After only three guest appearances on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, Trevor Noah, 31, has been named successor to wildly popular, long-term host Jon Stewart. Noah’s promotion to one of the most coveted talk-show jobs on American television is unexpected, to say the least, for a man who grew up in South Africa and is relatively unknown to the majority of the American public.
Stewart announced in February that he would be stepping down from The Daily Show. According to Comedy Central, there is no exact date as to when the host will be leaving. The 52-year-old is leaving the show after 16 years of success, during which Stewart carved the show into a satirical, yes, but also highly informative and widely-respected source of current events.
As the new face of The Daily Show, Noah will bring both an international outlook on the events he covers as well as a spark of youthful energy to the show. Stewart is enthusiastic about his newly-named replacement. In a statement, he said that he is “thrilled for the show and for Trevor,” and calls Noah “a tremendous comic and talent.”
Noah will be the second nonwhite man of late to become a member of the late-night talk-show club. After The Colbert Report lost its long-time host, Stephen Colbert, his time slot was filled by The Nightly Show’s African-American host, Larry Wilmore. The decision to promote a man to fill Stewart’s shoes will likely spur criticism of the network for not hiring a woman to join the circle of late-night television hosts, especially when considering Noah’s lack of experience and relative anonymity in the U.S.
In an interview, Comedy Central President Michele Ganeless said that the network interviewed both men and women, and that Noah was the person who most fit the qualities for which they were looking. Ganeless said that it would have been impossible to come across another Stewart. Instead, the network searched for a completely different host who would bring “something really exciting and new.” The network was so impressed with Noah that they required no formal audition from the comedian, but relied only on his recorded performances, three of which were from The Daily Show, to make their decision. She points out that Stewart was fully involved in the process.
The comedian is currently on tour in Dubai, from where he spoke to The New York Times. Noah said that when he learned that he had been given the opportunity to be the new Daily Show host, it did not sink in for a couple of hours. He said that in such an occasion, “You need a stiff drink,” and then lamented that he was in “a place where you can’t really get alcohol.” Noah acknowledged that succeeding Stewart will be a very challenging task.
As a child in Soweto, South Africa, Noah’s mother, who is a black member of the Xhosa ethnic group, and his father, who is white and Swiss, were unable by law of apartheid to be together freely. Noah and his mother were forced to keep his father’s identity a secret, to the extent that the name does not appear on Noah’s birth certificate. The comedian says that he grew up being told that “speaking freely about anything, as a person of color, was considered treason.” Eventually, Noah would speak six different languages, and tour the world doing comedy before being noticed by Stewart.
Fans of Stewart will probably want to keep tuning in to The Daily Show. In his statement, Stewart says that “he may rejoin as a correspondent just to be a part of [the show].” For his part, Noah is grateful for the support he has found in Stewart, who reminded him that he himself was “just starting out” when he was named the host of The Daily Show. Noah tells The New York Times that “it’s my turn to steer the ship.”
By Jennifer Pfalz