Who is Trevor Noah?

Trevor Noah

The controversy over Trevor Noah is probably best viewed through the lens of what Stewart embodied for those who’ve championed him, and what Williams has appeared to squander: trustworthiness. The Daily Show is no longer just a comedy news show. This is not James Corden taking over for Craig Ferguson. It is, ironically, Dan Rather taking over for Walter Cronkite. A mantle of trust is being passed, and the questions about Noah — is he actually racist, misogynist, or funny; what is South African comedy, anyway? — are reasonable, maybe even crucial to ask. Ultimately, they amount to this: Can liberals trust him to carry the mantle?

Noah is being positioned by both Comedy Central and himself as an honest-to-goodness successor to Stewart. Who knows what doing that successfully would entail, but he didn’t come from nowhere, and nothing about his stand-up work — or, for that matter, his radio work — says “pass the mantle to him.” That the same was arguably true of Stewart, who began as a replacement for Craig Kilborn, doesn’t quite matter under these circumstances. The show Stewart inherited is worlds different from the one Noah has been tapped to do. And Stewart had a profile in America as being a misfit with promising, untapped talent. Before The Daily Show, he seemed professionally stuck — at age 36. It is Stewart’s show now. So the controversy that has arisen around Noah seems inevitable, thoroughly modern, and entirely necessary.

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