Why Trevor Noah’s Background Is His Sweet Spot
CAPE TOWN, South Africa—When word circulated on Monday that standup comic Trevor Noah had been chosen to succeed Jon Stewart as host of The Daily Show, South Africans hailed Noah in hyper-caffeinated terms as the country’s “next great export” after Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, and Charlize Theron. On that day, I happened to be in Johannesburg shepherding students through the newsroom of The Star, where the lineup of stories at the morning editorial conference included a series of firefights between gangsters and police on public highways, allegations of corruption at every level of government, and the teetering condition of the state-run utility company, which regularly plunges the country into rolling blackouts. It was no wonder that news of a major U.S. television show hiring a 31-year-old mixed-race South African phenom as anchor had proven so welcome.
By now, the basics about Trevor Noah are well-known. He’s the young, super-cool comedian with the cherubic face and itchy Twitter finger who, beginning in 2012, achieved global recognition by way of Jay Leno, David Letterman, and Jon Stewart. In a series of solo performances around the world over the last three years, he has blown up in ways that cultural figures from South Africa haven’t since the 1960s and 1970s, when musicians like Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba packed music halls during the height of racial oppression back home.