Trevor Noah’s Three Ways to Supersede a Legend


When stepping into a new job, there are occasions when we are following a superstar. Someone highly regarded with widespread appeal. Someone who innovated the workplace and possibly the industry. Someone like Jon Stewart.

Yesterday it was announced that Trevor Noah will be taking over for Jon Stewart on The Daily Show. As funny and intelligent as Trevor may be, can you imagine trying to follow Jon, a man who reinvented and legitimized “fake news”? In these situations, how can Trevor or anyone else replace an icon?

Here are three things to keep in mind.

#1 Don’t try to be a 2.0 version of your predecessor

Trevor Noah is not Jon Stewart. This is not an insult or a comparison; it is a factual statement. So why should Trevor, the network, or the audience expect him to be a mere imitation?

You don’t hope to find the next Jon Stewart — there is no next Jon Stewart. So, our goal was to find someone who brings something really exciting and new and different. – Michele Ganeless, Comedy Central president

You were selected because of you, not because you can impersonate your predecessor. There’s nothing wrong with figuring out what they did well and learning from it, but don’t assume they were infallible. With time, you’ll be able to improve upon their work and make it your own. The key is to be authentic and yourself.

#2 Accept your new role

It’s one thing to work for a promotion or a new role. It’s another to actually get it. When Trevor accepted his new job, he was at a gig in Dubai.

You don’t believe it for the first few hours. You need a stiff drink, and then unfortunately you’re in a place where you can’t really get alcohol. – Trevor Noah

He is right on both counts – you don’t believe it AND you’re usually not in a place to celebrate when you find out. The latter is easy; you can rejoice later. The first part is more difficult. Some people go months without fully grasping that they’ve attained their goal. They develop insecurities and self-doubt. Sometimes these individuals work through it, other times it is their downfall.

Take some time to wrap your head around the honor bestowed upon you. Is it overwhelming? Sure, but it didn’t happen by accident. You’ve been on this trajectory for quite some time. Accept that you’ve earned it so you can move into the “what am I going to do with it” stage.

#3 Get your predecessor’s blessing…publicly

When taking on a new role, the team has formed an impression of you before you ever walk through the door. To ease the transition, the masses need to understand that you are not forcing out their beloved leader. If the team believes you had a hand in pushing him/her out, you will never gain their trust.

For The Daily Show, this is a non-issue. Jon resigned months ago of his own volition, stating he was ready to do something else. It also helps to have an endorsement from the outbound hero.

I’m thrilled for the show and for Trevor. He’s a tremendous comic and talent that we’ve loved working with. – Jon Stewart

I am not envious of Trevor. It is much easier to follow a disaster. The expectations are lower and you have nowhere to go but up. When you aren’t this lucky, you can at least take comfort in knowing you aren’t jumping onto a sinking ship. Your predecessor started you off on a promising path. Now it’s time to find your own.

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