The biggest comedian in South Africa, Trevor Noah has taken his comedy global, as the newest face of The Daily Show. In Dubai for the launch of Comedy Central in the Middle East, Noah talks about succeeding predecessor Jon Stewart and the unique relationship between comedy and language
It’s always fun coming out to Dubai because they’re always building something new, so I always feel like it’s my first time. Dubai is one of the most interesting places in the world, because it’s a collection of old and new; it’s a traditional place and at the same time very modern. It’s a melting pot of people and cultures. You see worlds existing in the same space; not colliding but just existing, which is a really fascinating thing to see.
I’ve been lucky to meet a lot of the comedians working in the UAE. There is a huge comedy scene growing both in English and Arabic; there are a few comedy clubs, and there’s a comedy festival in Dubai now, which did really well in its first year – it’s really fantastic to see.
Every time a comedy culture grows within a language of the region it also takes on a life of its own. English comedy will always be, to some extent, governed by the mindsets of the English. But once the comedy changes to a different language, I find the comedy itself starts to explore different areas and thought processes that couldn’t easily be accessed in English. I’ve seen it with French comedians, I’ve seen it with African comedians and now I’m seeing it with Arabic comedians as well.
I always believed in thinking of the world as a stage. Whether it’s in the UK, Australia, in Europe or Africa, I’ve always found time and a way to explore performing in those places as much as I do in the US. Comedy Central has given me the opportunity to do that with The Daily Show as well.
I’ve been in entertainment for a good 15 years now. I wish it were as overnight for me as it was for everyone else. It’s like when people go skydiving; you don’t see them training on the ground or in the wind tunnels, you just see the person jumping out of the plane and it seems pretty spectacular. I love it, though. The hard work keeps me going.
There are certain lines that people do not appreciate being crossed. There are certain things that you can’t show and can’t say. I think there’s always a line, it’s just that the perception of the line changes from place to place. In the US, profanity is often bleeped out, whereas in Europe they just play everything, show everything. But comedy is supposed to be crossing a line somewhere. So as long as you’re playing within the general boundaries, then you’re having a good time.
The Daily Show is hard work, but it’s also enjoyable because it pays off. Jon Stewart left really at his peak, before anyone thought he would. Taking over that kind of legacy is extremely, extremely difficult. But I’m not trying to be Jon Stewart. He’s still alive, so there’s no need for me to try and replace him. I need to create a new show and that’s the most important thing. It’s about creating a show that’s reintroducing a younger, more diverse audience to American politics and views from around the world. If ever there was a ripe moment for comedy, this is it.
Comedy I don’t see as work; I work hard at it, but it’s not work for me. It’s an extension of who I am and it’s a moment to enjoy and make people laugh – and I really love making people laugh.