Trevor Noah — From Cell C CEO to Microsoft CQO.

Trevor Noah has been hosting a show for Microsoft on YouTube called The Prompt, where he is captioned with the title “Chief Questions Officer.”

The promotional videos focus on Microsoft’s work in artificial intelligence, with Noah speaking to scientists and Microsoft staff members on various topics.

Three of the six already published videos highlight machine learning’s medical applications, while another discusses its utility in detecting and responding to extreme weather.

Noah’s videos with Microsoft hearken back to 2010 when he became Cell C’s “CEO” — short for Chief Experience Officer.

Fourteen years ago, Cell C pumped a significant amount of money into its network to relaunch as a serious mobile data contender in South Africa.

On Wednesday, 28 July 2010, a video clip of Noah grilling South Africa’s mobile networks in a comedy routine went viral on social media. He criticised Cell C’s network particularly harshly.

Unfortunately, the original clip has been blocked on YouTube due to a copyright claim by Ark Angel Entertainment and Trevor Noah.

By that Sunday, 1 August, Cell C had taken out full-page ads in the Sunday Times and Rapport to apologise with public letters addressed to Noah.

“Your criticism about spotty coverage, dropped calls, and overall lack of delivery is not unfounded,” the ad stated.

“We know how frustrated South Africans are with the cellular industry, which is why we are so very serious about turning things around.”

It seemed all too impressive that Cell C prepared, approved, and booked a full-page ad in South Africa’s two biggest Sunday newspapers within days of the viral clip.

Many people were sceptical about the timing, and by that Wednesday, 4 August, it was clear the whole thing was a publicity stunt.

Cell C held a big media event that morning to launch its overhauled network and introduce Noah as its “Chief Experience Officer”.

While the campaign left a sour taste in the mouths of marketing and media pundits who felt played, it would be a mistake to conclude that it backfired.

Cell C got terrific mileage out of its PR move. The opinion pieces flowed long after the initial stunt and throughout Noah’s contract with Cell C, which included appearing in several humorous TV commercials for the operator.

Noah’s journey to becoming an internationally recognised comedian did not begin at Cell C, though.

Born in Johannesburg on 20 February 1984, his mother, Patricia Nombuyiselo Noah, was black, while his Swiss father, Robert, was white.

As Noah put in his 2016 book, he was “born a crime”.

Apartheid laws prohibited his parents’ relationship, and his mother was jailed and fined by the South African government.

Noah spent his early youth at the private school Maryvale College, a Catholic school in Johannesburg.

His father later moved back to Switzerland and Noah was raised by his mother and maternal grandmother, Nomalizo Frances Noah.

At 18, Noah landed a starring role on local soap Isidingo. After working on Isidingo in 2002, Noah hosted a radio show called Noah’s Ark on the Gauteng youth radio station YFM.

Noah went on to host several TV shows between 2004 and 2007.

These included Run The Adventure from 2004 to 2006 on SABC 2. In 2007, he hosted The Real Goboza, a gossip show on SABC 1, and Siyadlala, a sports show that also aired on SABC.

In 2008, Noah co-hosted dating game show The Amazing Date alongside Pabi Moloi. He was also a Strictly Come Dancing contestant in season 4.

In 2009, he hosted the South Africa Film and Television Awards and co-hosted reality competition series The Axe Sweet Life.

Noah hosted the South African Music Awards and Tonight with Trevor Noah on M-Net in 2010 — the same year he landed the Cell C gig.

Africa Owalla

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