There doesn’t seem a helluva lot to laugh about in South Africa when faced by load-shedding, unemployment and weak economic growth.

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But insightful perceptions of this country are probably what give Trevor Noah the competitive edge in picking out the oddities in society, a talent that has propelled him to a high point in his career where he will take over as host of one of the most-watched television shows in the US, The Daily Show.

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Jon Stewart, the current host and a multiple award winner, is television’s highest-paid late-night host. For Noah, taking over the hot seat opens up a new world of earnings potential.

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Stewart (below) has been hosting The Daily Show since 1999 and has more than 1.5 million viewers a day. According to TV Guide’s annual salary report, The Daily Show host makes between $25-million and $30-million a year from the Comedy Central show. David Letterman on CBS is in second position at $20-million and Conan O’Brien is third with earnings of $12-million.

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BS2BS884247.jpgSuch rich pickings are a world away for comedians starting out in South Africa, who find it hard to make a good living.

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Kevin Keuvelaar, a sales manager at entertainment agency Standing Ovation, says there are 10 to 15 top comedians in the country who make a very good living and “about six comedians who are booked all the time”.

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An average comedian earns about R25000 a month while top comedians earn about R150000 a month, excluding additional income from CDs and books.

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Keuvelaar says Darren “Whackhead” Simpson charges about R37000 for a 35-minute comedy set and John Vlismas about R28000. “If you’re going into comedy, it’s a hard business, but the top guys all made themselves in a certain way; they put in a lot of work.”

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Vlismas (above) runs his own events company managing other big names and Simpson created a brand through his radio show on Highveld Stereo.

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Entrepreneur Ronnie Apteker, who has been involved in filmmaking and ventures in the comedy scene, said making “funny money” was a real challenge. There are spin-off benefits, like being cast in television and print adverts, but these earning opportunities depend on an artist’s profile.

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Noah has made three appearances on The Daily Show and performed widely in the US between 2010 and 2012. But his big online profile is the probable reason he is replacing Stewart.

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john vlismas.JPG

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Noah “has a massive online social profile and this has elevated his position to an unprecedented level”, said Apteker, adding that “it has certainly influenced the decision makers over there”.

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Noah’s followers are in keeping “with all world comedians”. The 31-year-old has two million Twitter followers, and uses tweets to promote shows or make observations.

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But Noah’s social media profile has also provided the source material for those opposed to his appointment as Stewart’s replacement.

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Within 24 hours of the announcement, he faced a backlash over several offensive tweets he wrote about women and Jews. Noah responded on Twitter, saying: “To reduce my views to a handful of jokes that didn’t land is not a true reflection of my character, nor my evolution as a comedian.”

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Comedy Central defended Noah, saying: “Trevor Noah pushes boundaries; he is provocative and spares no one, himself included.”

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The New York Times reported that his globetrotting spirit and ability to speak six languages set him apart on the comedy scene.

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Noah is currently on his “Lost in Translation” tour in the Middle East.