The late night talk show lineup just got quite a bit darker, as Comedy Central announced that it had tapped South African comedian Trevor Noah to replace Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show,” a comic news show that Stewart drove to pop culture icon status during his 16 years at the helm.
Noah’s rise is remarkable at just 31, considering that he has appeared on “The Daily Show” just three times and has been a working comedian in America for only about four years.
Along with “The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore,” which airs after “The Daily Show,” Comedy Central will now have a powerful duo of hosts who see the world from a decidedly Black perspective.
Noah mines his racial background frequently in his comedy, somehow turning pain into laughs as he delves into growing up during apartheid when the very union of his parents—a Black Xhosa mother and a white Swiss father—was illegal.
“My mother had to be very clandestine about who my father was,” Noah said in an interview with the New York Times. “He couldn’t be on my birth certificate.”
In his stand-up comedy special on Showtime, Noah does a hilarious routine where he mimics the strangeness of going out in public with his parents and all of them having to pretend they weren’t together.
“I didn’t live a normal life—I grew up in a country that wasn’t normal,” he said to the Times.
He talks in his comedy about how damaged and off-base is the American perception of his homeland. During an appearance on “Late Show With David Letterman” in 2013, Noah said he didn’t like being introduced as a comedian from Africa because he felt like the implication was that he represented the entire continent.
“They make it sound like a guy in leopard skin’s going to come running on the stage,” he said.
He also refers during his routine to the immense respect he had for African-Americans growing up and how he couldn’t wait to come to America because for the first time he would be considered just “Black,” rather than the amorphous “colored” designation used to describe biracial people in South Africa. The fact that any person with just a drop of Black blood is called Black in the U.S. to Noah was a potential source of enormous joy, he says during his routine.
It will be fascinating to hear his take on the zaniness of American politics and its racial landscape from an international perspective as he sits at the important and influential “Daily Show” desk. At a time when many Americans, particularly young people, get most of their serious news from a variety of non-traditional sources, the “Daily Show” has emerged as an extremely powerful news source.
“I never thought I’d be more afraid of police in America than in South Africa,” he said with a smile during one of his appearances on the show. “It kind of makes me a little nostalgic for the old days, back home.”
During his comedy routine, Noah does an extremely funny bit about how much America is feared as a slightly stupid, belligerent bully around the world. He compares the U.S. to the dumb jock in high school who strides ignorantly down the halls, looking for some weaker victim to harass and beat up.
Stewart, 52, was reportedly heavily involved in Noah’s selection. Stewart announced that he was stepping down on Feb. 10, leading to weeks of speculation about his replacement.
“I’m thrilled for the show and for Trevor,” Stewart said in a statement. “He’s a tremendous comic and talent that we’ve loved working with.” Mr. Stewart added that he “may rejoin as a correspondent just to be a part of it!!!”
Noah spoke to the Times from Dubai, during an international comedy tour.
“You don’t believe it for the first few hours,” Noah said of learning about his new job. “You need a stiff drink, and then unfortunately you’re in a place where you can’t really get alcohol.”
The Times also interviewed Michele Ganeless, the Comedy Central president, about the process of selecting Noah.
“We talked to women. We talked to men,” she said. “We found in Trevor the best person for the job. 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.”
Noah said he knows there will be people who will attack his selection.
“We live in a world where some people still say Beyoncé can’t sing,” he said. “Clearly I’m not immune to that.”