'Wickedly funny' Noah to be next Daily Show host

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Trevor Noah, a 31-year-old South African who joined late-night parody newscast The Daily Show as a contributor last year, will succeed Jon Stewart as the next host of the Comedy Central programme.

Known in South Africa for comedy that riffs off the country's complex racial and political issues, he was picked from among a range of comedians much better known in the United States.

Comedy Central, the Viacom Inc-owned network, said it picked Noah as he is an "enormous talent" and "wickedly funny". His premiere will be announced at a later date.

When Stewart said last February that he was leaving the show that made him an influential figure in politics and popular culture, he gave Comedy Central a chance to shake up late-night TV by naming a host who is not white. With Noah, The Daily Show gets a young bi-racial comedian little known in the country but followed by two million on Twitter worldwide.

Stewart, 52, will step down after a 17-year run, during which his acerbic take on current events became a regular source of news as well as entertainment for viewers. Comedy Central would not comment on the timing of his departure.

Speaking by telephone from Dubai, where he is on a comedy tour, Noah said he had been given a great opportunity and significant challenge.

"You don't believe it for the first few hours," he said of learning about his new job. "You need a stiff drink and then, unfortunately, you're in a place where you can't really get alcohol."

"I'm thrilled for the show and for Trevor," Stewart said in a statement. "He's a tremendous comic and talent that we've loved working with." He said he "may rejoin as a correspondent just to be a part of it".

South Africans celebrated, saying Noah's talents will appeal to a global audience and that he will change people's perceptions of their country, which is still grappling with the legacy of apartheid-era human rights abuses.

South Africa's Minister of Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa said: "Over the years, Mr Noah has proved that laughter is the best medicine and has helped our country and its people to find healing through laughing at themselves."

But the decision also invites questions about Noah's experience and visibility (or lack thereof), and why the network did not choose a woman to crack the all-male club of late-night TV hosts.

Comedy Central president Michele Ganeless said in an interview: "We talked to women. We talked to men. We found in Trevor the best person for the job."

In his stand-up routines, Noah comes across as a self-assured polyglot with an international perspective. As he joked in 2013 on Late Show With David Letterman, he said he did not like being introduced as a comedian from Africa, as if he represented the entire continent.

"They make it sound like a guy in leopard skin's going to come running on the stage," he said.

He started doing stand-up comedy nine years ago in South Africa when the art was in its infancy and recovering from limits on freedom of expression during apartheid. In one of his most known stand-up routines, the son of a black Xhosa mother and white Swiss father says: "I was born a crime."

"I never thought I'd be more afraid of police in America than in South Africa," he said in his first appearance on The Daily Show. "It kind of makes me nostalgic for the old days back home."

In a more recent one, he took shots at how Americans had paid no attention to the violent Islamic militant group Boko Haram. "Sometimes it just feels like Africa is the Vegas of Islamic terror," he said. "What happens in Africa stays in Africa.'"

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