Who is Trevor Noah? How The South African Comedian Soared On YouTube

April 03, 2015

When Comedy Central announced that South African comedian Trevor Noah would succeed Jon Stewart as the host of “The Daily Show,” the world scratched its collective head. Who is this guy and what makes him qualified to follow the larger-than-life personality of Stewart?

 In a matter of hours, search interest on both Google and YouTube for “Trevor Noah” skyrocketed. Compared to the previous day – Sunday, March 29 – search volume increased 2157% day-over-day on YouTube as people around the world sought to learn more about the unknown Noah.

 While millions were hearing Noah’s name for the first time, the comedian’s long history on YouTube demonstrates that he has, in fact, engrossed a global audience with his unique humor and life perspective for years. As the mixed-race son of a black Xhosa mother and a white Swiss father growing up in post-apartheid South Africa, Trevor developed an uncanny ability to perceive and articulate nuanced social issues at a unique time in a unique place.

 In the 2012 documentary about his rise in South African comedy, You Laugh But It’s True, Noah explains how his personal experiences shaped his comedy: “I’ve lived a life where I’ve never really fit in, in any particular way. Even now people still debate what I am…. When you get older it’s cool because you’ve lived everywhere and nowhere. You’ve been everyone and no one. So you can say everything and nothing. And that’s really what affects my comedy and everything that I say.”

Noah's first major release on YouTube was of his first comedy special, The Daywalker, in 2009. Since that year, videos about “Trevor Noah” (uploads with references to his name in their title, description and keywords) have grown dramatically every year, increasing by 265% from 2013 to 2014.

 Among these videos, 12 have earned more than 1 million views, including 9 from his own channel which includes highlight clips from his standup performances and other projects. Noah’s global popularity began growing in 2012, when clips of his “Crazy Normal” special started spreading on YouTube. Since then he has successfully increased his reach every year by performing live shows and releasing new clips from those performances, most notably with “It’s My Culture” in early 2014. This strategy allowed Noah to reach new people with new content while driving additional views to his back catalogue of earlier videos.

Now that the announcement has brought him to the forefront of global popular culture, people are turning to YouTube to learn more about Trevor Noah. In the two days of March following Monday’s announcement, uploads and views related to him more than doubled the totals accumulated during the prior 29 days of the month. Considering these statistics, and Noah’s long history with comedy, the news of him succeeding Stewart seems a little less surprising. This week may have been the first time many of us heard the name Trevor Noah, but it won't likely be the last.

- Robert Weeks