Is Trevor Noah set for ‘The Daily Show’? Let the ‘cultural chameleon’ fill you in

25 Sep 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Is Trevor Noah set for ‘The Daily Show’? Let the ‘cultural chameleon’ fill you in.

Comedy Central’s late-night franchise is so firmly associated with Stewart — who hosted “TDS” for 16 years — that new host Trevor Noah has a huge uphill fight ahead of him. Trevor Noah will kick off his inaugural week as host of the “Daily Show” with a Chris Christie interview on Wednesday, bringing the buzz of the 2016 campaigns into his first night hosting Comedy Central’s hit news satire.There wasn’t much in Trevor Noah’s childhood in Johannesburg to suggest that he would one day host America’s preeminent satirical program, starting with apartheid-era South Africa having virtually no tradition of professional comedy — nor, for that matter, free speech. The rest of the Republican and Democratic presidential hopefuls have an open invitation as well, he said Friday—and yes, that includes ratings-magnet Donald Trump. “Donald Trump is an interesting one because the truth of the matter is, he doesn’t say much, and really what we’re doing is enjoying the spectacle of it all. While the setup is similar to Jon Stewart’s, there are several new features that stand out: a logo with “TDS,” the skyline in the background, and a big touch screen. “You can touch it and it will tell you your heart rate,” Noah joked.

Then there was Noah’s strictly limited pop-culture diet, which consisted of reruns of “Murder, She Wrote” and “Knight Rider” he watched with his mother. The program will be broadcast across all of Viacom’s networks, said Michele Ganeless, Comedy Central’s president, in a meeting with reporters Friday. Noah’s appointment to the helm of “The Daily Show” reeks of corporate sorcery — or serious budget constraints, since several likely candidates, some of them of the fairer sex (Chelsea Handler, Amy Schumer, Jessica Williams), were overlooked. By his own account, Noah was a “nerdy little child” who spent most of his time indoors reading voraciously — everything from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” to electronics manuals. “That was my world,” says the 31-year-old late one evening in his sparsely decorated office. “I just consumed — that’s all I’ve ever been, a consumer of information.” The comedian’s rise from the township to the pinnacle of American comedy is one of the more unexpected developments in an era of tremendous upheaval for late-night television.

The majority of advertisers on the show’s first night will appear on all the networks on which it is broadcast, said Jeff Lucas, the executive who oversees Viacom’s ad sales, in a brief interview. We’re also heading into an election year, which was Stewart’s bread and butter, as he skewered and mocked politicians with humor — and gravitas — that’s now left his fans bereft. Born to a black mother and white father whose relationship was illegal under apartheid, Noah has mined his tumultuous upbringing for laughs in a stand-up act that blends comedy with tragedy. “I was born a crime,” he has said.

Since he first began performing in his early 20s, Noah has gained an international reputation for his irreverent take on charged topics such as Western perceptions of Africa, his country’s scandal-prone politicians and, especially, race. We’ll find out starting Monday night at 11 p.m. whether the 31-year-old can carry Stewart’s torch — and/or carve his own unique take on politics. He faces some tough competition if he hopes to stand out from former Comedy Central star Stephen Colbert — now hosting “The Late Show” on CBS and leaning heavily on the 2016 election (so far) — or anyone else doing political humor. During his Q&A with journalists Friday morning, Noah got a chance to serve up a humorous reaction to bombshell political news in real time when a reporter in the audience broke the news to all in the room that House Speaker John Boehner had just announced his resignation from Congress at the end of October. “He was saying things that were sane,” said Noah. “He wasn’t gung ho, he did seem thoughtful. …

Every answer he gave, even in isolation, seemed like a normal answer, like a progressive answer.” Then the punchline: “At this point, the romance is real.” Noah’s “Daily Show” premieres Monday night with a brand new set and logo, as well as certain other changes, even as much of the production staff from the Stewart era stays on. He’d toured in 40 states, filmed a stand-up special called “Trevor Noah: African American,” and made Jay Leno howl on “The Tonight Show” — the first South African comedian to do so.

His first bit, called “Spot the Africa,” brilliantly flipped Western stereotypes of a continent “full of AIDS huts and starving children” to comment on the contentious state of race relations in the U.S. “I never thought I’d be more afraid of police in America than in South Africa,” he joked. “It kind of makes me a little nostalgic for the old days back home.” His multicultural background — a rarity in what remains the overwhelmingly white, male world of late night — was a bonus, not a prerequisite, says Ganeless. “We talked to white men and we talked to black men, and we talked to white women and black women. He stumbled into comedy, quite literally, about 10 years ago, when he was thrust onstage during a raucous visit to a comedy night at a Johannesburg bar.

Within a few years, he’d risen to the top of South Africa’s small comedy scene, hosting his own talk show and regularly selling out the country’s largest theaters. When you laugh at somebody, when you laugh at something, all of a sudden, it seems surmountable.” Still, there are few life experiences that can prepare one for becoming the target of an angry Internet mob. The excitement that followed the news of Noah’s hiring in March gave way almost instantly to a firestorm over tweets, written by Noah as far back as 2009, that many viewed as misogynistic and anti-Semitic.

Noah was taken aback by the criticism and viewed the tweets as the work of a less polished and mature comedian. “It’s very difficult for somebody to go back into your past or into things you’ve done and no longer do and then tell you to change. It’s like someone telling you to quit smoking, and you quit smoking seven years ago.” Now that the virtual dust has settled, the outrage seems misguided. In person, Noah is less reminiscent of a frat boy than the cute, earnest guy in your philosophy class who stayed up late drinking coffee and talking about Camus.

He says things like “as human beings we have children, so that we ourselves can learn again” and speaks using constant metaphors and analogies. (Watching “Raw” as an aspiring comedian was like “someone showing you a skyscraper when you’re busy building Legos”; society is always moving in the direction of progress, “like an iPhone.”) It’s a trait he says comes from growing up in a Bible-reading household where “everything was a parable.” In the weeks since Stewart signed off in early August, nearly every waking hour of Noah’s day has been consumed by a blitz of promotion, writing sessions and test shows. Throughout the process, Noah has impressed his new colleagues with his “self-possession and charm and unflappable nature,” says Alterman, who adds that “it’s possible that he’s a cyborg.” Executive producer Steve Bodow praises Noah as a “quick study” in American politics, which comes in handy as the race for the White House gains momentum. He’s also developing a voice distinct from that of his predecessor, who was fond of calling out political hypocrisy and media distortions. “Trevor approaches it more as someone who’s new to the process. By way of explanation, he invokes another metaphor: As a child, Noah would ask his mother for help locating misplaced belongings and she would gently steer him in a more self-reliant direction. “She would always say, ‘If you look like you know I’m going to come and look for you, you’ll never find it.

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