If it’s true that there’s no rest for the wicked, Trevor Noah must be one of the most wicked men working in entertainment today.
When he’s not at the helm of The Daily Show, Comedy Central’s successful satire staple that deconstructs the news of the world, he’s on the road working as an in-demand stand-up comedian – a trade in which he originally made his name with several years of prolific work in his native South Africa. At the time of our interview, Noah has just stepped out from a show recording in their studios on 11th Avenue in New York City. He’s overwhelmed by the amount of news that flows in from all parts of the world, but he argues having his cup overflowing is a good problem.
“Depending on which way you look at it, this election cycle has been one from heaven or one from hell,” he says with a laugh. “It’s a crazy time in the world, man. Just when you think America is the biggest circus on earth, something like Brexit shows up. That whole part of the world just feels like it’s imploding unto itself. It’s an opportune time to be making comedy about it for TV.”
Noah is the third host of The Daily Show in its 20 years on the air – originally hosted by Craig Kilborn, the show was taken over by Jon Stewart in 1999. Stewart held down the fort for 16 years until his retirement in 2015, leading many to believe the show would come to a conclusion, given how inextricably linked the host was with the program. Nonetheless, Noah was brought in as a successor to the throne, where he has since given The Daily Show his own personal flair and stamp of identity. As far as Noah is concerned, it’s not about filling anyone’s boots – it’s about rocking your own proverbial kicks.
“I think the most important thing that you have to do in any type of show is build your own audience,” he says. “To think that you can simply walk in as a replacement and overtake someone else’s audience... it’s just naive really. It’s been the same with all the changes on TV the last few years. Jimmy Fallon, Seth Meyers, James Corden... they’ve all made audiences for themselves. They’re not in it to just adopt an audience – why would they be?
“It was never going to be done the exact same way that Jon did it,” he goes on. “That was never my intention. We’ve had fans coming and going in this whole transitional period, and a whole lot of new people have come in – especially a lot of young people. Maybe they feel like the show is more for them now, or maybe they’re at an age where they have a better understanding of what the show is. It’s an exciting time to see The Daily Show grow.”
One would understandably assume that with the momentum of The Daily Show in the current political climate, it would be difficult for Noah to find time to perform stand-up. In reality, it’s just as much a part of Noah’s life now as it was when he was starting out all those years ago. He often performs in the US, and most recently released an hour-long special, Lost In Translation. Noah also claims that he writes the exact same way as he used to – the only difference now is he has other things to take into consideration when experimenting with it.
“Comedy’s what I’m thinking about and what I’m doing – I don’t like to keep it separate in terms of my writing,” he says. “Some subjects are better lent to the show, others make more sense to use in my stand-up. Essentially, it’s about finding what is suited best to which arena, and then developing it from there. Jokes can come from anywhere, man. Chris Rock was really great in giving me advice about this. He said to me, ‘Don’t forget to live your life, because living is the best place to find new material.’ That’s something I’ve focused on ever since – I live as much as I work.”
If all his titles weren’t enough, Noah is about to add another feather to his cap and become an author. A memoir from the 32-year-old is set for release in November, which will detail various parts of his life through a series of personal essays. “It’s been in the works for a while now – I think it must have started at least a year before The Daily Show happened,” says Noah.
“I saw it as another avenue for me to share stories about my life – about things that have happened to me and how I was brought up. I realised that a book would be the best way to share these to audiences that might not know all that much about me. I mean, I live a pretty open life. What I’ve done is what I’ve done: my views are my views. I’m open to changing and growing, but I don’t think I’ve ever been afraid or ashamed of those things. I feel like the more you share, the more likely you are to connect with people in similar situations.”
Noah’s current hour of stand-up is tagged with the title Trevor Noah Live, a header that might give one the impression that the subject matter is a little broader and less conceptual than his more centrally-themed hours, such as African American or The Racist. To a degree, Noah is inclined to concede to that. Still, he makes pains to point out that every new show is different.
“Often times I find the show dictates itself,” he explains. “I’ll start writing with one concept or idea in mind, but by the time I get to performing it the show will have wound up being completely different. It all depends. I let the show guide me, in essence, and I’m doing it with the audience too. My material doesn’t exist in a vacuum – it goes with the people experiencing it. Their reaction determines what goes, what stays, what works, what doesn’t, what changes, what doesn’t... I think by the time I get to Australia, I’ll have the best version of what this hour can be at that point in time.”
Indeed, Trevor Noah Live is making its way to Australia and New Zealand for a run of shows as a part of the Just For Laughs festival. Several shows have already hung up ‘sold out’ signs, which is essentially the norm for whenever Noah comes to visit this part of the world. “I truly count myself as so lucky that a place like Australia has been there to show me love for so many years,” he says. “That’s been the greatest gift. That’s something I will never take for granted – having people there that will always come to my shows and will always be there to support me. As long as there are people like that, I will always make a point of coming back.”