Trump­ing Amer­i­can tal­ent on late-night TV

The Africa Report - - FRONTLINE -

From the dusty streets of Soweto to the bright lights of New York City… How did a rel­a­tively un­known co­me­dian from Johannesburg con­quer the com­pet­i­tive late-night tele­vi­sion mar­ket in the United States? The per­son is, of course, Trevor Noah, pre­sen­ter of the ac­claimed and award-win­ning satir­i­cal late-night talk show pro­gramme The Daily Show. Ar­guably one of the big­gest jobs in tele­vi­sion, the spot­light was on Noah when he took over the hot seat from the long-time pre­sen­ter, Jon Ste­wart, in 2015 us­ing cur­rent news af­fairs as a point of en­try for the po­lit­i­cal com­edy show. The crit­ics were quick to point out that as a for­eigner he might not un­der­stand the po­lit­i­cal nu­ances of Amer­ica, es­pe­cially in an era when the pres­sure to stay at the top of tele­vi­sion rat­ings is in­tense. Two years later, and with Don­ald Trump's pres­i­dency pro­vid­ing am­ple ma­te­rial, Noah has proved his crit­ics wrong. In May alone he had more than a mil­lion view­ers glued to his show – not bad for a so-called new­bie to the Amer­i­can tele­vi­sion scene. Noah, who grew up at the height of apartheid, knows racism first-hand. Still, it was not some­thing that he ex­pected to ex­pe­ri­ence when he moved to Amer­ica. He says that in the past six years he's been stopped by the po­lice “'be­tween eight and 10 times […] it's in­sane that it's such a nor­mal thing,” he said on The Daily Show. Prior to his Amer­i­can de­but, Noah was al­ready a well-known face in South Africa, host­ing a ra­dio show, Noah’s Ark, and also a tele­vi­sion show, Tonight with Trevor Noah. He later dropped all TV work to fo­cus on devel­op­ing his com­edy brand, for which he criss­crossed South Africa, and build­ing a solid fan­base with his take on lo­cal pol­i­tics and in par­tic­u­lar Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma and his var­i­ous po­lit­i­cal scan­dals. Noah has re­ceived many ac­co­lades but it was his 2016 in­ter­view with Barack Obama be­fore the lat­ter stepped down as Pres­i­dent that re­mains a firm favourite. He told The Los An­ge­les Times: “Never, ever in my wildest dreams did I imag­ine I would be on a first-name ba­sis with the pres­i­dent of the United States of Amer­ica. Es­pe­cially the first black pres­i­dent. And maybe the last. Hope­fully not.” Last year, Noah pub­lished the New York Times best­seller Born a Crime: Sto­ries from a South African Child­hood, in which he chron­i­cles grow­ing up un­der apartheid with his black mother and the re­la­tion­ship with his Swiss-born fa­ther. The book also gives us in­sight into Noah's un­der­stand­ing of race re­la­tions in the coun­try and how he has had to nav­i­gate this. He has al­ready re­ceived two awards from the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion for the Ad­vance­ment of Col­ored Peo­ple for the book: De­but Au­thor and Out­stand­ing Lit­er­ary Work. On how long he will host the show, Noah says it will be for “as long as I feel I can pos­i­tively con­trib­ute to a conversation in the com­mu­nity that I'm in, whether it's late-night (TV) or the po­lit­i­cal dis­course”. He says his big­gest in­spi­ra­tion is his beloved mother, Pa­tri­cia Nom­buyiselo Noah. The fun­ny­man re­turns to his home coun­try in Au­gust for a one-off per­for­mance. “I am com­ing back home to do a show – not be­cause Trump has kicked me out, but be­cause I would like to do a show for you – new jokes, new show and new guests.” Crys­tal Order­son

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