Trevor Noah On ‘The Daily Show’ Isn’t The First Time A Newcomer Has Been Made Famous By Late Night

Trevor Noah was hardly a name that we expected to hear in attachment with conversations about who will replace Jon Stewart as host of the Daily Show … mostly because Trevor Noah was name that we’d hardly ever even heard before. The newest correspondent for Comedy Central’s benchmark satire, Noah doesn’t have the tenure of Samantha Bee, the buzziness of Jessica Williams, or the out-of-show recognizability of Aasif Mandvi or Al Madrigal. But odds be damned, as the 31-year-old South African-born comedian Noah will replace Stewart on The Daily Show, following the longtime host’s retirement from the program.

But the surprise factor is exactly what might have given Noah an edge over other competitors for the position, which is, as per Monday morning’s announcement, officially his. The late night circuit has made a habit, perhaps even a tradition, of awarding its prime slots to underdog parties and relative unknowns. Since they were made famous through their positions at the head of their respective network talk shows, we forget that the likes of Johnny Carson, Conan O’Brien, and others entered the late night ring without much notability to their names.

These now ionic TV kingpins were hardly “obvious choices” for their respective prime gigs, keeping Noah in some pretty admirable (and promising) company.

Johnny Carson

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Carson wasn’t quite an unknown when he ascended to Tonight Show hosting in 1962, but he wasn’t anywhere near a shoe-in for the job either. Before taking ownership of the NBC institution, Carson claimed only a short-lived and unsuccessful eponymous variety series, and was known best as a ubiquitous game show panelist. The comedian famously participated on series such as I’ve Got a Secret, To Tell the Truth, and What’s My Line. His growing reputation as a standup, and popularity among industry types, dubbed him a worthy replacement for the great Jack Paar.

Conan O’Brien

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Fans of Late Night’s lanky redhead are likely well aware of his pre-hosting position as a Simpsons writer, but that notoriety was completely retroactive. Almost nobody knew who O’Brien was before he took on the post-Tonight Show NBC series following David Letterman’s relocation to CBS, earning the comic the pejorative nickname “Conan O’Blivion” (courtesy of Tom Shales of The Washington Post). After a rocky start, however, O’Brien gained the favorable, widespread reputation that he enjoys today.

James Corden

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Current Late Late Show host James Corden remains an unfamiliar face to American audiences even today… granted, he just began hosting the program a week ago. Corden was a particularly surprising, albeit apropos, choice to take on the esoterically inclined CBS series. Most of his work on the screen has involved European TV shows, films, and even web series, although Corden did reach U.S. audiences through his appearance in Into the Woods.

Jon Stewart

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Yes, the Daily Show host himself was at one time an unknown. Several years before headlining the Comedy Central series, the New Jersey native got his start with MTV’s The Jon Stewart Show, a talk series that lasted only two seasons on air. Despite its quick lifespan, the show lent Stewart enough clout as a TV personality to replace Craig Kilborn as top news parodist. That said, we can recall wondering just how producers landed on a seemingly out-of-nowhere pick like Stewart to take the Daily Show wheel back in ’99.

So don’t worry, Noah, you’re not the first to incur audience doubt — and you’ll win them all over in no time.

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