South African Comedian, Trevor Noah Speaks On His Success

A lot of people might look at Trevor Noah and assume that his success was a quick one. It’s easy to think about the comedian’s career and only picture the last three years of his life. Those have been, in the eyes of the world, his most successful thus far.

But the truth is, Trevor has been hard at work since he was a teenager.

So, how did a young boy from a South African township grow up to become a rising Hollywood star with the world at his feet?

We take a look at Trevor Noah’s rise to success.

His Humble beginnings

Born to a black mother of Xhosa descent and a white father of Swiss-German ancestry on 20 February 1984, Trevor Noah’s mixed-race background was one that was shunned during the Apartheid years.

The star is known to often turn his childhood tales, both tragic and beautiful, into comedy gold, speaking about his parents’ forbidden love and what it was like growing up in a racially diverse family in many of his shows.

The world came to know Trevor’s story, not only through his stand-up material, but also through his autobiography Born A Crime.

In a 2016 interview with Forbes magazine, Trevor spoke about his struggles as a child, noting that even though he grew up poor it never concerned him “because everybody around me was poor, too.”

The star says it was only later on in his life when he met people who had considerably more than he did, that he realized the gravity of his situation as a child.



No overnight success

Trevor’s first notable breakthrough in the local entertainment industry was in 2002 when, at the age of 18, he landed a role on popular soapie Isidingo.

Now 34 years old, the star’s accomplishments are far too many to count in just one breath.

After his short stint on Isidingo, Trevor tried his hand at radio, hosting a show on YFM called Noah’s Ark. But television is where he spent most of his time in the beginning of his career.

Yes, getting behind the camera as a presenter was not new territory to Trevor when he landed his job at The Daily Show. His list of on-screen appearances includes hosting The Real Goboza in 2007, presenting the SABC sports show Siyadlala, co-hosting SABC 1 dating game show The Amazing Date with Pabi Moloi in 2008, and of course, hosting his very own late-night talk show on M-Net titled Tonight with Trevor Noah.

Inspired by shows like The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The Late Show with Conan O’Brien and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Tonight with Trevor Noah saw the comedian invite popular South African stars to have a seat on his couch while he interviewed them with the same expertise and touch of humor he still displays today.

Will the real Trevor Noah please stand-up

While he may have a number of TV shows under his belt, it was when Trevor hit the stage as a stand-up comedian that audiences were really exposed to the blinding potential that he exuded.

Cut to 2009 – Trevor releases comedy special The Daywalker, and people all around, both young and old, are buzzing with excitement.

Whether it was his ability to touch on sensitive subjects with such tact, his smart, thought-out bits that left questions lingering in the back of your mind long after the show had ended, or his ability to relate to just about any person in any situation – something had South Africans hooked.

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The star went on to release a number of specials thereafter, including Crazy Normal in 2011, That’s Racist in 2012 and It’s My Culture in 2013, eventually catching the eye of international shows like The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and The Late Show with David Letterman. Trevor became the first South African comedian to perform on both of these shows in 2012 and 2013 respectively.

Now, a few years later, Trevor has already released his second Netflix special, Son of Patricia.


The big takeover

In 2012 Trevor packed up and moved to the United States where he continued to perform stand-up, and, behind-the-scenes, built a contact list that would eventually aid him in landing a job on one of the biggest late-night shows.

Before his big Hollywood break, the rumor mill went wild with talks of the comedian getting his own sitcom produced by none other than Will Smith.

“South African comedian Trevor Noah has hit the US jackpot: He’s tipped to star in his own TV show to be aired on the Fox network,” a snippet of a 2013 City Press article reads.

Though the show never materialized, South Africans knew there was something huge on the horizon for Trevor.

2014 was when the first announcement came – Trevor Noah joins The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

Trevor’s role was small, that of a contributor, yet big enough to get him noticed. Ultimately leading him to accomplish his dream of hosting a successful late-night television talk show.

Only a few months after his debut, news dropped that Trevor would be taking Jon’s place as the new host of The Daily Show, endorsed by Jon himself.

While fans of the young star were overjoyed, fans of The Daily Show were left wondering what would happen once Jon stepped out from behind the desk for good.

Jon had hosted the show since 1999, taking over from Craig Killborn who was there from the show’s inception in 1996. There was no doubt that Trevor had big shoes to fill.

Critics lambasted the choice to have an unknown South African host the show, and many predicted a failure. But Comedy Central stood by their guns, and just over a month after Trevor’s takeover, spoke about the increase in the show’s digital viewership.

In 2017 news broke that Trevor’s contract on the show would be extended to 2022.


Trevor, the Hollywood A-lister

After an arduous climb to the top, Trevor now enjoys the fruits of his labour – attending star-studded events, hanging with Hollywood legends, and let’s not forget, going from living in a township in South Africa to splurging on a million-dollar penthouse in New York.

He was rated one of TIME magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in 2018, and in 2017 won his first Emmy Award for Best Short Form Variety Series.

Reflecting on his success in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Trevor noted that he does not take any of his achievements for granted.

“All of this is a blessing. All of this is something that I couldn’t have imagined. And all of this is far more than I ever thought that I would receive. And so now I have it, and it overflows to my family, and to my community, and to people around me.”



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