When it was announced today that 31-year-old comic and Daily Show “Senior International Correspondent” Trevor Noah would replace Jon Stewart at the helm of Comedy Central’s flagship faux-news show, you could almost hear millions of fingers tapping the comedian’s name into Google all at once. Though there may not be a lot of information to tell you why he beat out your personal successor of choice, we can give you an idea what you need to know about Noah with a few, brief bullet points.
The comic’s unique background feeds his comedy
Born of a Xhosa mother and a Swiss-German father in 1984, Noah’s birth was considered illegal by South African law. The friction and challenges of growing up biracial in South Africa fueled some of his earliest comedy, and it was an issue he addressed at length in his first tours — including several runs of shows in the U.S. in 2012 — which were alternately called “The Racist” or “Born a Crime.”
Noah is something of a comedy wunderkind
He’s only been doing stand-up comedy for eight years. That may sound like a lot — remember, current “Weekend Update” cohost Michael Che had only been working comedy clubs for a bit before he was writing for SNL. (He was also recruited, albeit briefly, as a TDS correspondent as well.) But when Noah first started out, he’d never done so much as an open-mic night before; friends dared him to get onstage one night, so he did, and a star was born. His natural storytelling abilities won over early audiences in South Africa as he figured out the craft of telling jokes in reverse. Getting up to speed on American politics will almost certainly present the same sort of steep learning curve, but Noah is a quick study. For example, he decided to study German a few years ago so he could perform comedy in his father’s native tongue; he now counts it among the seven languages (!) he fluently speaks.
He was already a rising, international star when he started on The Daily Show
It’s fitting that when Canadian superstar comic Russell Peters went on tour in South Africa, he chose the young comedian to open for him. Noah’s popularity on his home continent is in part responsible for the now-burgeoning comedy scene in South Africa; his heritage and subject matter speaks to audiences that traditionally don’t have access to — or a strong connection with — traditional stand-up. With two million Twitter followers, early converts such as Eddie Izzard singing his praises, and highly successful showcases at the Melbourne Comedy Festival and the Edinburgh Fringe Fest, Noah was far from unknown when he contributed his first piece on TDS back in December.
Noah’s TV experience extends beyond The Daily Show
He appeared on a South African soap opera when he was 18, and later hosted dating and celebrity dance programs as well as his own talk show, Tonight With Trevor Noah. When he finally made it to the U.S. in 2012, he gave a pair of surprisingly assured performances on Jay Leno’s Tonight Show and Late Night With David Letterman. Thus far, of course, he’s only contributed to TDS three times, but this relatively low number will be undoubtedly skyrocket in the near future as he ramps up to take over hosting duties.
Under Noah, the show won’t have nearly as many spit-takes
When Jon Stewart is upset, he shows it: He fumes, rages, curses and sputters as he tries to process the latest bit of political insanity. Trevor Noah is essentially the opposite: His stage presence is cool, contained and unruffled; anyone who wants that sort of palpable vitriol with their political analysis will have to wait for Lewis Black’s rare appearances. On the other hand, Noah has an incredible ear for the way people talk and can reproduce accents almost effortlessly. So where Stewart relies heavily on two characters — the nebbish and the Jersey meathead — Noah will have almost assuredly wide array of parts to play. Welcome to the show.