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Is Trevor Noah up to filling big shoes on 'The Daily Show'?

For more than a decade, The Daily Show and its comically sardonic anchor Jon Stewart were nearly synonymous. Stewart's brand of no-nonsense, hilariously intelligent, left-wing commentary about the world's current events has not only influenced the way people laugh but also the way people perceive certain pressing world issues.

Stewart is legendary.

So when I heard that Jon Stewart would be stepping down from his tenure as The Daily Show's master satirist, there were plenty of thoughts going through my head. One of them was "Why, God why? First Colbert, now Stewart?" The other was "there is no way in hell anyone with the same socially taunting flare will be able to replace Jon Stewart." And that's the thing, everybody knows you can't replace Jon Stewart.

As a result, Comedy Central took a different route. After allegedly failing to recruit Amy Poehler and Louis C.K for the position, the network clearly didn't try to find a substitute for Stewart's brand of comedy but instead selected somebody completely unique: South African comedian Trevor Noah.

Prior to being a full-time comedian, Noah was a radio host and a prominent South African personality. After later giving up his post as a radio host, Noah developed his stand-up and performed with some of South Africa's best comedians on tour. Not a foreigner to late night, Noah hosted his own late-night show Tonight with Trevor Noah. Outside of Africa, Noah has opened for comedy icon Gabriel Iglesias and Russell Peters and has made stand-up appearances on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and The Late Show with David Letterman. It wasn't until December 2014 that Noah joined The Daily Show and has since made three appearances on the show. Despite his colorful resume, the decision to hire Noah to succeed Stewart was truly an unexpected choice.

Noah's comedy is socially observant: Noah focuses on issues of race and addresses cultural idiosyncrasies in his routine. The fact that Noah grew up during the South African transition out of apartheid heavily influences the subject matters included in his routine. The typical Noah joke is composed of three parts: 1) a short anecdote––with no limit spared to its racial edginess, 2) a few impressions of various accents of some of the characters in his anecdote (literally, this guy can do any accent from deep South African, to Chinese, to Australian), and then 3) an ironic ending that is hilarious. If you couldn't tell that Noah likes to tiptoe around the lines of racism, just take a look at the name of one of his previous tours––Trevor Noah: The Racist.

With an individual whose comedy relies so heavily on pushing racial sensitivity, there is no question that some his material is heavily criticized, most recently his twitter feed. Noah has tweeted a handful of what some are calling hateful jokes about Jews and women. While some criticize these tweets as anti-Semitic and just plain disrespectful, others see Noah's tweets as carelessly trying to push the boundaries while failing to be comedic. However, Noah's tweets are more of a personal concoction than what he will bring to The Daily Show. On the show, the jokes vetted by a team of writers and targeted to an American audience regarding mostly American affairs. Clearly, Noah will have to refine his comedy.

One of my favorite routines is Noah's story of how his black mother and his white father could not establish a cohesive family unit because mixed families were illegal in South Africa. Because a mixed child was illegal, Noah recalls that when a police officer asked his mother whether he was her son, his mother would instantly pretend that she didn't know him––much like a person with a bag of marijuana would act in the same situation. The punch-lines of his jokes aren't necessarily knee-slappers, but Noah's delivery amplifies the material to a level of funny beyond what a mere transcript of his act might suggest.

In response to the controversy, Comedy Central issued a statement that a few handful of jokes on Noah's twitter feed do not define his overall comedic style or material, and that they themselves believe Noah has a bright future at the network. Jon Stewart also put in his two cents. Nevertheless, Noah needs to work on balancing his comedic wit with his apparent proclivity to be offensive if he wants to appeal to an American audience.

Clearly, Noah can deliver a funny joke. A intellectual joke. A daring joke. However, Noah's delivery is very esoteric to stand-up. For a fake-news show, Noah's somewhat soft-spoken delivery would not give him the same bombastic and caustic voice that Stewart possesses. Essentially, Comedy Central has recruited an individual with the alacrity of Stewart but with a little softer bite. This is evident especially during the three appearances Noah's made on The Daily Show. In his appearance about Boko Haram, there were literally dead silences as Noah attempted to conjure up laughs. It was Stewart who had to revive the crowd with quick snide comments.

While I do not want to simply hold Noah's efficacy on the show to be defined by a few performances because nerves and other factors may have influenced his delivery, Noah cannot hold the same tenor Stewart brought to the show. In order to keep this show's reputation, Noah will have to embrace his own comedic style and shape the show to his comfort. It will be exciting to see what Noah brings to the table and how he makes The Daily Show something all his own.


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