Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 15 November 2019

Trevor Noah on Brexit, Trump and his upcoming show in Abu Dhabi

'I spend one day at brunch, I will have at least five minutes of new jokes'

Trevor Noah took over from Jon Stewart as host of 'The Daily Show' in 2015
Trevor Noah took over from Jon Stewart as host of 'The Daily Show' in 2015

In an interview earlier this year, Trevor Noah said he was “65 per cent” of the way towards realising his vision for The Daily Show, the satirical news programme he hosts four nights a week on Comedy Central. This was surprising. Since replacing Jon Stewart in 2015, and after an initial dip, Noah has overseen an impressive increase in viewers – and not just on television. An average of 56 million people watch clips from The Daily Show every week online, while there were 700 million cross-platform viewers in the first quarter of 2019.

Most people would be pretty satisfied with those sorts of numbers, not to mention the fact Noah has interviewed almost everyone of note, from Will Smith to Edward Snowden. What exactly does he still have to do, then, in order to achieve the final 35 per cent of his vision? “I don’t even know, I never know until I find it,” he says. “That’s the beauty of the journey. When you’re taking one day at a time, you sometimes don’t even realise where you’re trying to get to until you arrive.”

So, just to be clear: has he arrived yet or not? “What I’m trying to do is find new ways to create a show, new ways to educate an audience, new ways to inform myself and new ways to make jokes about what’s happening in the world,” he says. “How do you contextualise what you’re experiencing? Every time I find a new way of doing it, I realise that’s how I’ve always wanted to do it and that’s what I’ve enjoyed.”

For someone who is so effective at cutting through political waffle and skewering the big issues of the day, Noah can be frustratingly evasive to interview. His answers to even the most straightforward questions are sometimes so vague as to be meaningless. I ask Noah to tell me a bit about his new show, Loud & Clear, which he is performing on two consecutive nights this week at du Forum on Yas Island. “It’s just about what’s going on in the world right now, talking a little bit about some of the new countries I’ve travelled to,” he says. “And then just a few fun stories of what’s happening in the world and how it pertains to my life.”

And how does it differ from his previous shows? “The one thing that changes constantly is your age,” he says. “As you grow older as a person, as you grow in the world, there are things that change in regards to how you see life and how you see what’s happening around you.” Such as? “When I was younger, I had a more simplistic view of the world. I had a simplistic view of relationships and life and the issues that we all deal with as people and then as you get older, you get to enjoy different aspects of life.” Uh-huh, go on. “My previous show was completely travel-based, it was really just about travelling around the world, whereas this is more about personal stories, and what I’ve been experiencing and feeling and [how I’ve been] growing in life as a human being.”

Noah mentions that there will be a section on “Justin Trudeau and his stories in the world”. Ah, that sounds interesting. What does he make of the recent “brownface” revelations that have plagued Trudeau’s election campaign in Canada? “You’ve got to come to the show to see it,” he says. “If I tell you now, there’s no point coming to the show.” Later, when the conversation inevitably turns to Donald Trump, I ask Noah if he has a view on whether the US President will be elected for a second term. “I don’t know, it’s all possible,” he says. “I think we’re too far out to predict anything like that.”

Reviews of the show, which he has been performing in arenas across the US, suggest Noah touches upon everything from the #MeToo movement and abortion to Barack Obama’s legacy and why the Russian accent makes everything sound threatening. Trump gets a look-in, too, although Noah insists that the show is, “not political, it’s just comedy and what I’ve been up to”.

The two du Forum gigs are also likely to include some local references. “Every city has a slightly different show,” says Noah. “Whenever I come out to the UAE, there is always new material. I am always discovering new parts of the UAE that I enjoy, whether it’s going to a different souk or Ferrari World. For me, it’s an adventure. I know that if I spend one day at brunch, I will have at least five minutes of new jokes.”

Trevor Noah is performing on consecutive nights in Abu Dhabi this week
Trevor Noah is performing on consecutive nights in Abu Dhabi this week

Whatever the show happens to be about, Loud & Clear will be a triumph. Noah, who was born and raised in Apartheid-era South Africa, may not want to say much to me but he is undoubtedly a first-rate stand-up comic. His slick delivery and assured stage presence bely the fact that his material, though sometimes angry, is often surprisingly tender.

In his brilliant Netflix special, Son of Patricia, for example, Noah uses food as a way of celebrating immigration. “I think there should be a rule in America that says you can hate immigrants all you want, but if you do, you don’t get to eat their food,” he says. “That’s a fair exchange for me. If you hate immigrants, no immigrant food. No Mexican food, no Caribbean food, no Dominican food, no Asian food, nothing. Only potatoes.” You get the impression that, for all the political upheaval and all the anger in the US, Noah is a comic who remains optimistic about the prospects of our multicultural society.

He cares deeply about many of the things he mocks. It always feels as if he is on your side, embracing, rather than berating, his audience. You want to be in the room with this guy. It is why Noah loves stand-up. “There is a direct connection with the audience,” he says.

Depending on which way you look at it, Noah’s tenure as host of The Daily Show has come at the very best or the very worst time. On the one hand, he and his writers are unlikely ever to be short of things to send up. On the other hand, it must be increasingly tricky to make incisions when the US president is behaving in ways no comic would dare to dream up. “Let me tell you something,” says Noah, finally hitting his stride, “everyone thinks they can normalise Trump but Trump has an insane ability to always find a way to surprise people and I think part of him enjoys that.

“He likes that he’s centre of attention and if he isn’t, he’ll find a reason to become it. As much as I’m not shocked when he does things, I’m always impressed by how many shocking things he can do.

“One thing that’s always terrifying about Trump is that he doesn’t seem to consult anybody before he makes a decision … He just seems to do it flying by the seat of his pants and leaves everybody else in the lurch.”

Trevor Noah on 'The Daily Show'. Photo: Evan Agostini/Invision/AP
Trevor Noah on 'The Daily Show'. Photo: Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

That final sentence could just as easily apply to the UK’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who seems to cavort from one Brexit mess to another. Noah certainly has a few questions he’d like to put to Johnson. “I would just ask him if Brexit is everything he thought it was going to be,” he says. “When he started the process, he seemed to think it was going to be a lot easier.

“But now it looks as though he is tangled up in a ball of string that has caught him up like a kitten. I wonder if he is still at the same level of hubris when it comes to dealing with Brexit as he was when he came into this position?”

It’s a question many of us would like to know the answer to. I had a few of those, too.

Trevor Noah will perform Loud & Clear on Friday and Saturday, October 25 and 26, at du Forum, Yas Island, Abu Dhabi. More information is available at visitabudhabi.ae

Updated: October 23, 2019 09:42 AM

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