Last month, Jon Stewart announced that he would be retiring from The Daily Show by the end of the year. What followed were a few weeks of rampant speculation, hopeful predictions, and Internet disagreements about who will replace him. This morning, Comedy Central revealed the new host: 31-year-old Trevor Noah. Noah, who originally hails from South Africa, joined The Daily Show as a recurring contributor in December, appearing on-screen in only three segments before the news was announced — so this is a huge promotion. But through these segments, and his stand-up performances, Noah has demonstrated that he’s a solid choice for the job.
Trevor Noah was born in South Africa to a black mother and a white father during the apartheid era, meaning his parents’ union was illegal. Race is a big part of his stand-up comedy — he likes to joke that he was “born a crime.” Beyond his experiences with growing up in South Africa, he also mines his visits to America for material; in his Late Show performance (in which he became the first South African comedian to appear on the program) he joked about constantly being mistaken for Latino.
Noah’s a gifted stand-up comedian (he was also the first South African comedian on The Tonight Show in 2012) who has released two specials: 2012’s Trevor Noah: That’s Racist and 2013’s Trevor Noah: African American. Even since joining The Daily Show, he’s kept up a rigorous stand-up tour schedule — he’s currently in the midst of a worldwide Trevor Noah: Lost in Translation tour, and his statement to the New York Times this morning was delivered from Dubai. Noah was also the subject of an intriguing documentary titled You Laugh But It’s True (currently available to stream on Netflix), which follows him as he anxiously prepares for his first one-man show.
On The Daily Show, Trevor Noah is billed as the Senior International Correspondent and has focused his segments on introducing American audiences to global news. In his first appearance, centered on Noah’s transition from South Africa to New York City, Noah played “Spot the Africa” with Jon Stewart, inviting the host to look at side-by-side pictures of America and South Africa and identify which land mass is which. His other appearances have had similar themes, bringing Stewart (and viewers) up to date on what’s happening overseas.
This approach is likely one of the factors that influenced Comedy Central to go with Noah. Every time a late-night show switches hosts — fake news or otherwise — it’s up to the new host to bring a new approach to the show, but not one that’s too alienating to longtime viewers. Noah has the basic The Daily Show feel down: He’s smart, he’s affable, he’s informative without being condescending (his on-screen persona essentially entails patiently explaining foreign affairs to an ignorant Stewart), and he knows how to deliver a punchline. But it’s also easy to predict the changes he’ll make to the show, regularly expanding coverage beyond the United States (which, to be fair, won’t be an entirely new thing for The Daily Show) and bringing a foreign perspective to domestic issues. Comedy Central president Michele Ganeless expands on this in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter:
The world is becoming smaller and smaller every day, so having someone with a global perspective is important for us domestically, not to mention internationally. The world seems to be shrinking in terms of the speed with which information gets disseminated and what people know of different parts of the world. And to have somebody who is very agile in that sense is a big plus for us.
In just three featured segments, Trevor Noah has already brought a smart and unique point of view to The Daily Show. If, as expected, his hosting stint follows this format, and if he borrows heavily from his stand-up performances, he’ll certainly be a welcome addition to the late night world.