Trevor Noah profile: who is Jon Stewart's Daily Show replacement?

The comedian is something of a star in his native South Africa, but little known in the United States

(Image credit: Getty)

Trevor Noah, a South African comedian little known in the US, is to replace Jon Stewart as the host of The Daily Show tonight.

Noah, who is 31, made his debut as "senior foreign correspondent" on the satirical news show last December, offering a mixed-race South African perspective on US race relations, the BBC reports.

"I never thought I'd be more afraid of police in America than in South Africa," he joked. "It kind of makes me a little nostalgic for the old days, back home."

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After only three appearances on The Daily Show, the South African comedian has received a huge and unexpected promotion, said the New York Times earlier this year. Noah, who spoke by phone from a comedy tour in Dubai, said the new role was a great opportunity and a challenge.

"You don't believe it for the first few hours," he said. "You need a stiff drink, and then unfortunately you're in a place where you can't really get alcohol."

But some members of the US media were scratching their heads and asking: Trevor who?

Born in 1984 in the township of Soweto in South Africa, Trevor Noah is the son of a black South African woman of Xhosa background and a white Swiss-German man. His background is of defining importance to his work as a comedian and political satirist. Much of his comedy explores race, culture and language.

His humour is self-deprecating. He describes how as a child he felt like a "bag of weed" because his mother was forced to drop him as soon she saw the apartheid police in the 80s. Under South African law at the time, multiracial families were prohibited.

The comedian and TV host is something of a star in his native South Africa, having started his career on a soap opera before appearing on a celebrity gossip show and working as a DJ on a popular show at a youth station.

Noah has toured the world with his stand-up comedy, appearing at the Apollo in London and on QI. He also became the first African comedian to perform on Jay Leno's Tonight Show in the US.

So how did Noah get to replace Jon Stewart?

The rumoured candidates for the plum job included Daily Show regulars Samantha Bee, her husband Jason Jones, and popular comics Amy Poehler and Louis CK, says the Daily Beast.

Sources at Comedy Central have been tight-lipped about Noah’s promotion, but the Daily Beast says Stewart "played a major role in the choice" after inviting Noah to join the show as a contributor more than a year ago.

Some have queried the South African’s knowledge of The Daily Show's American politics – on which Stewart is known to be obsessive – but Comedy Central's president, Michele Ganeless, doesn't see a problem. "He will quickly bring his own specific take to it," she said. "He's a student of our culture, as well as of the world, and, working with the team that writes for the show, he will have no trouble pointing out the absurdities of our political system."

Comedian Joy Behar said at least one aspect of the choice was predictable: "I never heard of him, he's not an American, and I don't know anything else about him. But he's a guy – and that is the only thing you have to know."

Behar told the Daily Beast. "People were talking as if there was any scintilla of a chance they would put a woman in there. Of course not. It's Comedy Central! That channel appeals to the male audience."

Trevor Noah: 'racist' jokes prompt Twitter backlash

1 April 2015

Less than a day after he was named as the new host of The Daily Show in the US, comedian Trevor Noah has been accused of anti-Semitism and sexism over his past jokes, but in response to the backlash, fans and commentators have also come to his defence.

Earlier this week Noah, a little-known 31-year-old South African comedian and occasional contributor to The Daily Show, was named as the surprise replacement for the satirical news show's popular host Jon Stewart. But what was first hailed as a victory for diversity (Noah's mother is black and his father is white) soon turned into a witch-hunt.

Noah's Twitter history, it turned out, contained a series of allegedly poor taste and unfunny jokes about fat women, Asian women and Jews.

The offending tweets were first highlighted by BuzzFeed's Tom Gara and include: "Behind every successful Rap Billionaire is a double as rich Jewish man", "Messi gets the ball and the real players try [to] foul him, but Messi doesn't go down easy, just like jewish chicks." "So I must make my woman fear my penis? RT @UberFacts The more you fear something, the bigger it appears." "So now that Adele is singing, does that mean it's over?" "In Thailand hookers are so cheap, even cheaper than food. Tough choice between Big Mac or Quarter Pounder Deluxe."

Gara commented on Twitter: "I retweet not in anger. But it's an impressive rise for a dude who three years ago was replying to Uberfacts tweets with dick jokes."

Others were less forgiving. Noah faced a barrage of angry tweets accusing him of sexism, racism and anti-Semitism, as commentators also joined the attack.

"Not since John McCain selected Sarah Palin as his running mate have the vetting capacities of a powerful political force been cast into such doubt," writes Jessica Winter on Slate.

The problem is not that Trevor Noah tells offensive jokes, says Winter. It's not even that "he routinely breaks The Daily Show's covenant of speaking truth to power in favour of speaking truth to fat chicks or Thai hookers", she adds. "The problem is that Noah's jokes are so annihilatingly stupid."

Noah responded to criticism by tweeting: "To reduce my views to a handful of jokes that didn't land is not a true reflection of my character, nor my evolution as a comedian."

Fans and commentators also leapt to his defence. In the Washington Post, Elahe Izadi admits "People don't like these jokes, which are deemed offensive, lazy and lame." But she adds: "a comic is like any other artist. Not every piece of art is going to be good, nor should we expect it to be – particularly when it's in the refinement stage, as tweets often are."

On the Daily Beast, Tim Teeman calls the furore "ridiculous" and says "the outpouring of vitriol ill matches the scant evidence of a dyed-in-the-wool prejudiced doofus. Nor is he anywhere in the league of the truly gold standard controversial, outrage-reveling comedian."

Teeman urges Noah's critics to "dial down the outrage" for the moment until the comedian has a chance to prove himself. "Let Noah take the Daily Show chair, reveal any sexist, anti-Semitic shortcomings to the world, and then let the pitchforks rain down."

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