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'The Daily Show's' Trevor Noah has interesting tale to tell

| Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2018, 9:00 p.m.

Trevor Noah was given the impossible task of replacing Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show.”

But accomplishing the incredible is nothing new for the South African comic, who appears Jan. 5 at Heinz Hall, Pittsburgh. In his autobiography, “Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood,” Noah recounts the perils of growing up in a country where apartheid was the rule of the land. Where his very existence was deemed illegal because his father was white and his mother was black.

His mother, as much as possible, kept Noah hidden and indoors. But instead of viewing this as a setback, Noah became a voracious reader in order to transcend his surroundings.

“That's the great thing about books,” he told the BBC in 2016. “I lived in a world where I could be anywhere. Thanks to books I could be anywhere. I've been to France and to space. I've been to Charlie's Chocolate Factory with Willie Wonka. I've been everywhere. … I've never tried to make it seem like I was the one who was suffering. My family and my people were suffering, but because I was a child I only knew this world.”

Not that there weren't moments of rebellion. In “Born a Crime,” Noah recounts digging a hole underneath the gate of his grandmother's driveway and briefly escaping.

He was only 3 and had no idea that he could be taken by the police and “sent to a home for colored kids” with his family deported.

That childhood curiosity did come in handy after apartheid was abolished in 1990. At 18, he appeared on a South African soap opera, then hosted a talk show on the radio before concentrating on comedy. He returned to television, hosting educational, game and gossip shows before moving to the U.S. in 2011.

In 2014, he joined “The Daily Show” as a correspondent, and was selected to succeed Stewart in 2015. At the time, Noah had done only three segments on the program, and initial reaction was mixed at best. Fans were perplexed, wrote Tim Grierson in Rolling Stone magazine, “Not because they disagreed with the choice, but because they didn't know who he was.”

But Noah earned praise for his even-handed interview style, which he attributes to his experiences growing up.”

“I've understood multiple experiences simultaneously,” he told NPR in 2016. “That's something I've always done and I continue to do till this day: I try and see the perspective of the other side.”

Noah's ratings on “The Daily Show” have steadily risen during his tenure. In August 2017, the show eclipsed “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” as the No. 1 rated late-night talk show in the 18-34 year old bracket, according to deadline.com.

But Noah is not content being a TV talking head. He frequently spends his weekends doing live comedy shows in order to stay grounded.

“Stand-up comedy is my therapy,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 2017. “It's where I thrive; it's what I've done for more than a decade; it's the purest expression of how I think and who I am. Second, it helps me hone my message and how I communicate with people. When you're in front of an audience, you can connect with them on what they're thinking. You can lose sight of that in a TV studio.”

Rege Behe is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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