Why Trevor Noah is the Best Person to Replace Jon Stewart on The Daily Show


Photo from Trevor Noah Facebook

Photo from Trevor Noah Facebook

Comedy Central finally released the name of Jon Stewart’s replacement on The Daily Show, and the announcement was met with a resounding “who?” Trevor Noah, a 31-year-old South African comedian, joined The Daily Show as a contributor just four months ago, and even fans of the show may have missed his segments if they weren’t tuning in every night.

If this is making you jittery about the future of a show that has become an American institution, I’m here to put your mind at ease. Noah is a polished standup with a quick wit and boatloads of charisma. In fact, his outsider perspective and absurd comedic sensibility are just what The Daily Show needs to stay edgy, relevant, and, most importantly, funny.

The Daily Show has been anything but unpredictable over the past few years. In every episode, Stewart cast himself as Charlie Brown, hoping maybe this time the politicians wouldn’t pull the football away. When they inevitably said something stupid or failed to pass a law or otherwise acted like American politicians, Stewart would make a big joke of his outrage and disappointment at a messed-up system. He reassured us that we were the sane ones in an insane world.

Noah, on the other hand, thinks we’re all crazy. If he’s got a signature comedic technique, it’s noticing that something that seems boring and normal is actually bizarre and wonderful. Check out this bit where he takes on American sports commentary. He takes a part of life that we’re all used to, and energetically points out that it makes no sense at all.

In that clip, and in a lot of others, Noah can spot the ridiculousness in everyday life because he’s a foreigner. He isn’t bogged down in the conventional wisdom of America. His comedy isn’t knowing or sly. Instead, every joke feels like he’s eagerly trying to tell you about something he just found out. When he brings that perspective to politics, it’s both hilarious and insightful. Take a look at his first-ever segment on The Daily Show. His comparison of America to Africa is sharp without being mean, and comes at the country’s problems from a totally unexpected angle.

Noah’s off-kilter point of view and eagerness to find a joke anywhere haven’t always served him well. Within hours of the announcement that he’s replacing Stewart, Twitter users dug up several of Noah’s tweets from 2011 that were deemed anti-Semitic and misogynistic. These tweets relied on broad, terrible stereotypes. They also aren’t funny. Comedians often get into hot water trying out new material—an even trickier task in the never-forgetting world of Twitter. He seems to have grown a great deal as a comedian over the past four years, but only time will tell if his controversial tweets represent split seconds of poor judgment or something darker. For what it’s worth, his more recent stage shows haven’t had a whiff of bigotry in them, and their quality of humor has been far higher than the lame puns and references in the tweets.

His remarkably poor social media skills aside, he has a lot to recommend him. There’s no doubt he will shine behind the anchor desk: He’s a gifted impressionist, a magnetic stage presence, and generally a big ball of manic comedy energy. It’s less clear if he’ll be able to match Stewart’s impressive interviewing skills—but few can. If he brings his trademark passion for discovery to talking with politicians and celebrities, then he’ll be in good shape. In the best-case scenario, Noah will give us a Daily Show filled with absurd jokes and characters that make us see our politics in a new light. Even if he doesn’t quite achieve that, Noah promises something exciting: For the first time in years, when we tune into a broadcast “from Comedy Central’s world news headquarters in New York,” we won’t be able to guess what’s coming next.

If you want to see more of Noah’s comedy, you should watch his hour-long standup special “African American” on Netflix instant streaming, or catch his name-making “Live at the Apollo” set below.