive commentary, and he is willing to occasionally target both sides, as seen at this year’s White House Correspondents Dinner.;
But while he has the tools, over time he did not deliver at the same level as his predecessor.
When Noah took over for John Stewart in 2015 he was a relative unknown, having made only some cameo appearances on the program. He did settle in quickly and operated with confidence in Stewart’s stead – he just failed to keep the show at the same level of import. Quickly after taking over the reins, Trevor delivered ratings that were roughly 30% lower. For a time there was an uptick from that position but then the numbers leveled off. Over the years they have steadily eroded.
As it stands currently the ratings appear to be all the reason it is time for Noah to seek more fertile pastures. While Stewart was competitive in the late-night marketplace despite being hobbled with a smaller cable television availability, Trevor has lagged behind most, including the shows also featured on cable.
Late Night TV Ranking Sep 26-Oct 2
2⃣@GutfeldFox! @GregGutfeld @KatTimpf*
7⃣@KevinCorke @TraceGallagher @MikeEmanuelFox
#13 @TrevorNoah pic.twitter.com/8fAFjzqGvR
— RoadMN 📈 (@RoadMN) October 4, 2022
Couple that performance with another reality; Trevor Noah did not garner the same widespread exposure as Jon Stewart. Recall during his tenure how frequently Stewart would have his clips and commentary repeated in the national news outlets. Journalists found a way to skirt questions of objectivity by allowing Stewart to become their avatar voice on particular topics. It was a not-too-sly dodge on their part. When they would want a perspective to seep into their coverage – one that otherwise would be called out as them giving biased reporting – they would instead “report” on what John Stewart said, serving as a cut-out of sorts.
Trevor Noah did not receive this same degree of amplification. We do not see Noah’s commentary echoed in the news cycle with nearly the same frequency, and it has to be a reflection of his content. Reporters showed a willingness to commit this type of messaging subterfuge, they just needed the content. An example of Noah missing the mark was actually seen in both of the obituaries.
Deggans and Lorraine Ali at the LA Times brought up the time when Noah compared Donald Trump’s speeches during his ascendancy to those of African dictators Idi Amin, Robert Mugabe, and Jacob Zuma. This was presented as a harbinger of what to expect from Trump. “Their style, attitude and rhetoric about winning no matter the cost — and locking up their detractors in the process — was eerily similar,” Ali said.
Small matter that Trump never did resort to locking up his foes in prison, nor did he fail to deliver many of the other promised dictatorial atrocities. These writers giving Noah a glowing eulogy are committing the same error of assessment with both men. In much the same manner they throw scorn at Trump for the heinous acts he did not commit, Noah is being heralded for the success he did not achieve.