Trevor Noah, left, and James Corden have both had time to settle into their new late-night roles. (Reuters)
LOS ANGELES – Last year, many American TV watchers weren’t familiar with UK comedian James Corden or South Africa native Trevor Noah. But both have now settled into roles in two major late-night shows — one more successfully than the other. The Wall Street Journal recently proclaimed Corden has “redefined” late-night, while a less flattering Slate article was titled “Why isn’t America paying attention to Trevor Noah?”
Corden celebrated his one year anniversary on “The Late Late Show” on March 23, and Noah has been the official host of “The Daily Show” for eight months. Corden’s show has been up 33 percent among adults 18 to 49 in comparison to his predecessor Craig Ferguson. However, Noah’s ratings on “The Daily Show” are down 38 percent compared to previous host Jon Stewart.
Variety’s Executive Editor of Television Debra Birnbaum praised Corden for his innovative take on “The Late Late Show.”
“Corden has made the ‘Late Late Show’ his own,” she said. “He’s completely reinvented the format with inventive games, his singing and dancing, and of course his Carpool Karaoke series — and then there’s that infectious laugh. It’s impossible to resist.”
Corden’s viral Carpool Karaoke segment has apparently struck a chord with audiences. For the segment, viewers watch as Corden drives around with all-star musical guests and prompts them to sing some of their biggest hits. Adele’s Carpool Karaoke video has reached over 88 million views while Justin Bieber’s turn in Corden’s car raked in 68 million.
Natalie Jarvey, of the Hollywood Reporter, wrote Corden may understand the power of online stardom more than anyone else. “The Late Late Show” YouTube channel has more than 4 million subscribers tuning in.
Dan Gainor, VP of business and culture for the Media Research Center, said Noah, meanwhile, isn’t appealing to the viral video audience.
“Corden is following the Jimmy Fallon route to success – viral videos and fun instead of [the] allegedly biting wit that Noah has tried,” he said. “I think Corden’s offers a more unique late-night show, less political. Noah is just reheated Jon Stewart – nowhere near as fun or funny.”
Corden and Noah are on at different times, and the shows formats differ and have little in common. While Noah plays to a satirical newsy show, Corden loosely follows the other late night formats. Still, in the end, Jimmy Fallon and Seth Myers still dominate the late night scene. The NBC hosts have been in the lead for the past 25 weeks straight in the key demo (adults 18 to 49) and total viewers.
Unlike Corden, Birnbaum suspects Noah is having a hard time trying to find his own niche within the late night crowd.
“There’s no way he could live up to his predecessor, Jon Stewart,” she said. “He’s been trying to find his own voice, stepping out from behind the desk, and experimenting with ways to inject himself into this unprecedented election season, but he’s getting drowned by the competition who are bringing a sharper perspective.”
One of the bigger threats to Noah may possibly be newcomer Samantha Bee. Bee has previously worked on “The Daily Show” and has proved to audiences she has what it takes to hang with the late night gang as well. A NY Post article claimed her to be the true successor to Jon Stewart, while weekly her show debuted at 2.2 million viewers.
On “The Daily Show” for the past few months, Noah has continually bashed president hopeful Donald Trump. Last week, Noah discussed the violence surrounding a cancelled Trump rally in Chicago saying, “Donald Trump didn’t just create an atmosphere for violence at his rallies. He basically engineered it as carefully and deliberately as Matt Damon did when he was growing potatoes on Mars.” In the past, Noah has also said Trump sounds like a fascist.
Cate Meighan, pop culture expert, believes the Trump bashing will make brief headlines but won’t get Noah the attention he may be hoping for.
“I don’t think that it will necessarily hurt Trevor Noah to bash Trump because just about everyone seems to, especially in late-night but it’s not going to help him in the long run,” she said. “Eventually the topic of Trump will lose its luster and then Noah is back to scrambling to find that thing that makes him connect with audiences.”
Gainor explained Noah’s attacks on Trump stem from his desperation to avoid criticism.
“Noah is attacking Trump because he’s feeling heat that he’s not being an effective liberal icon like Stewart was. His reaction is out of desperation to fend off criticism. He lacks Stewart’s talent, wit and delivery to target Trump, Cruz or anyone else in politics effectively.”
Meighan thinks if Noah should take a page out of Corden’s book.
“Noah needs to find something like [Corden’s Carpool Karaoke] so that he can grab viewers, be it a busy entertainment news day or a slow one. Creating a fun segment that really works is the key to Noah thriving in late-night, not relying on taking pot shots at a predictable target.”