5 Apr 2015

Noah's comedy overpowers apartheid past

9:02 pm on 5 April 2015

Eyebrows were raised when the little-known South African comedian Trevor Noah was assigned the gargantuan task of replacing one of the most well-respected men on television - Jon Stewart.

Trevor Noah

Trevor Noah Photo: AFP / Comedy Central

But the immensely popular news satire programme The Daily Show existed before Stewart, and it must now find a way to survive, and thrive with Noah.

In a conversation with Radio New Zealand's Sunday Morning host Wallace Chapman, the 31-year-old spoke about how difficult it was growing up during apartheid in South Africa.

Born a crime, as he puts it, Noah is the son of a black South African mother and a white Swiss father.

During apartheid, interracial marriage was illegal.

"[My parents] met in an underground scene for people who didn't believe in segregation in South Africa," he said.

"My dad was one of those who didn't believe in the laws of the country and my mum wanted to break the laws, so they met in that setting.

"My mum got arrested quite a few times - I guess it was part and parcel of what was happening."

Noah said he sometimes felt like a "bag of weed" as a child, as his mother would try to hide him when they were in public.

His father would often walk on the other side of the road.

Noah's first experience in comedy was during a night out with friends at a comedy club.

"My cousin got drunk and got into a fight with one of the comedians and told him he wasn't funny," he said.

His cousin then pushed him on stage, saying he could do better.

"It was like climbing onto a bull and holding on for dear life."

Yet Noah said comedy was more powerful than his troubled past.

"I come from a family that enjoys laughing. I may come from a country that may have a sad background but most countries have a sad story... you can't carry that as a hatred inside you," he said.

"If Nelson Mandela can go to jail for 27 years and come out smiling then who are you to be angry with your little life?"

Noah's reign as the host of The Daily Show is slated to begin in either late 2015 or early 2016.