Why Trevor Noah’s ‘Daily Show’ Hiring Is Big Step for Late-Night TV — Despite His Tweets and Gender

Cultural branding experts tell TheWrap how important and monumental it is to have the first “millennial in a seat of cultural power on television”

Last Updated: April 1, 2015 @ 3:33 PM

Millennials messaging with emojis might have more in common with new “Daily Show” host, Trevor Noah, than they think — even if they have no idea who he is and despite the firestorm around his controversial tweets about women and Jews.

“While certainly offensive, what’s notable from a cultural perspective is how expectations of a comedy show host have shifted in response to our distrust of mainstream news,” TruthCo. CEO Linda Ong told TheWrap. “Comedy has long had a history of political incorrectness and pushing buttons, but when ‘The Daily Show’ is viewed by millions as one of — if not the — most trusted news sources, the person in that seat must be the voice of fairness, reason and sanity.”

“The talent vetting process that is routinely handled by a network or press is now being done by the public,” added Ong’s colleague Emily Morris, TruthCo.’s director of Cultural Insights. “Now Twitter is the consumer’s biggest advocate, and determines the cultural success of a show long before it ever hits the air.”

Noah has since apologized for his remarks and likened the tweets to “jokes not landing.” Comedy Central and some fellow comedians such as Patton Oswalt and Aasif Mandvi have also jumped to his defense. But the damage has been done and only time will tell how long-lasting or severe the effects may be when Noah takes over Jon Stewart‘s chair.

And though Noah’s hiring may have came as a surprise to viewers and media when the 31-year-old biracial South African was named as Stewart’s successor as host of the Comedy Central show on Monday. It makes perfect sense for the Viacom-owned network, according to branding experts like Ong and Morris.

“While it might seem on the outside that he’s another foreigner swooping in to the late-night desk to opine about the American system and politics, what we see as the most significant occurrence is [it’s] the first time we’ve had a millennial in a seat of cultural power in television,” Ong told TheWrap, as our phone conversation shifted to the generational aspect of the comic’s promotion.

However, the network’s hiring choice — a clear win for youth — has been drowned out by the criticism over yet another late-night show overlooking women and the aforementioned backlash.

Noah clearly has talent, but his age — rather than his race — is the truest indicator of Comedy Central’s plan, Ong and Morris said.

“One of the key millennial values is this notion of inclusiveness, and he’s a great example,” Morris explained.

Fairness is another trait that is highly appealing to the American generation that TruthCo. defines as being born after 1982, Ong added, and this hire fits with that attitude. They also said that millennials not knowing who Noah is could be a good thing.

“Millennials like to discover their own new icons,” Ong explained. “They don’t want to necessarily only follow people who have been followed for centuries, decades or even years” before.

“They’re into identifying and cultivating and elevating new talent, new voices,” she added.

Noah’s voice sounds a little different — and his face looks a little different — from what we’re used to on late-night TV, which is again, probably not a coincidence.

“[Comedy Central is] essentially leaving the traditional white male P.O.V. behind, and they’re creating a leadership voice that is not about traditional white masculinity,” Morris, who sees this idea across the cable channel with projects such as “The Nightly Show,” “Key and Peele,” “Broad City” and “Inside Amy Schumer,” told TheWrap.

Comedy Central has been a client of cultural branding and insights agency TruthCo. — but they currently are not working together.

And while the young generation may not watch TV linearly, they will consume content, Morris insisted.

“We see with Jimmy Fallon there is an ability to bring viewers to television if you create television that they want to watch,” Ong, who sees a lot of “upside” to Noah’s new gig, added.

Of course, that is no guarantee that the bold move will work. The show has to be good, and the network needs to advertise to the kids with kid gloves. “One mistake would be to call out his racial background … or to even call him a ‘millennial’ in the marketing,” Ong said.

Noah, who was raised in Soweto, a township near Johannesburg in South Africa during the Apartheid era, may have an easier time trashing American politics — a staple of “The Daily Show” — thanks to another foreign-born alum of the program who paved the way.

“There was a period when we really hated hearing [outside criticism] — especially from British people, who are often viewed as harsh, mean and authoritative in American culture — but John Oliver really sort of shifted that,” Morris told TheWrap.

“I think there’s more space for accents now on TV,” she concluded.

Clearly, both Ong and Morris believe this was a purposeful and possibly successful succession choice, and are pleased with the outside-the-box internal promotion. But they also wouldn’t have minded seeing a fellow-female fill the role. After all, a spot like this one still seems to be an elusive post for women in late-night, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a stepping stone in its future iteration.

“Hopefully this show will elevate and give high profiles to other kinds of voices, women included,” Ong said, as “it seems still [to be] the territory of males to talk about serious social and political issues.”

In other words, one giant leap at a time.