Trevor Noah, the South African comedian announced as the new host of the Daily Show. Photo: Justin Barlow/Gallo Images/Getty Images for MTV
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Why outsiders like John Oliver and Trevor Noah are taking over American late night TV

South African Trevor Noah, the newly-announced host of The Daily Show, joins Brits John Oliver and James Corden in the US’s coveted late-night slots.

The internet exploded on Monday morning with explainers of everything you – yes, you – need to know about Trevor Noah, the 31-year-old South African comic newly anointed as Jon Stewart’s successor. Considering that the focus of Noah’s three Daily Show appearances so far, where he played the part of the cosmopolitan mocking American ignorance of everything outside of our own borders, this is somewhat fitting. Noah is a star in his own country (here he is gracing the cover of South African GQ last October), where he hosted his own satirical news show, Tonight with Trevor Noah, a few years ago. But for most Americans (myself included), Noah is a virtual unknown, a young comedian who made his first appearance on The Daily Show just last December.

Yes, it’s a little disappointing that there is still no female late-night US TV host in 2015. (For that we’ll have to wait for Samantha Bee’s as-yet-unnamed Daily Show doppelganger to premiere on TBS later this year.) “We talked to women. We talked to men. We found in Trevor the best person for the job,” Comedy Central president Michelle Ganeless told the New York Times. With Larry Wilmore’s Nightly Show at 11:30, Comedy Central will soon have two fake news shows hosted by black men – that’s two more than a year ago, but still one fewer than the number of white men named “James” on network late-night.

The most notable aspect of Noah’s background, though, might be something he shares with another Daily Show-correspondent turned host: he isn’t American. With John Oliver on HBO, the Brit James Corden on CBS’s Late Late Show, and now Noah, foreigners are taking over our late night desks. On both The Daily Show and Last Week Tonight, John Oliver’s Britishness has been a crucial part of his comedy, letting him shake his head at American injustice with the baffled outrage of an outsider instead of the smug righteousness of one of our own. Oliver has also given his show a more international scope, focusing attention on foreign elections and weird German scandals about Fanta.

However much they may have wanted to, the Comedy Central execs couldn’t get Oliver away from his cushy HBO gig. But as the mixed-race child of a Xhosa mother and Swiss-German father growing up under apartheid, Noah brings his own outsider perspective. “I was born a crime,” he says often in interviews and stand-up acts, where he jokes about confounding America’s racial categories, being mistaken for Mexican, and learning to speak German with a “distinctly Hitler-ish” accent.

Noah’s Daily Show appearances so far have been amusing but not particularly inspired, relying too much on Stewart’s ignorant American shtick. What made Jon Stewart so essential a decade ago and so stale in recent years has been his endless skewering of Fox News, a target that always deserving of scorn but not always worth the effort. As Slate’s Willa Paskin wrote in February, “Stewart’s Daily Show and its progeny have done their job almost too well. Cable news carries on – ideological, craven, and absurd as ever, but also exposed.” What gives me the most hope is that Noah isn’t just a newcomer to America – he’s a newcomer to American cable news. I’m not sure what we can expect from his political coverage; at this point, he probably doesn’t know himself. But I doubt it will be more of the same, and that’s something to celebrate. 

This article first appeared on newrepublic.com

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In defence of orientalism, the case against Twenty20, and why Ken should watch Son of Saul

My week, from Age Concern to anti-semitism.

Returning late from a party I never much wanted to go to, I leap up and down in the middle of the Harrow Road in the hope of flagging down a taxi, but the drivers don’t notice me. Either they’re haring down the fast lane or they’re too preoccupied cursing Uber to one another on their mobile phones. My father drove a black cab, so I have a deep loyalty to them. But there’s nothing like being left stranded in NW10 in the dead of night to make one reconsider one’s options. I just wish Uber wasn’t called Uber.

Just not cricket

Tired and irritable, I spend the next day watching sport on television – snooker, darts, cricket, anything I can find. But I won’t be following the Indian Premier League’s Twenty20 cricket again. It’s greedy, cynical, over-sponsored and naff. Whenever somebody hits a boundary, cheerleaders in cast-off gym kit previously worn by fourth-form Roedean girls wave tinsel mops.

Matches go to the final over where they’re decided in a thrashathon of sixes hit by mercenaries wielding bats as wide as shovels. Why, in that case, don’t both teams just play a final over each and dispense with the previous 19? I can’t wait for the elegant ennui of a five-day Test match.

Stop! Culture police!

I go to the Delacroix exhibition at the National Gallery to shake off the sensation of all-consuming kitsch. Immediately I realise I have always confused Delacroix with someone else but I can’t decide who. Maybe Jacques-Louis David. The show convincingly argues that Delacroix influenced every artist who came after him except Jeff Koons, who in that case must have been influenced by David. It’s turbulent, moody work, some of the best of it, again to my surprise, being religious painting with the religion taken out. Christ’s followers lamenting his death don’t appear to be expecting miracles. This is a man they loved, cruelly executed. The colours are the colours of insupportable grief.

I love the show but wish the curators hadn’t felt they must apologise for Delacroix finding the North Africans he painted “exotic”. Cultural studies jargon screams from the wall. You can hear the lecturer inveighing against the “appropriating colonial gaze” – John Berger and Edward Said taking all the fun out of marvelling at what’s foreign and desirable. I find myself wondering where they’d stand on the Roedean cheer-leaders of Mumbai.

Taking leave of the senses

My wife drags me to a play at Age Concern’s headquarters in Bloomsbury. When I see where she’s taking me I wonder if she plans to leave me there. The play is called Don’t Leave Me Now and is written by Brian Daniels. It is, to keep it simple, about the effects of dementia on the families and lovers of sufferers. I am not, in all honesty, expecting a good time. It is a reading only, the actors sitting in a long line like a board of examiners, and the audience hunched forward in the attitude of the professionally caring.  My wife is a therapist so this is her world.

Here, unlike in my study, an educated empathy prevails and no one is furious. I fear that art is going to get lost in good intention. But the play turns out to be subtly powerful, sympathetic and sharp, sad and funny; and hearing it read engages me as seeing it performed might not have done. Spared the spectacle of actors throwing their bodies around and singing about their dreams against a backdrop painted by a lesser, Les Mis version of Delacroix, you can concentrate on the words. And where dementia is the villain, words are priceless.

Mixing with the proles

In Bloomsbury again the next day for a bank holiday design and craft fair at Mary Ward House. I have a soft spot for craft fairs, having helped run a craft shop once, and I feel a kinship with the designers sitting bored behind their stalls, answering inane questions about kilns and receiving empty compliments. But it’s the venue that steals the show, a lovely Arts and Crafts house, founded in the 1890s by the novelist Mary Ward with the intention of enabling the wealthy and educated to live among the poor and introduce them to the consolations of beauty and knowledge. We’d call that patronising. We’re wrong. It’s a high ideal, to ease the burden of poverty and ignorance and, in Ward’s words, save us from “the darker, coarser temptations of our human road”.

An Oscar-winning argument for Zionism

Speaking of which, I am unable to empty my mind of Ken Livingstone and his apologists as I sit in the cinema and watch the just-released Academy Award-winning Son of Saul, a devastating film about one prisoner’s attempt to hold on to a vestige of humanity in a Nazi death camp. If you think you know of hell from Dante or Michelangelo, think again. The inferno bodied forth in Son of Saul is no theological apportioning of justice or deserts. It is the evisceration of meaning, the negation of every grand illusion about itself mankind has ever harboured. There has been a fashion, lately, to invoke Gaza as proof that the Holocaust is a lesson that Jews failed to learn – as though one cruelty drives out another, as though suffering is forfeit, and as though we, the observers, must choose between horrors.

I defy even Livingstone to watch this film, in which the Jews, once gassed, become “pieces” – Stücke – and not grasp the overwhelming case for a Jewish place of refuge. Zionism pre-dated the camps, and its fulfilment, if we can call it that, came too late for those millions reduced to the grey powder mountains the Sonderkommandos were tasked with sweeping away. It diminishes one’s sympathy for the Palestinian cause not a jot to recognise the arguments, in a world of dehumanising hate, for Zionism. Indeed, not to recognise those arguments is to embrace the moral insentience whose murderous consequence Son of Saul confronts with numbed horror. 

This article first appeared in the 05 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The longest hatred