Noah does things his way

New host of ‘The Daily Show’ shrugs off a drop in rat­ings

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - GOODFUN - TOM TEODOR­CZUK

TREVOR NOAH, the co­me­dian who re­cently re­placed Jon Stew­art as pre­sen­ter of The Daily Show, is a huge soc­cer fan. “I love the game so much,” he told me. But ask­ing him who he sup­ports elicited an un­usual re­sponse.

“I have no team that I sup­port. I’ve never fun­da­men­tally un­der­stood that con­cept be­cause I fall in love with play­ers and then they leave and I’m still now meant to be in­debted to the team? That doesn’t make sense be­cause the play­ers are the team. Where Zine­dine Zi­dane went, I fol­lowed him.”

Noah’s ap­proach is il­lu­mi­nat­ing since it il­lus­trates his dis­like of par­ti­san­ship and his op­ti­mistic out­look. Th­ese fac­tors ac­count for his swift rise to tele­vi­sion stardom but they also en­sured his ap­point­ment as Stew­art’s suc­ces­sor on Com­edy Cen­tral’s hugely pop­u­lar cur­rent af­fairs satire took the US me­dia es­tab­lish­ment by sur­prise.

When we met at Com­edy Cen­tral’s stu­dio in Man­hat­tan, Noah was buzzing with en­thu­si­asm and con­fi­dence but ad­mit­ted to be­ing ner­vous about his new role.

To be sure, at 31 he com­mands a sig­nif­i­cant fol­low­ing as a stand-up co­me­dian and is hardly a stranger to Amer­i­can TV screens. And he pos­sesses TV cre­den­tials, hav­ing been the first South African comic to ap­pear on Jay Leno and David Let­ter­man’s shows. But the ap­point­ment sig­ni­fied a bold change of di­rec­tion on Com­edy Cen­tral’s part. Quite apart from not be­ing a white Amer­i­can, Noah, un­like Stew­art, doesn’t revel in be­ing a po­lit­i­cal ob­ses­sive.

Since tak­ing over the reins of The Daily Show, Noah has cer­tainly got up to speed on the pres­i­den­tial race, com­par­ing Don­ald Trump to an African dic­ta­tor, in­ter­view­ing Chris Christie and high­light­ing Ben Car­son’s zombie-like ten­den­cies. But while Stew­art rev­elled in metic­u­lous po­lit­i­cal por­trai­ture, Noah de­lights in work­ing from a blank can­vas.

He iden­ti­fies him­self as a pro­gres­sive, but not a po­lit­i­cal pro­gres­sive: “I find it funny all over the world that we’ve cre­ated this thing where pol­i­tics is some­how ex­clu­sive, re­served for the po­lit­i­cal elite.” In the US specif­i­cally, he said: “The prob­lem is they’re so quick to jump to ‘What it means.’ ‘This is what they said. The sound­bite’, that you start to lose con­text and lose the real con­ver­sa­tion.”

Un­der Noah, The Daily Show is fo­cus­ing more on pop cul­ture – and will fea­ture more mu­sic – but in a way, he main­tained, that maps to so­ci­ety. “Look at an ar­gu­ment be­tween Tay­lor Swift and Nicki Minaj,” he said. “When you get to the core of that ar­gu­ment, you re­alise racial un­der­tones, you re­alise the so­ci­ety we’re liv­ing in, you re­alise women’s is­sues come to the fore.”

If it was a web­site, his vi­sion for The Daily Show would be more Friends Re­united than Politico. “The show is a friend,” he said. “Some peo­ple will like it and some peo­ple won’t. That’s what friends are, peo­ple that we like. Ev­ery­one else, we don’t like. It doesn’t mean that we hate them; we just choose not to be with them. I want the show to be a nat­u­ral place where we can en­gage in hon­est con­ver­sa­tions and learn about one an­other in our friend­ships.”

Noah could do with a few more friends at the mo­ment. The rat­ings for the month he’s been pre­sent­ing the show are down a third on Stew­art’s ten­ure and this dur­ing the height of US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion cam­paign sea­son. He is un­fazed. “I can never be in con­trol of how much peo­ple ap­pre­ci­ate me,” he in­sists. “The only things I can con- trol is how hard I work, how hon­est I am and how much I put my­self out there.”

Hav­ing moved to the US in 2011, Noah lives in the Up­per West Side with his model girl­friend Jor­dyn Tay­lor. It’s a far cry from his up­bring­ing in Joburg, the son of a mixed race cou­ple at a time when in­ter­ra­cial unions were barred in South Africa. His mother is of mixed Xhosa and Jewish her­itage while his fa­ther is a white Swis­sGer­man. It was a far from care­free child­hood: his mother was jailed and fined by the SA gov­ern­ment and his fa­ther moved back to Switzer­land.

Yet Noah told me the strug­gle to end apartheid helped to shape his sunny out­look and sharp­ened his sense of hu­mour. “I’ve read ar­ti­cles about my­self where they say, ‘Trevor is overly sim­plis­tic and op­ti­mistic in his views’.

“Maybe I am, be­cause I come from a place where the im­pos­si­ble was achieved. You could not have a blood­less rev­o­lu­tion, you could never have the peo­ple that were in­stru­men­tal in the op­press­ing and the tor­ture and the killing of black peo­ple now be for­given and be part of the com­mu­nity.”

He even said South Africa’s great­est mod­ern states­man epit­o­mised his comic phi­los­o­phy: “Nel­son Man­dela would tell so many jokes, but some­times I’d see him at a press con­fer­ence and he’d tell jokes and no one would laugh be­cause it was Nel­son Man­dela. How could he af­ter 27 years in jail? I think he re­alised, why not make a few jokes be­cause in the end that’s all you have.

“My best friend’s grand­mother passed away three days ago and within three min­utes of get­ting the news, we made a joke be­cause that’s how we deal with pain. If you can’t laugh, you’ll want to cry for­ever. It doesn’t mean you dis­miss what has hap­pened or you triv­i­alise the in­for­ma­tion but you find a way to process the in­for­ma­tion and work through it.”

Noah be­gan his ca­reer on a ra­dio show named Noah’s Ark in Joburg. His stand- up rou­tines trans­lated eas­ily to tele­vi­sion and Noah was hired by Com­edy Cen­tral af­ter he im­pressed them with ap­pear­ances on late- night talk shows and his guest con­tri­bu­tions on The Daily Show to­wards the end of the Stew­art era.

He still per­forms live. Lost in Trans­la­tion, the show he per­formed at the Ed­in­burgh Fringe in Au­gust, will re­turn to Lon­don’s Ham­mer­smith Apollo at the end of the year. He is used to con­tro­versy. Upon the an­nounce­ment that he would take over The Daily Show, Noah was heav­ily crit­i­cised for some of his ear­lier anti-Semitic and misog­y­nis­tic tweets. “What I’ve learnt in com­edy is you go, ‘If it doesn’t work, what was I try­ing to say? How could I have said that bet­ter?’

“Then you start to re­alise that when you’re lazy with it, which I of­ten am/ was on Twit­ter, it’s be­cause it was this ran­dom thing where we wrote what­ever we wanted. You start to re­alise there are ways you have to fo­cus on get­ting to the heart of the is­sue. When it comes to, say, in­sult­ing Is­lam, I of­ten ask, ‘Why? What is your pur­pose? Just to do it and pro­voke some­body?’

“Within the world of com­edy and free speech there is hate speech and you must al­ways be care­ful not to stum­ble into that realm. That is some­thing that I am cog­nisant of. I’m not say­ing I’ll never make a mis­take but you have to think, ‘What am I try­ing to say?’”

Noah went on to con­front one of the thorni­est ques­tions in com­edy cir­cles – where the bound­aries lie in caus­ing of­fence and flout­ing po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness.

“The hard­est thing to un­der­stand is how loaded every­thing is at the mo­ment. Every­thing you say can and will be used against you and that’s what I’m learn­ing ev­ery sin­gle day. Un­for­tu­nately what that cre­ates… Well, let me say the for­tu­nate side is it cre­ates a space where we think be­fore we speak.

“What’s un­for­tu­nate is it also cre­ates a space where peo­ple are afraid to broach any topic or any sub­ject for fear of be­ing en­gulfed by the masses… Peo­ple are so afraid that they end up not say­ing any­thing at all.” – The In­de­pen­dent

● Noah had an emer­gency ap­pen­dec­tomy on Wed­nes­day, Com­edy Cen­tral said. “We’re happy to re­port the pro­ce­dure went well, and he is cur­rently re­cu­per­at­ing from the surgery,” the net­work said. Noah had been ex­pected back on the job on Thurs­day.

● The Daily Show is on week­days at 9pm on Com­edy Cen­tral on DStv.

The Daily Show.

CALM: Trevor Noah is not con­cerned that rat­ings are down af­ter his first month at the helm of

HAV­ING BLAST: Trevor Noah in a Com­edy Cen­tral pre­view. With him are Jes­sica Wil­liams, Hasan Min­haj and Jor­dan Klep­per.

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