Noah may not have the decision-making power of the top executives on this list, but he is perhaps its most widely recognized face. And in a presidential election year, during a pandemic and months of social-justice protests, his was an important voice in the comedy world and also the cultural landscape.
Early in the pandemic, he paved the way as the first late-night host to shift to doing shows from his home, beginning March 23. (He also has paid the salaries of about two dozen furloughed staffers.) Steering away from the laughs, he gave National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci 13 minutes of airtime on March 26. In a subsequent interview, Noah explained that he worried about experts and facts being sidelined for opinions. “American news generally is geared more toward entertainment and engagement than information, because information can be very boring,” he said. “We needed to give this expert a platform.” (The show was viewed on YouTube nearly 12million times.)
As the only Black host of a major late-night show, he also offered a unique perspective on the George Floyd killing and subsequent protests, explaining clearly and potently why, in some early cases, the protests shifted into violence and looting. (Noah, who is from South Africa, is interracial; his background is explored in incisive detail in his acclaimed memoir, Born a Crime.)
He also pushed the limits of linear television this year, persuading Comedy Central to extend the show to 45 minutes to allow more time for interviews, even if it meant the show no longer neatly fit the traditional half-hour time slots.
But Noah is more than just his nightly time on Comedy Central on the Emmy and Peabody Award-winning show. (The show earned six Emmy Award nominations in 2020.) He has helped the show move into the modern era, breaking free of the linear constraints with engaging social media content, including an award-winning digital series and podcasts for his global audience. This year, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah earned Webby Awards for Best in Comedy and Best Web Personality/Host.”
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Stuart Miller has been writing about television for 30 years since he first joined Variety as a staff writer. He has written about television for The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, The Boston Globe, Newsweek, Vulture and numerous other publications.