Brow Beat

The Best Stand-Up of New Daily Show Host Trevor Noah

Trevor Noah performs on BBC’s Live at the Apollo.

Still from YouTube

The New York Times reported Monday morning that South African comedian Trevor Noah will replace Jon Stewart as the new host of The Daily Show. This promotion from three-time correspondent might be unexpected, but if you know Noah’s stand-up it’s easy to see how he got the job. Noah has a knack for turning all varieties of human tendencies into hilarious and incisive social commentary. And he also brings an endearing optimism that makes it easy to laugh no matter how heavy his material gets. Below, we’ve gone through all of Noah’s stand-up that’s online and narrowed in on his best bits.

On growing up mixed race (from BBC’s Live at the Apollo, 2013)

Noah’s riff on growing up in a mixed-race family during apartheid-era South Africa is a great place to start. (In explaining his white Swiss father’s disregard for the ban on mixed couples, he quips, “You know how the Swiss love chocolate.”) He compares his childhood time with his mother to being “a bag of weed” that constantly had to be dropped when police approached. He talks about how, rather than being called mixed, he simply wanted to be known as black. And he also recalls the unfortunate incident that led to a German woman exclaiming that he was “black Hitler!” (“At least she said I was black.”)

On sports in America (from Trevor Noah: African American, 2013)

Noah builds his performances around personal anecdotes that highlight how cultural oddities catch his eye as an outsider. A prime example of that is this bit on sports in America, which tackles ironies like America’s disproportionate knowledge of sports statistics, compared with how poorly we understand our own economy.

On being asked if he’d “ever had AIDS” (from Trevor Noah: African American, 2013)

Even when discussing controversial topics, Noah manages to deliver his material with a light spin. Anecdotes like this one, about a surfer who, after finding out he was from South Africa, asked him if he’d “ever had AIDS,” highlight his ability to expose instances of glaring ignorance while doing it all with a disarming smile. For the record, it wasn’t the fact that she asked about AIDS that offended Noah, but the way she asked—“like AIDS is something you could ‘had,’ like a passing flu.”

On the American perception of Africa (from You Laugh But It’s True, 2011)

Noah isn’t surprised by Americans’ misconceptions about Africa, which he also addressed in one of his best-known appearances on The Daily Show. He points out in another bit that it’s simply due to the dominant depiction of Africa that most people see in the United States, through ads and infomercials from organizations like UNICEF. But the worst thing about these ads, Noah jokes, is the prevalence of flies, always poised on a child’s top lip. “It’s like the fly has become the watermark of a starving African!”

On obeying traffic lights (from BBC’s Live at the Apollo, 2013)

Although he often focuses on heavy topics, Noah’s comedy can also touch on less serious quirks, like Westerners’ unyielding observance of traffic signals. In this clip, Noah goes all-out Braveheart as he describes pretending he and his fellow crosswalk bystanders are about to do battle against those waiting on the other side. While he may never match Stewart’s signature sardonic sense of humor, Noah’s infectious positive energy and stunning gift for impressions will be welcome additions to The Daily Show in its newest incarnation.