(Bloomberg) — Trevor Noah, a 31-year-old South African comedian who joined “The Daily Show” as a contributor last year, will succeed Jon Stewart as the next host of the Comedy Central program.
Known in South Africa for comedy that riffs off the country’s complex racial and political issues, Noah was selected for the job among a range of comedians much better known in the U.S.
When Stewart said in February he was leaving the program that made him an influential figure in politics and popular culture, he gave Comedy Central a chance to shake up late-night TV by naming a host who’s not a white male. With Noah, “The Daily Show” gets a young biracial comedian little-known in the country but followed by 2 million on Twitter worldwide.
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The decision may be criticized by fans who wanted to see a more famous host, said Dustin Kidd, an associate professor of sociology at Temple University in Philadelphia. Comedy Central, a Viacom Inc. network, was probably influenced by the broader debate about racial diversity in comedy.
“We keep showing the same faces on comedy over and over again,” Kidd said. Comedy Central is “paying attention to that concern and realizing there are a lot of voices we’ve been missing.”
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Stewart, 52, will step down after a 17-year run, during which his acerbic take on current events became a regular source of news, as well as entertainment, for viewers.
“No one can replace Jon Stewart,” Noah tweeted today. “But together with the amazing team at The Daily Show, we will continue to make this the best damn news show!”
‘Born a Crime’
Noah started doing stand-up comedy nine years ago in South Africa, when the art was just in its infancy and recovering from limits on freedom of expression during Apartheid. In one of his most-known stand-up routines, the comedian, the son of a black South African mother and a white European father, says “I was born a crime.”
“I never thought I’d be more afraid of police in America than in South Africa,” Noah said in his first appearance on “The Daily Show.” “It kind of makes me nostalgic for the old days back home.”
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In a more recent one, he took shots at how Americans had paid no attention to the violent Islamic militant group Boko Haram.
“Sometimes it just feels like Africa is the Vegas of Islamic terror,” Noah said. “’What happens in Africa stays in Africa.’”
Comedy Central gave Larry Wilmore, who was “Senior Black Correspondent” on “The Daily Show,” his own late-night talk show this year to replace the “The Colbert Report.” Although not widely known to the public, the 53-year-old host has a long career in the U.S. as a writer, producer and actor.
The choice of Noah, albeit “incredibly brave,” does highlight the absence of women hosting late-night comedy, said Nikki Usher, an assistant professor at the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University.
“It sends the message that, for some reason, women aren’t funny,” Usher said.
Noah made his U.S. television debut in 2012 on “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno and has also appeared on“Late Show” with David Letterman,’’ becoming the first South African stand-up comedian to appear on either late night program, according to his website.
Noah’s unique background could draw viewers’ curiosity, at least initially, said Kevin R. Convey, an assistant professor of journalism at Quinnipiac University, in Hamden, Connecticut.
“After that, it’s on him to make it work,” Convey said. “The smart thing to do is to get someone who isn’t a brand yet and make him into a brand like Stewart and Colbert became a brand.”
In an interview on the show’s website with executive producer Steve Bodow, Noah, then a new contributor, said Stewart called him more than a year earlier while he was touring to invite him to the show.
Being an outsider gives him a unique angle to observe and critique U.S. culture and politics, Noah said.
“I’m not an expert in America, I never profess to be,” he said. “I like that because I come in with a perspective where I know your world, yet I’m not a part of it.”
Jill Fritzo, Noah’s publicist, confirmed the news in an e-mail. The appointment was earlier reported by the New York Times.
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Cecile Daurat at email@example.com Lisa Wolfson
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