Trevor Noah was 12 years old when The Daily Show made its debut on July 22, 1996. He had no clue that such a show existed, though, because television was heavily censored in South Africa at that time, so the American programs that he could watch were already five to 10 years old. It wasn’t until he moved to the U.S. in 2012 that the comedian became aware of Comedy Central’s flagship show by watching another one of its celebrated original programs.
“Becoming a fan of [The Daily Show] happened, ironically, thanks to South Park,” he tells us. “I started watching Comedy Central and watched South Park and then The Daily Show would come on and I was like, oh, what is this? And I’d watch the show and that’s when I became a fan of Jon Stewart.”
Today, he’s far more than just a fan. Noah has the distinction of being Stewart’s successor as the host of The Daily Show. That’s like being hired to coach Duke basketball after Mike Krzyzewski or run Apple after Steve Jobs. It’s an uphill battle on the steepest mountain, and criticism was swift and plenty for Noah before he even took a seat in the host’s chair.
But The Daily Show’s incredible legacy wasn’t built in a day, nor were Stewart and his predecessor, Craig Kilborn, instant hits. Just as they experimented and struggled at times to find their voices and styles, Noah has yet to even truly show us what he has to offer. For 20 years, The Daily Show has been more about taking chances than anything else, beginning with Madeleine Smithberg going against her instincts and desires to become the showrunner in 1996.