Trevor Noah has his work cut out for him. The South African comedian will take over “The Daily Show” this month, following the departure of 16-year host Jon Stewart. The show can be expected to continue its role as America’s flagship satirical media outlet, with some valuable contributions from a new frontman.
Jon Stewart was the face and voice of “The Daily Show” while it found itself. When he took over in 1999, it was just another pop culture talk show. Stewart’s levelheaded style, self-deprecating humor and occasional bouts of mania established the mock news genre that has taken off in the past two decades.
Noah joined The Daily Show in 2014 as a contributor. He has also appeared on “Late Show with David Letterman,” “The Tonight Show with David Letterman” and had his own show, “Tonight with Trevor Noah,” in South Africa.
Noah’s style of comedy, while different from Stewart’s, achieves similar ends. His standup is laid-back and the comedian smoothly moves between clever turn-of-phrase, biting commentary and classically charming immaturity.
“In terms of content on the show, we’re still dealing with the same issues,” Noah said during the Television Critics Association summer press tour. “The issues are not changing in America and in the world, so it’s just a different angle. It’s my angle.”
Noah’s angle offers a take on American culture from a non-American perspective. The comedian grew up biracial under apartheid, joking in one routine that his black mother couldn’t hold his hand in view of police as if he were “a bag of weed.” His father is Swiss, and Noah himself speaks over seven languages.
Mimicry features prominently in his material. Many of his accents are uncanny, and he’ll switch between them effortlessly. This is quite a change from Stewart’s impersonations, many of which were funny for their sheer unrealism (listen to his Queen Elizabeth I or his impression of male Senator Lindsey Graham as a Southern belle).
Noah also demonstrates an awareness of the social power of comedy that is essential for a “Daily Show” host. While on Jerry Seinfeld’s web series, “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” Noah said,
“Literally everything has a funny side. Nelson Mandela was extremely funny but nobody laughed at his jokes because it was Nelson Mandela.”
In the same episode, he discusses his experience witnessing his grandfather defuse a tense situation with a mounted police officer through a joke involving the prime minister and a horse. “I had never in my life,” he said, “seen a black man and a white man laughing together. I’d never seen this before in my life.”
This is the gift of “The Daily Show” and satire in general: facilitating open discussion with skepticism and diminishing the power of oppressive force through mockery. During the TCA conference, Noah expressed interest in continuing this mission while focusing on new forms of media, particularly Internet forms such as BuzzFeed.
"'The Daily Show’ was based on this emerging 24-hour news cycle,” he said. “The biggest challenge is how to bring all of that and look at it in the bigger news instead of going after just one source which was, historically, Fox News.”
In July, Comedy Central further eased tension among viewers when it announced that five of its executive producers would stay for the show’s new season, as will most of its writers and correspondents.
Christopher McDermott is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.