Two years have passed since Trevor Noah was named as Jon Stewart’s replacement on The Daily Show. At the time the comedian seemed a left-field choice to replace the darling of US satire, but now the decision seems a very wise one. Noah has gone from strength to strength, taking the baton from Stewart almost seamlessly.
The Johannesburg-born comic was a regular contributor to the show and was a big name in his native South Africa, but filling the shoes of Stewart, who had presented the show for 16 years, was never going to be easy.
We’re chatting to Noah over the phone and he’s just finished filming a show in New York.
“To be honest, during the interview [for the The Daily Show job] I wasn’t nervous,” says Noah. “Because I didn’t really think I would get the job. It was such a crazy idea that I would host The Daily Show. I enjoyed being in the group that was considered, but I never expected it.”
Roll on two years and and the outsider has just landed a new five-year contract. But what’s his secret?
“I think one of the key things is that we are all experiencing something similar, and that is Donald Trump,” he says. “You are only an outsider until you go through things together. That is what makes us consider someone similar to us. We start to see people as the same when we experience the same outward influences, and the presidency of Donald Trump has been an experience we are all having together.”
And while Noah doesn’t shy away from holding the US president to account, his outlook remains bright. “I think I’m always positive because I believe that as people we tend to progress,” he says. “There are moments where we take a few steps backwards and I think that is what America is feeling now, but you can’t deny there has been immense progress not just in America but in many parts of the world.”
He cautions that progress may not be immediately evident. “I see the life my parents lived, I see the life my grandparents lived,
I can trace it back and see how much progress we have made and I think the same is in America,” he says. “As a person I acknowledge the reality of the world we live in, but I also acknowledge the progress that the world
Noah grew up in Apartheid-era South Africa, a turbulent and violent period. “While I only understood it many years later, my family went through it,” he explains. “I don’t think I was ever in a position where I was suffering through anything. I was in a world where I experienced the effect of something but I was not really aware of the policy itself.”
Noah was born to a black Xhosa mother and Swiss/German father. In his best-selling book Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, Noah talks about what it was like growing up under Apartheid. In material familiar with his fans, he says that most children are proof of their parents’ love, but he was proof of their criminality. He tells of once running behind his father down a street, unaware he could not be seen with him outdoors, and having to walk a few steps behind his mother for the same reason. The book is honest and witty, but at the same time heart-wrenching.
His childhood was not an easy one. He sometimes slept in cars, he hustled his way by selling bootleg CDs, and when the money was tight, he’d get by eating bones meant for dogs as that was all the family could afford. But in true Noah style, he layers each story of pain with humour. “As a kid I understood that people were different colours, but in my head white and black and brown were types of chocolate,” he writes in the autobiography. “Dad was the white chocolate, mum was the dark chocolate and I was the milk chocolate. But we were all just chocolate.”
The need to apply logic to situations is evident in his interviews on The Daily Show. No matter who he’s quizzing, a plea for good sense amid the chaos is always apparent.
He spent his childhood reading. His mother would encourage him to express himself through letters. If he wanted to dispute his chores, he had to write a letter. If he hasd bad marks in school, he had to write a letter.
“I’ve always been somebody who liked sharing stories and connecting with human beings through the art of storytelling,” he says. “And that was really what prompted me to write the book.”
When he started writing, Noah assumed he would be the main character. However, after a few pages a different hero began to emerge, his mother, Patricia. She battled through a great deal to raise Noah, who recalls one of the most harrowing moments of his childhood, seeing her in hospital after she got shot in the head by her ex-husband. “You’re officially the best-looking person in the family,” she joked, laughing at adversity.
While Noah credits his humour gene to his mum, his admiration runs deep for the likes of Eddie Murphy and Chris
Rock, among others. “As a young comedian, and even until this day, I still enjoy the comedy of Dave Chappelle – he has become a good friend and a mentor.” English stand-up Eddie Izzard is also someone he has turned to in the past. “I always felt he crossed boundaries and barriers, both in language and in style, and many people hadn’t done that before.”
And, of course, there is Jon Stewart. “We chat about everything – it doesn’t have to be about the show all the time. It doesn’t have to be about politics, it is sharing life stories and catching up with each other as people.”
When it comes to his brand of comedy, Noah follows one principle – to be honest above all else, something he picked up from his comedic heroes.
“The most important thing is to work on discovering your truths. Finding your voice to bring out who you are,” he says. “I think one of the beauties of working on stage is coming to a place where you are constantly learning about yourself as a person and as a performer, and never being afraid of being wrong, or being afraid to grow. Which I think is what makes comedy great.”
The UAE will always be a special place for Noah as it was while here that he got the call telling him he had landed The Daily Show gig. And while he has been a regualr on stage in Dubai, this will be his first time playing to an audience in the capital, and he’s looking forward to it. The people of Abu Dhabi are too, forcing him to add a second date.
“I am excited, you know. I have been to Abu Dhabi before but never to do a show. So it is exciting to perform for the first time,” he says. “I think we are going to have a great time together. I am looking forward to making jokes that I can only make in Abu Dhabi.”
We are too, Trevor, we are too...
From Dhs280. Fri Dec 15, 8.30pm (sold out); Sat, Dec 16 4pm. du Forum, Yas Island, www.ticketmaster.ae.