Um … who? That was the question for a lot of people when Comedy Central told the New York Times that Trevor Noah will replace Jon Stewart as host of “The Daily Show.” Here’s what we know so far:
What’s his story? Noah is a 31-year-old comedian, born and raised in Soweto in South Africa to a black African mother and Swiss father. He was brought up during apartheid, meaning his parents had to hide their relationship. That difficult situation is just one touchy subject the comedian has translated into big laughs during stand-up specials.
What are his credentials? Noah has been honing his comedic skills over the last few years, focusing on a stand-up act that landed him on “The Tonight Show” in 2012 and “Late Show With David Letterman” the following year. He has also been on “The Daily Show” three times since December, holding forth on Ebola, Boko Haram and police brutality, among other topics. He memorably played a game with Stewart called Spot the Africa, where the host had to look at two photographs and guess which one depicted Africa and which showed the U.S.
Is he funny? Sometimes. Noah’s “Daily Show” appearances felt a little stilted and very scripted. To be fair, though, three appearances is hardly enough time to let him get into his groove and improvise. You can see that Noah is in his element doing stand-up. His sets can be both very funny and insightful, key elements for a “Daily Show” host. He does a lot of observational comedy.
More importantly for his future American audience, he does some great fish-out-of-water stories about what it’s like for a South African to spend time in the States, including a meditation on the way American radio stations censor hip-hop songs. He also did a funny bit from his “That’s Racist” tour about a confusing exchange with a taco truck proprietor, which also happens to show off Noah’s incredible talent for accents.
What can we expect from him as a host? One of Stewart’s great talents is putting a spotlight on the inanity of American politics, but Noah’s arrival could bring with it a broader focus for current events. And given how crowded the market is getting, that’s probably smart. “Daily Show” has a chance to change its niche and focus on the more overlooked international stories.
Zoah’s method is also vastly different from Stewart’s. Where Stewart’s stock-in-trade is faux rage (or sometimes real rage) and incredulity, Noah has a more deadpan delivery. Of course, that could change as he takes over and finds his hosting voice.