Trevor Noah, the South African comic whose meteoric rise landed him in John Stewart’s old chair at The Daily Show, is coming to Indy for a night of stand-up on March 25. Noah, who was conceived under the rule of apartheid to a mixed-race couple (“born a crime,” in his words, since such unions were illegal then), wound up becoming the first South African comic to appear on both the Leno and Letterman shows earlier this decade.
Noah’s been to Indy before, opening for Gabriel Iglesias. NUVO spoke to him by phone and asked if he remembers much about the Circle City. Short answer? No. “Everything becomes a blur on the road. All you remember are the laughs and the grease,” he explains. Noah was quite a bit more forthcoming about the dangers of social media and his Daily Show takes that compare Donald Trump to third-world dictators.
NUVO: I’ve got to know what that conversation was like when you find out you’ve got the Daily Show gig.
What did John Stewart say to you specifically? As he’s handing you the keys to the Ferrari: “Here’s the car, Trevor, Don’t crash it.”
You know, it’s funny — he said the exact opposite: “Here’s the car. CRASH IT AS HARD AS YOU CAN.” He said don’t be afraid to crash it as hard as you can and make the show that you believe needs to be made. He said, “Don’t let anyone tell you how to drive the thing.”
Has Stewart spoken to you now that you’ve got some time under your belt behind that desk?
Yeah, we chat all the time, which is really nice. We don’t talk much work, funnily enough. … He tells me about baseball, what’s happening in the world, he tells me about those things. We just catch up.
I don’t know what this says about cultural perceptions, but when I think “African comic,” I think of one guy and that’s you. It’s must be startling to represent an entire continent. I’m pretty sure Seinfeld was only big in maybe two of the three countries in North America.
(LAUGHS) That’s funny. It is a daunting blessing and a weight to have on your shoulders.. … The greatest thing to me is that I get to represent a country, a continent and a people, and Americans have been very welcoming — that’s what America is. It’s a bunch of people who came from other places.
In all the English-speaking or bilingual countries that you’ve worked, there’s different comedic sensibilities. It’s not vast, but there’s a different comedic sensibility between the U.S. and Great Britain. I’m wondering what the differences are between say, the United States and South Africa.
There’s a perception that some countries don’t have a good sense of humor. Everyone laughs, everywhere in the world, you just have to find what makes them laugh. … American audiences are very similar to South African audiences — the biggest difference is that in South Africa we’re not in a space where people are afraid to say things. Everything is really taken lightly [in South Africa], especially in a comedy space. In America, there’s been a tendency over the past few years for people to chime in and analyze it. Chris Rock does the Oscars and people start dissecting the jokes and analyzing every single word. You’ve seen it over the years with every single comedian. That’s not really what comedy is for. Comedy’s always existed outside of that space, especially between the audience and the comedian, where you’re having an intimate discussion and this is a safe space. This is a space where we buck the taboos, we push the boundaries, we say the things that shouldn’t be said. That’s what comedy is supposed to be.
I’m an older gent, so I remember people like Don Rickles and the like — a Rickles couldn’t happen any more. He’d be pilloried on social media.
Yes. I said that to a friend once: “I bet you Michael Jackson would’ve committed suicide had he lived in the age of Twitter.” When you think of the level of scandal that happened during the age of newspapers? There was no way for some random gu in South Africa to tell Michael Jackson what he felt about him. It’s a different world now. You can pick up your phone and you can basically leave a pile of shit on anyone’s doorstep.
And set it on fire and ring the doorbell.
And a lot of people are doing that just for the sake of doing that.
OK, we’ve talked about Twitter, now let’s talk about something really scary: Donald Trump. Your take that he’s actually an African dictator is really pretty hilarious.
Thank you — Donald Trump, with the violence at his rallies … this is what African dictators do. Not real leaders in general, but African dictators have been known to do this. Dictators in the Middle East are no different. They follow the same trend. African dictators … follow the same level of gaudiness, the same level of male bravado. It’s the craziest thing. I said to my friends, “I came all the way to the other side of the world, and I thought I was going to have to brush up on my American politics.” And no, I was qualified all along. Basically I’m back in Africa.
So many people have gone on from the Daily Show — Colbert, Samantha Bee, John Oliver — to host their own programs. Do you watch any of them?
The only person I get to watch consistently is John Oliver. It’s my appointment I love what he’s doing. I love how he does it. Right now, he’s at the pinnacle. He’s honestly, in my opinion, the best show that’s on television right now. It’s great to watch somebody in the same field hitting their stride.
March 25, 7:30 p.m.
Murat Theatre at Old National Centre
502 N. New Jersey St.