Comedian Trevor Noah will be taking over “The Daily Show” from longtime host Jon Stewart. Illustrates TV-DAILYSHOW-NOAH (category e), by Stephanie Merry © 2015, The Washington Post. Moved Monday, March 30, 2015. (MUST CREDIT: Byron Keulemans/Comedy Central.) Image Credit: THE WASHINGTON POST

When Trevor Noah takes our call at 12.30am in New York, he’s understandably tired.

He’s not nearly as chatty or charming as his Daily Show persona would lead us to believe, and he has no issue telling us he doesn’t typically stay up this late — he’s just up for the call. But the calm is a welcome change. Charm can be overrated, anyway, and at half-past midnight, it’s downright cruel.

Returning to Dubai on Saturday night, the South African comedian will be in town for another stand-up show. He’s part of the inaugural Dubai Comedy Festival at Skydive Dubai, headlined by none other than Dave Chappelle . (When asked, Noah says his stand-up inspiration has “always, always” been Chappelle.)

For those who saw Noah last March, they can expect this gig to be different.

“I always switch up my shows,” Noah says. “And I never know what I’m going to be talking about until I get to the place.”

But it’s hard to believe that this year’s visit could begin to live up to last year’s. In the back of a Dubai taxi, Noah got a call from his manager with the biggest news of his career — he would be replacing Jon Stewart on The Daily Show.

“It was the craziest thing ever. I got the news, and it was one of those experiences that you can’t really explain. You find out something or you hear something that changes your life forever,” he says.

With Noah behind the steering wheel, the latest incarnation of The Daily Show has been running for just under a month. The reviews have been generally favourable. It’s true that, at times, Noah still looks uncomfortable with the shoes he’s filling, but the 31 year old is nothing if not tenacious.

“It’s a lot of hard work, and it takes a lot of time to get used to it — for me to get used to the show, for the audience to get used to me. But every day, we learn something new, and every day, you learn to enjoy it more, and then you get to a point where you find your groove,” he says.

In the first episode of the season, correspondent Jordan Klepper jokes that he keeps hearing words like ‘global’, ‘youth’ and ‘viral’. He’s not far off the mark. Speaking of what he brings to the table, Noah says, “I’m from a different country, I’m from a different ethnic background, I’m younger. There’s so many things that make me different to Jon. But at the same time, we have so many views that we share.”

What was Stewart’s advice to him before he left, then? “He told me to trust my discomfort, and go in the direction that didn’t seem the easiest for me to handle in my mind, so that’s what I’ve been trying to do.”


America’s sweetheart

I admit to him that before our interview, I was both excited and nervous to chat. I’ve always enjoyed his stand-up shows and how accessible his material seems. A constant smile and a dimple go a far way, after all.

But now he’s a big shot on a massive American television show. For the first time during our call, he chuckles.

“Yeah, definitely, you feel that,” he says. “But at the end of the day, I just feel the pressure of putting on a good show in general, so it doesn’t matter if I’m putting on the show on South African TV, or British TV, or American TV, it’s still the same pressure, trying to put on a great show that people will enjoy.”

“I don’t read reviews,” he says, plain and simple. “You have a good idea of what you’re trying to do, and you know that you’re doing things well, and you also know if you’re not doing them as well as you want to. So a review often will only make you feel worse than you feel, or it’ll make you feel better than you should feel.”

But some critics are impossible to ignore. When the news first emerged that Noah would be taking on the Daily Show gig, his old tweets were dug up to showcase some anti-Semitic and misogynist material, which he apologised for. In his first episode, Noah made two jokes that publications predicted would cause offence — an AIDs joke and a joke about crack-cocaine bragging to meth about killing Whitney Houston.

“I don’t set out to offend people, but people can always be offended by anything — you don’t have control over that, doing comedy, or doing any form of art, really,” Noah says. “Whether it’s music, whether it’s acting, whatever it is — people can choose to interpret it their way. At the end of the day, you just have to do what you do and know what your intention is, and then you go from there.”


A strange world

Tough skin or not, Noah, like anyone else, has had his share of hardships behind the scenes. He was born to a mother of mixed Xhosa and Jewish heritage and a white Swiss German father in apartheid South Africa. Later, his mother suffered domestic abuse at the hands of another partner who shot her, then threatened to kill Noah.

In 2002, at the age of 18, Noah began forging his own journey in the entertainment industry as star of South Africa series, Isidingo. Between then and 2011, the year he moved to America, he hosted a whole variety of South African television shows, ranging from sports to game-show dating. It’s something he tells me was “bizarre”. “Just a bunch of random weird jobs, including being a guy in a soap opera, which is a very strange world for me to be in.”

When it comes to the people who have inspired him to chase his dreams as far as they would take him, there are too many for him to cover.

“Everyone from my mum, all the way through to famous comedians like Eddie Murphy,” he says. “There’s so many people out there that I wouldn’t know where to start the list and end it.”

Part of why he remains so in touch with who he is these days is the fact that things haven’t “changed tremendously” in his world. Sure, he’s a big-time host of one of the most popular fake news shows in the world, but his loved ones aren’t rushing to reduce him to that role.

“I don’t think good friends and family define you by what you’re doing. It’s just another aspect of who you are. That’s something that always appreciated, is having a real group of people around me, who always just give me a constant grounding in my world,” he says.


‘I exist in each moment’

Back in the world of celebrity, Noah has welcomed a slew of famous guests on the show so far, from actors Kevin Hart and Tom Hiddleston to ethologist Richard Dawkins and Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie. As for who he dreams of getting in that interview chair, off the top of his head — Oprah Winfrey.

“I guess when I’m ready — when I think I’ve gotten to a place where I think I’d do the interview justice,” he says. “She’s just fantastic. Everything about her. She’s one of the most amazing broadcasters and people, I think, we’ve come across and I’ve seen, so she’s someone who I’ve always just wanted to talk to.”

With the way things are going, it doesn’t seem like Noah’s Winfrey dream will have to wait much longer. It must be surreal to be in arm’s reach of some of his wildest whims. Does he ever deal with impostor syndrome — an inability to internalise his own accomplishments?

“Oh, no,” he says. “I think I exist in each moment. And with the amount of work I do, sometimes I don’t even have the time to dwell in that. I’m hardly ever happy with what I’ve done in terms of the work — I’m always trying to improve it and improve myself, so I don’t have much time to sit back and [dwell].”

At the end of the day, Noah’s mission statement hasn’t changed much over the years. His politics will be at the forefront of his work now, whether he likes it or not, but it’s always going to be the comedy that fuels him.

“My personal fulfilment is to make people laugh,” he says. “To bring a bit of light into an often dark day. That’s all I do. That’s all I try and do, because sometimes that’s all I need, is just a space where I can absorb the news in the world that I am in, but in a way that doesn’t depress me completely, and that’s all I’m trying to do with The Daily Show.”


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