If you heard a loud, collective Who? coming from show biz circles Monday morning, that was the reaction to the news that a 31-year-old South African comic named Trevor Noah will replace Jon Stewart as host on "The Daily Show" later this year.
Comedy Central is going with a largely unknown personality who only recently started making a few appearances on the show as its Senior International Correspondent. One person who is aware of Noah is Baz Dreisinger. She’s an associate professor at John Jay College in New York and a journalist who wrote about the South African comedy scene for The New York Times earlier this month.
The Frame's John Horn spoke with Dreisinger about Noah's ability to host "The Daily Show," the comedy scene in South Africa, and whether Noah could have the same impact as Stewart on the influential late night talk show:
You recently wrote about the comedy scene in South Africa that Trevor Noah has emerged from, so tell us a little bit about what that scene is like.
It's a scene that's emerged in the past 20 years or so, post-apartheid. And it's pretty exciting and revolutionary, because prior to the growth of this scene, there was almost no black comedy in the public sphere in South Africa at all. And then you had a group of black and mixed-race comedians who were pushing the boundaries of what could be joked about in post-apartheid South Africa. So you had black comedians on the stage for the first time, and you also had them making radical strides in talking about things like race, identity and politics in South Africa.
We know a lot about what Jon Stewart is like. He's someone who can sit down with the President of the United States and talk about international events, and he can also take on Fox News and deal with their coverage of the world. How would you compare Trevor to Jon Stewart? What are his strengths and liabilities that he has coming into this job?
His strengths are that he's absolutely incisive and witty in a non-threatening way. He's certainly easy on the eyes and has a sweet demeanor that allows him to be cutting and critical and get away with saying things in a very powerful way. Certainly he's coming from the context of South Africa, so I think the drawbacks would be that people might look at him and say, Oh, he's not going to know about politics beyond South Africa. I find that ludicrous because South Africa is an absolutely cosmopolitan, globally-minded place with a sense of what's happening in America and around the globe. I have total confidence that he'll be able to fill Jon Stewart's shoes.
Why do you think he's a good fit for the show?
I think his very uniqueness and the fact that he's not coming in with a whole lot of baggage is what allows him to do something that's similar to Jon Stewart, but also different. I think it would be a problem if we had someone coming in who was trying to be the next Jon Stewart. Trevor Noah is not coming from that place at all — he has it in him to be political and he comes from the context of political comedy too. I think it's useful that he's different from Jon Stewart in so many ways, so people aren't going to look for him to just be a replica.
Do you think that Trevor can have the same sort of impact on conversations surrounding politics and media that Jon Stewart has had?
Jon Stewart built the platform for that show, so the power of the show is already there. I think it would be a different story if Trevor Noah had to come in and be this new guy with this new show and this new concept. But given that people are already fans, he has this niche to fall into and bring his gifts to the table. So I'm completely confident, and I think he's going to bring incredible things to the table.