March 30, 2015

Why an “Unknown” South African Comedian is the Best Thing for the Daily Show since Jon Stewart.


On December 5th last year, he made his debut on The Daily Show, and he has guested only twice more since then.

Now he is set to take the reins to the bemusement of many avid late-night fans. This is because most of them simply don’t know who he is.

Trevor Noah is a superstar in South Africa, but in America he’s a virtual unknown, despite the fact that he’s appeared in several comedy specials in the past few years.

He’s young, he’s mixed-race, and he’s non-American. He’s also smart, culturally informed, and has what the Guardian describes as a “combination of terribly polite, butter-wouldn’t-melt stage presence and biting, often brutal gags.”

In his debut appearance on the Daily Show he cut right to the most tender issue at the heart of America at the time:

“Here is the amazing part: For South Africa to achieve that kind of Black/White wealth gap, we had to construct an entire Apartheid state denying Blacks the right to vote or own property. But you did it without even trying. We trained for decades and you just waltzed in and won the gold medal.”

You have to laugh or you’d cry. But that’s satire for you. It points out the stuff most of us don’t have the courage to admit. And as Angelique Haugerud writes in the Huffington Post: “There is danger in jokes. And hope…Recasting protest as play makes it easier to address touchy topics.”

Comedy is at its best when it uses humour to expose the truths we really should be facing—the rawest and most uncomfortable ones.

And this is what The Daily Show is all about. As Rolling Stone put it, “The tenor of the segments was part educational and part comical with an eye toward lightly ribbing Americans’ lack of familiarity with global current events. Noah cannily played the smiling foreigner who was calling us out on our shit—but, you know, in a friendly way.”

And as they too point out, there is an important shift at play here, which is “expanding the parameters of what gets satirized and from what perspective.”

What a canny foreign host does for a show like The Daily Show is offer a perspective outside the subjective.  And if they get the balance of playfulness and criticism right, they can have the audience not just laughing at the usual bad guys but at themselves, too. And laughing at ourselves is a powerful thing—a revolutionary thing.

Ask any South African apartheid-era satirist. The line between satirist and activist was very thin indeed, practically non-existent. And satire played a significant part in the healing of post-apartheid South Africa. It still does. Things are far from perfect, so we laugh as therapy. We are brought together by ridiculing ourselves, even over the raw stuff.

Satire is a way of life in South Africa. And these days, it’s where you can find the truest words spoken about real issues. Trevor is a product of this place.

I have no doubt that arguably our most talented comedian and satirist to date will rock the Daily Show—and America—with the best of them. If you need more convincing, here are some of his best sketches:



Rolling Stone


Huffington Post


Author: Khara-Jade Warren

Editor: Emily Bartran

Photo: Imgur


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