The internet exploded Monday morning with explainers of everything you—yes, you—need to know about Trevor Noah, the 31-year-old South African comic newly anointed as Jon Stewart’s successor. Considering that the focus of Noah’s three “Daily Show” appearances so far, where he played the part of the cosmopolitan mocking American ignorance of everything outside of our own borders, this is somewhat fitting. Noah is a star in his own country (here he is gracing the cover of South African GQ last October), where he hosted his own satirical news show, "Tonight with Trevor Noah," a few years ago. But for most Americans (myself included), Noah is a virtual unknown, a young comedian who made his first appearance on “The Daily Show” just last December.
Yes, it’s a little disappointing that there is still no female late-night TV host in 2015. (For that we’ll have to wait for Samantha Bee’s as-yet-unnamed “Daily Show” doppelganger to premiere on TBS later this year.) “We talked to women. We talked to men. We found in Trevor the best person for the job,” Comedy Central president Michelle Ganeless told the New York Times. With Larry Wilmore’s “Nightly Show” at 11:30, Comedy Central will soon have two fake news shows hosted by black men—that’s two more than a year ago, but still one fewer than the number of white men named “James” on network late-night.
The most notable aspect of Noah’s background, though, might be something he shares with another “Daily Show”-correspondent turned host: He isn’t American. With John Oliver on HBO, the Brit James Corden on CBS’s “Late Late Show,” and now Noah, foreigners are taking over our late night desks. On both “The Daily Show” and “Last Week Tonight,” John Oliver’s Britishness has been a crucial part of his comedy, letting him shake his head at American injustice with the baffled outrage of an outsider instead of the smug righteousness of one of our own. Oliver has also given his show a more international scope, focusing attention on foreign elections and weird German scandals about Fanta.
However much they may have wanted to, the Comedy Central execs couldn’t get Oliver away from his cushy HBO gig. But as the mixed-race child of a Xhosa mother and Swiss-German father growing up under apartheid, Noah brings his own outsider perspective. “I was born a crime,” he says often in interviews and stand-up acts, where he jokes about confounding America’s racial categories, being mistaken for Mexican, and learning to speak German with a “distinctly Hitler-ish” accent.
Noah’s “Daily Show” appearances so far have been amusing but not particularly inspired, relying too much on Stewart’s ignorant American shtick. What made Jon Stewart so essential a decade ago and so stale in recent years has been his endless skewering of Fox News, a target that is always deserving of scorn but not always worth the effort. As Slate’s Willa Paskin wrote in February, “Stewart’s Daily Show and its progeny have done their job almost too well. Cable news carries on—ideological, craven, and absurd as ever, but also exposed.” What gives me the most hope is that Noah isn’t just a newcomer to America—he’s a newcomer to American cable news. I’m not sure what we can expect from his political coverage; at this point, he probably doesn’t know himself. But I doubt it will be more of the same, and that’s something to celebrate.
This post has been updated.