Legacy left by South Africa’s Trevor Noah in US late-night TV

By Shingai Darangwa
Posted on Wednesday, 28 December 2022 16:33

Still of Trevor Noah at 'The Daily Show'.

When South African comedian Trevor Noah made his debut on 'The Daily Show' in 2015, he arrived with the promise that he would try not to make his long-running predecessor Jon Stewart seem like a "crazy old dude who left his inheritance to some random kid from Africa".

His arrival to the hot seat on one of the most vaunted American television shows came in the midst of a ­period of transition across late night TV that included not just Stewart’s exit, but also included Stephen Colbert replacing the legendary David Letterman on ‘The Late Show’, while Jimmy Fallon, James Corden and Seth Meyers were also recent additions on their respective shows.

But among this youthful cohort, Noah’s selection was the most perplexing: he was largely unknown stateside, he was biracial and, perhaps most controversially, he was African.

But despite a nervous debut and a shaky first few months (maybe even years) on the job, Noah came into his own during former US president Donald Trump’s tumultuous White House tenure and the coronavirus pandemic.

He’s since gone on to prove doubters wrong as viewers from America (and beyond) warmed to him.

Just last month, it was announced that Noah would be hosting the music showpiece awards show, the Grammys, for a third consecutive year. Despite his growing reputation, Noah ended his landmark stint as ‘The Daily Show’’s host after seven years on 15 December.

  • His impact was reflected in the subsequent flood of coverage across US media. The Washington Post lauded him for how he “reflected America back to itself the way no other late-night host could”.
  • The New York Times shared a similar sentiment as they paid homage to his unique purview: “Trevor Noah made the world of ‘The Daily Show’ bigger,” read a headline on the paper.
  • Various other platforms paid homage to the South African comic by looking back at how he defied the odds, weathered some early storms and made a name for himself in unfamiliar territory.

Looking back at this tenure, the general consensus is that Noah was universally likeable.

He felt genuine, eloquent, contemplative and trustworthy. But what’s been most impressive about Noah is, despite him assimilating well to American culture, he’s somehow still maintained his South Africaness.

With his tenure now in the rearview mirror, here we look back at three times Noah shone at ‘The Daily Show’ host:

White people unnecessarily calling the cops on black people

One of the most viewed videos of Noah’s tenure as host of ‘The Daily Show’ with over 18 million views to date is a video titled ‘White People Unnecessarily Calling the Cops on Black People’.

Throughout his run, a lot of Noah’s commentary highlighted rampant racism in America and perhaps no other video underscored this reality than this.

The compilation video opens with a clip of two black men being arrested outside a Starbucks after a manager called the cops on them because they refused to leave.

The men were waiting for a friend. “You see this here? This is why black people should always show up late,” he quipped. “If you’re early, it’s loitering.”

Throughout the video, Noah comically contextualised this and several other incidents of white people calling the cops on black people for various petty reasons. In one of them, a white woman is seen calling the police on an eight-year-old girl for what she described on camera as “illegally selling water without a permit”.

Noah responds to criticism from the French ambassador

While Noah has a considerable comedic range that makes him one of the most skilled comedians on planet earth, his most potent comedic weapon is undoubtedly his impersonations.

Noah, who fluently speaks seven languages, has the rare ability to pull off a range of hilarious accents of people from all over the world and expertly impersonate the globe’s most famous people.

In 2018, this skill was on full display as Noah read out a letter he’d received from the Ambassador to France, criticising Noah for referring to France’s victory at the 2018 FIFA World Cup as a victory for Africa.

“I heard your words about an African victory, nothing could be less true,” Noah read with an exaggerated French accent. Then he added: “Now, first of all, I think it could have been less true. I could have said they were Scandinavian, that would’ve been ‘less true’.”

Noah then explored France’s colonial history, the prevailing racism that still exists in the country and the hypocrisy of the ambassador’s argument. While it was typically humorous and incredibly entertaining, this segment also stood out for how insightful it was.

Tomi Lahren sits down with Trevor Noah for a highly anticipated interview

The fallout from Donald Trump’s election as US president in 2016 proved complicated for late-night television hosts. They’d spent months ridiculing his candidacy and now here they were faced with the unlikeliest of circumstances.

Noah, just a year into his job, masterfully helped viewers dissect the situation through his typically contemplative and frank analysis that made us feel like we were all just figuring it out together.

But then came Tomi Lahren. Controversially, Noah agreed to interview the conservative Trump supporter after she’d made headlines for her racially charged social media commentary.

The interview was a site to behold as Noah kept his cool and patiently led Lahren into a rabbit hole that allowed her to expose how obnoxious her views on her opposition to Black Lives Matter and Colin Kaepernick taking the knee as it were.

At one point Noah cornered her into blabbing her way into a corner as she failed to directly answer what was an acceptable way for black people to protest.

Noah used the same tactic throughout as he patiently allowed her to expose her problematic views openly and clearly.

What a sight to behold.

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