What Comedy Central Got Right with Trevor Noah

What Comedy Central Got Right with Trevor Noah

After 16 years as host of The Daily Show, in March Jon Stewart announced that he would be stepping down.  His decision shocked and disappointed fans—many questioning how such an important commentator on American politics could leave just as 2016 presidential hopefuls began declaring their nominations.

Confusion for Daily Show followers continued when Trevor Noah, a widely unknown South African comic was tapped to take Stewart’s place. Within hours of the announcement that Noah would succeed Stewart—controversy erupted across social media. The public scrutinized Noah’s Twitter feed and many questioned Comedy Central’s decision.

However, despite the public outcry, Comedy Central stood behind Trevor Noah–their choice was brilliantly calculated.  Although perhaps superficially the selection seemed out of the blue, Noah is perfect for the future of The Daily Show.

As entrepreneurs we are sometimes faced with difficult decisions—making important choices and finding the right person for the job can be taxing and perplexing.  The situation with Comedy Central and Trevor Noah highlights several key takeaways about embracing change, having a solid business model, knowing demographics and succession planning—all of which we should keep in mind.

Embrace Change

Although fans love Jon Stewart, it was becoming clear that he was losing enthusiasm for the show.  He even said it himself.  Additionally, while remaining pointed and funny, his outrage against Fox News and right-wingers had become somewhat predictable.  

While Jon Stewart and Trevor Noah both ascribe to similar values, in many ways they couldn’t be more different.  Noah is the first non-white, non-American to host The Daily Show.   He is a soft-spoken 31-year-old South African who speaks seven languages and is the son of a black Xhosa mother and a white Swiss-German father.  Although he has hosted TV, radio and done Comedy for years, before 2015 Noah was almost completely unknown to American Audiences.  These differences are part of what makes Noah the perfect successor.  Here’s why:

There is no one at all like Noah Trevor on late night TV. Noah has given The Daily Show the opportunity to completely reinvent itself.  Being from South Africa, Noah brings a totally unique perspective to American viewers— one that has great potential to attract attention and increase the show’s audience.  The show has expanded the parameters of what gets satirized and from what perspective. 

Had Comedy Central hired someone from the existing Stewart camp, this opportunity would not exist.  Someone well known who worked closely with Jon Stewart over the years would probably give viewers the impression that it was the same show, just without the star.  That could bore and turn them away quickly.

You should look at bigger picture and not be afraid.  Trevor Noah’s uniqueness gives Comedy Central the opportunity to expand viewership while still upholding the values that are important to fans.  What might initially be perceived as a weakness—like being unknown—can, in fact, be a huge strength.  Comedy Central is now positioned to speak to the new generation of liberal Americans.

Know Your Business Model and Customer Demographics

A business model is an essential tool to any entrepreneur.  Creating a business model involves asking questions like: Who’s the target customer? What value do we deliver? How will we reach, acquire and keep customers? How will we define and differentiate our offering?  It requires a plan for profitability, including a timeline for expected costs and revenues. It even goes as far as analyzing how customers prefer to pay for your products or services.

Closely connected to your business model is the analysis of the demographics and psychographics of target customers.  It is impossible to sell something well without a clear picture of who the customer is and what values are important to this person.  A quick search on Google will reveal that the demographics of The Daily Show are typically young, liberal and well educated.  Additionally, chances are the viewers are also open minded, racially diverse, interested world events, and hungry for change.  Trevor Noah is the perfect voice to target this audience while upholding Comedy Central’s business model.  Here’s why:

Trevor Noah is young, funny and extremely intelligent.  He comes from the new school and had 2 million Twitter followers internationally even before being selected as host.  As a foreigner he has a distinctive dimension to the way he challenges American culture and politics— and he is able to do so gracefully.  He has a great capacity to teach a group who is interested in learning.  All this while providing high-quality, hilarious and unique programing that will keep viewers coming back.

Succession planning

You should always be preparing for what’s next, especially with leadership.  It’s generally agreed that there are four stages of successful succession planning: 1) Fully engage your shareholders, 2) Assess your internal candidates, 3) Conduct a stress test and 4) On-board the successor.

First and foremost, a strategy needs to be developed.  Having a regularly updated document that profiles your next leader is essential.  This document should be changed as strategy and marketing conditions change.  It should dive deeply into both the competencies and experiences required for the next leader.  It should be used to grade candidates in an objective manner.  Many times a successor will be entirely different from the current leader—just like Trevor Noah is different from Jon Stewart in many ways.

Once criteria are established, internal candidates can be assessed.  The team should go wide and deep—no matter how small their role, everyone should be examined in detail.  Trevor Noah had only been a guest one The Daily Show Three times before becoming the host—a less thorough group might have overlooked him.

Also, always be prepared for both emergencies and planned successions.  Decide who you have to invest in today so that he and she will be prepared for tomorrow. Stress test and give your potential leaders the opportunity to prove their capabilities.  Through Noah’s previous work it was clear to Comedy Central that he could handle the new role.

Finally, when onboarding, never make it sink of swim—always cover your bases.  Anyone named as a successor has learning to do and mistakes to recover from.  This is why it’s so important for leadership to take time from the announcement to the actual changeover to address as many needs as possible.  Teammates, mentors and a feedback-rich environment are essential at this stage.

Trevor Noah had six months to prepare to take over the show. Additionally, when John Oliver briefly took over The Daily Show in 2013, it became clear that viewers enjoyed the non-American perspective.  Finally, Larry Wilmore and Chris Hardwick are fully established stars of Comedy Central. If for any reason ratings took a hit during Noah’s debut, the network would not falter. 


Strategy and thorough, continuous evaluation are essential keys to any entrepreneurs.  When change comes, don’t fear it—embrace it.   If you maintain a solid business model, known your demographics and succession plan well, chances are you’ll land on your feet.

For more advice on how to meet your business goals and live the life of your dreams, visit www.thewealthyyogi.com.


AboutDr. Roshawnna Novellus, aka "The Wealthy Yogi" is a finance expert, author, investor, and yoga enthusiast on a mission to help people achieve their goals through wealth building, entrepreneurship, and staying balanced while juggling it all.  You can learn 5 Ways to Multiply Wealth in 90 Days without Giving Up the Things you Love for free, and enter her contest to win a $50 Amazon Card.

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