Lefsetz Letter » Blog Archive » Trevor Noah Leaves The Daily Show

Lefsetz Letter » Blog Archive » Trevor Noah Leaves The Daily Show


The goals have changed, and you need to change accordingly.

Used to be Johnny Carson was a god. Forget that he’s already been forgotten, at best a distant memory in the minds of boomers and Gen-X’ers, but David Letterman is fading too. Don’t expect Netflix to continue to lay out the big bucks for his services, that paradigm is dead. The streaming outlets made gargantuan deals to draw attention, to give them status, they no longer need it, the companies are mature, they now live or die based on original hits. “Stranger Things” means much more to Netflix than David Letterman, just like “Ted Lasso” means much more to Apple TV+ than Oprah Winfrey, whom the Cupertino service just parted ways with.

Used to be hosting a late night TV show was the dream. Didn’t work so well for Conan O’Brien. He’s trying to reinvent himself as a podcaster, but in truth he’s been hobbled by late night TV, his talents could have been better employed elsewhere, he would have been better off pushing the envelope all by his lonesome than under the constriction of sitting behind a late night desk.

As for Jay Leno… He was on Bill Maher’s new podcast, where Bill frequently doesn’t let the guest speak, and Jay said he was at a friend’s house and this buddy told his fourteen year old son that Jay used to host “The Tonight Show” before Jimmy Fallon and the kid didn’t believe it.

So, if you’re a late night host, you get to be the face of the network. But that network is bleeding viewers. The only thing that’s no longer on demand is sports, and natural disasters. Otherwise, you watch it when you want to, and usually you don’t.

Then there’s the power of TikTok. It’s killing Facebook. Prognosticators are saying the social media giant is going to circle the drain. You can’t find one person who believes in their metaverse play other than Mark Zuckerberg, who didn’t come up with the idea for Facebook anyway, originality is not his forte. He just buys or competes. But now Instagram is cratering. There’s not enough there there, you keep seeing the same stuff over and over again. All the creators have gone to TikTok.

The appeal of TikTok is humanity. We are social people. We always want to know what other people are up to, we dream of interacting with them. And TikTok is far different from Instagram, what came before. Not being static, it’s hard to fake. It’s the most real social medium. And it’s the new haven of comedy.

For a while there it was Twitter, before everyone realized most people are not even on Twitter, they can’t comprehend it, how to use it, the service has a stink upon it, even though it’s vital for those addicted to the news, which is just about everybody these days.

Comedy didn’t work on Instagram, it moves, unlike the pictures of celebrities and other boasters.

But on TikTok… Like comedy, and the algorithm will serve up more. While Facebook was focusing on serving advertisers, TikTok was focused on users, delivering what they wanted. And they do! Sure, there’s a China problem, which needs to be addressed, but as a user, TikTok is the heartbeat of America, even though everyone is watching something different.

This is the problem that the mainstream continues to fail to acknowledge. We no longer live in a monoculture. Mass is a fantasy. Everything is niche. You can get the story everywhere online and still people are unaware of it. Come on, admit it, shows played in your hometown that you were unaware of, that you might have gone to, this never happened before.

So the old verticals, the old desires, just don’t mean that much anymore.

Sitcoms. Forget that they don’t make many. “Seinfeld” made every standup salivate for a show. But even if you get a show now, almost no one will see it. And today it’s not about casual fans, but dedicated fans. Casual fans may have the money, but they don’t have the time. There’s so much stuff I’m interested in, but there’s a limited amount I’ll do a deep dive on, that I’ll pay for.

So you don’t want to have a sitcom.

And now Trevor Noah says he doesn’t want a late night television show. It’s hindering his progress. Not only is it limiting his lifestyle, he’d like to travel more, see more, not be tied down with so much work, and he’d also like to explore his standup more. You may do a monologue on TV, but others write those jokes. But if you go on the road, interact with a live audience, you can hone a new act, you can feel more alive.

And it’s not only TV personalities, it’s music ones too.

Used to be the goal was to have a hit. There’s nothing wrong with achieving one today, even though it reaches many fewer people, but it’s not the anchor of a career it once was. That’s road work. You cement the relationship on the road. And as far as getting new fans, it’s the old fans who bring them. You just feed the diehards, not only live, but online. They can’t get enough of you. Don’t bother casting a wide net trying to entice newbies, it can’t be done, not at a significant level.

You can have a track in the Spotify Top 50, the Spotify Top 10, and you’ll get hosannas from the label, even a bit of mainstream ink, but that does not mean you can sell any tickets, that you’ll have a continuing stream of income. Because you’ve got no diehard fans! You’ve got to be around longer than that, you need a body of work.

As for being on the road… You can’t do it alone. First, you need a good team, a good manager and agent, and then you have to work with other acts, trade favors. That’s where hip-hop has it right, but now even that genre is fading:

“Hip-Hop Is the Hottest Music of the Streaming Era. Is It Now Cooling Down? – A dearth of new breakout rap stars and innovation in the genre has some music executives concerned about a slowdown”: https://on.wsj.com/3Rtq1p2

It’s so easy to play these days, but harder than ever to win. Not only are you competing with every other act, you’re competing with streaming music, video games AND the history of recorded music. Good luck! If you’re in it to get rich quick, stay out, go into tech.

We’re going through a wrenching transition. And it’s really about the death of the baby boomer paradigms. Who cares what the top ten is in any genre? Music, movies, TV… It’s all about what you want to see, and there are very few people whose recommendations you trust.

Just like Firesign Theatre said, everything you know is wrong. And if you’re not willing to re-evaluate… Being stuck in the past is a recipe for a quick death. It’s fine if you want to silo yourself off, take yourself out of the discussion, but if you want to play, comment intelligently, not only do you have to read the mainstream publications, you’ve got to surf the news all over, informing your own opinions. Be wary of blind spots. And if you’re watching TV news, you’re already behind.

Just like there are people who keep saying that electric cars aren’t the future. In June 2021, Mercedes-Benz said it was going all electric by 2039. Now it’s by 2030: https://on.wsj.com/3rn1TtL And Toyota is being castigated for being behind. Every other traditional manufacturer is on a sprint to electric, not only because of Tesla, but because of the Chinese! Used to be innovation came from the States, but that’s before we decided to go to war with ourselves and stop progress. God, the influx of immigrant technologists? Whose jobs were they taking? Now they’ve gone to Canada, stayed home in India… People in Silicon Valley know all this, but D.C. is behind the game, and the public is grossly misinformed.

So ask yourself if the target you’re shooting for still applies, or whether it’s an anachronism. Talk to people who are true digital natives, the ones born after the internet took hold, like the college students who are now born in the twenty first century. Sure, they might have a vinyl fetish, but not at the cost of a streaming music subscription. And they don’t have TV sets, never mind cable subscriptions.

It’s astounding to observe. For ten or twelve years the boomers loudly protested about the arrival of the future, all the changes it begat. You don’t even hear the oldsters bitching about streaming royalties, which they still don’t understand, anymore. The younger generations have accepted the new paradigms. Oldsters yelling is akin to Grandpa Simpson howling about how it was in his day, and the boomers think they’re so young that they won’t get the hearing aids they need. And if you can’t hear what’s going on, good luck knowing what’s going on.

So Trevor Noah has it right. And no amount of Carpool Karaoke can convince James Corden it’s worth sacrificing his stage and screen career. And it was a fad anyway, heard people talk about it recently?

Laying pipe to stick around… Very few people have the patience and commitment. But it’s what it’s all about today. And you forge your own path. Momentary success is just that. Might be a peak, but in isolation, a monadnock. You’re better off climbing every hill in New England than one 14k mountain in the Rockies. The initial glory may be less, but…

It takes a lot of effort to build a career. Expend it wisely.


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