It’s important that a South African will host “The Daily Show”

A fresh face for America’s most influential political talk show.
A fresh face for America’s most influential political talk show.
Image: Viacom Media Networks
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When Jon Stewart announced he would retire from hosting The Daily Show at the end of 2015, the internet exploded with speculation as to who might succeed arguably one of the most influential 21st-century critics of the US political system. Would-be scion John Oliver had already secured his own current-affairs show on HBO by that time, and popular ex-correspondent Larry Wilmore debuted his own program, The Nightly Show, on Comedy Central shortly after. This left the field pretty much wide open, with observers in the media floating names such as Daily Show correspondents Jessica Williams and Samantha Bee, political talk-show stalwarts like Bill Maher, and Weekend Update alumni like Seth Meyers and Tina Fey.

Today it was announced that the mantle has fallen to a relatively unknown comic (stateside, at least)—one Trevor Noah of South Africa. Noah has appeared on The Daily Show a grand total of three times, and little elsewhere on US television. And his promotion to Comedy Central’s marquee program marks a relatively unprecedented moment in American political media.

As the success of commentators like John Oliver demonstrates, the British have been a welcomed presence in US political discourse, dating back much further than Oliver’s 2006 debut as The Daily Show’s “chief British correspondent.” Christopher Hitchens, John Le Carré, Richard Dawkins, and even Charles Dickens—while far from universally beloved on either side of the pond—were all proud participants in this particular facet of the “special relationship,” carving out a special space for British critique and satire in American public thought.

The American affinity for British commentary seems to be based on a notion that Brits are less encumbered by star-spangled patriotism, making their critiques of the status quo accordingly keener, and necessarily less merciful. But this thinking ultimately insulates two quite similar political cultures from the larger world’s diverse array of critical thought. The Daily Show, for what it’s worth, has bucked this trend somewhat with its consistent inclusion of voices from outside the transatlantic echo chamber. Indian-born comedian Aasif Mandvi, a Daily Show favorite, has recently embarked on a number of widely lauded projects to combat American Islamophobia.

For decades, the US media and entertainment industries have been sharply criticized for disproportionately imposing its media abroad; a reliance on cultural imports from the UK, and occasionally Canada, perpetuating an Anglocentric discursive mainstream. A Daily Show captained by Trevor Noah hopefully heralds a departure from this norm, indicating a growing appetite for outside perspectives in American media, and perhaps, the end of tacitly reinforced Anglo-American rhetorical dominance.

The fact that Noah will helm one of the country’s most culturally pervasive and politically impactful media platforms makes the announcement all the more exciting. It signals a potential opening of this once exclusively bilateral cultural exchange, and a recognition—at least in the entertainment industry—of the substantial, untapped resources and ideas that exist in the greater linguistic Anglosphere.

India, Jamaica, Nigeria, the Philippines—they’re all home to thriving entertainment industries bursting with smart, transnationally appealing talent. Nigeria’s Ikenna Azuike, or the All India Bakchod collective being prime examples. We have arrived, quite possibly, at the beginning of a postcolonial moment in American media. And the possibilities are endless.