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Many Americans were dumbfounded when news broke in late March that South African comedian Trevor noah was appointed to the hot seat of one of the biggest satirical news shows in the world.
‘Who the hell is Trevor Noah?’ read the tweets.
Noah will be taking over the role of hosting comedy central’s popular and influential news series, The Daily Show.
Its host, Jon Stewart, is stepping down after hosting the show since 1999.
American audiences got their first taste of Noah on The Daily Show in 2014, where he offered his own outsider’s view on the US.
According to Michele Ganeless, the president of comedy central, the idea was not to replace Jon Stewart but to inject a new energy into the show.
Barely 24 hours after the surprise announcement about the Soweto-born Noah, a Twitter storm erupted. People accused Noah of being sexist and anti-semitic in tweets from 2012.
Noah responded to the backlash and said: “To reduce my views to a handful of jokes that didn’t land is not a true reflection of my character nor my evolution as a comedian.”
Like him or not, no other African has been able to break into prime time American TV, and Noah’s rise is seen as a big risk.
The show’s audience is young and often fickle and the show is highly political.
Stepping into big shoes
With the US heading to the polls in 2016, Noah will step into big shoes at a crucial moment.
He has the difficult task of maintaining the show’s take on US politics and bringing his own brand of humour to the screen.
The news was met with excitement on the local comedy scene.
But who is Trevor Noah, who after a mere three appearances on the most-watched news show in North America was given the plum position?
The son of a Xhosa mother and a Swiss father, Noah was able to poke fun at his upbringing in one of South Africa’s biggest townships and brought his own life story of growing up “mix race” into his performances.
Noah is part of the post-1994 comedy scene that saw many break through the race barrier with their in-your-face political commentary, poking fun at politicians and making South Africans laugh at themselves.
His comedy is seen as witty and sharp.
He has the ability to make fun of racism and to cross boundaries.
For race-sensitive South Africa, this was big.
Talking about racism and being able to laugh about it across the colour line has earned Noah millions of laughs.
Marc Lottering, one of South Africa’s best-known comedians and a mentor to Noah, could not contain his excitement about the news: “It is a big thing and huge. It’s a very important time in the world.”
Fellow comedian John Vlismas says: “Trevor’s success would mean big things for the local industry, and we can already see people are interested in South African talent. The news is amazing.”
Comedy Central, Africa’s Evert van der Veer tells The Africa Report: “When you hear that a South African comedian is going to replace Jon Stewart as the host of the most trusted satirical comedy show in the world, you know it’s a great day for Trevor Noah and an extraordinary milestone for African comedy.”
Conrad Koch and his alter ego, the puppet Chester Missing – who also worked with Noah – says: “Viva South Africa! Viva! It is great for South African comedy and is good for all of us. Hopefully we will get more Trevors out.
We need to go over there and make our comedy universal. It’s huge for Africa and showing African voices in the US in one of the most prestigious jobs in the US.”
Crystal Orderson in Cape Town
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