Trevor Noah, who will take over hosting duties at “The Daily Show” after Jon Stewart departs next month, anticipates some growing pains.
In an extensive interview with GQ, the South African-born comedian talked about the inevitable hesitance of fans to embrace him.
“A guy doesn’t leave and another guy comes in and there’s no backlash. That never, ever happens,” Noah told the magazine. “The same thing when Larry Wilmore took over from Colbert: ‘Oh, this is never gonna work. This is horrible.’”
Noah, who is still largely unknown to American audiences, grew up under the shadow of apartheid with a black mother and a white father – a relationship that was illegal at the time. He rocketed to fame in his home country telling sometimes politically incorrect jokes that exposed the prejudices of his own people. Now that he is stateside, there have been some cultural adjustments.
“I hadn’t fully understood the African-American experience. I hadn’t read the books; I hadn’t met the people; I hadn’t traveled the country,” Noah tells GQ. However, he adds: “I may not be American, but I am black. It’s not like I had to learn how to be black.”
The 31-year-old said he had grown up “idolizing black Americans,” and much of his stand-up material is inspired by his fascination with black American culture and his struggle to fit into it. His humor hasn’t always rubbed audiences the right way, like a routine he performed on “The Tonight Show” in 2012 where he mocked the speech patterns of African-Americans.
“I’ve now learned how to be emotionally aware of how people may use your joke in a negative way. And that’s something that you’re always trying to navigate in comedy. You know, Dave Chappelle talked about it as well – if you’re not careful, someone can use your words to hurt somebody else,” Noah told GQ.
When Noah was first announced as Stewart’s replacement in March, he was again called out for some of his material. Several offensive past tweets posted by the comedian mocking women, Israel and Jews were resurfaced and Noah suddenly became a controversial figure.
“You show me half my jokes from even two years ago, three years ago – I hate them. Because you see, like, a young version of yourself. You’re like, ‘Why would you say that? You idiot! That makes no sense.’ Or, ‘That’s just stupid.’ Or, ‘Ahh, I can’t believe I said that about a woman.’ You should not like what you did back then, because that shows that you’ve grown. If you’re still doing it, that’s a scarier place to be,” Noah told GQ. “So that’s a great thing for me. When I get a chance to look back and go: ‘I was an idiot.’”
Noah will take over as host of “The Daily Show” on September 28.
Additional reporting by Douglas Holloway.