- The Washington Times - Monday, October 3, 2016

Trevor Noah sometimes has to remind those who miss the former host of “The Daily Show” that he is not Jon Stewart — nor does he aspire to be.

“I will not say to anyone who is a fan of his, ‘Hey, get over it,’” Mr. Noah, 32, says of his predecessor and former boss. “I’m a different person. If you compare, then you don’t like anything in life. But if you enjoy [the new show] for what it is, then you have a good time.”

The South African stand-up comic will take to the Kennedy Center stage for two sold-out performances Friday. Mr. Noah will jest about current events, relationships, family, growing up during and after apartheid — as well as an imminent election in his adopted homeland that has provided plenty of material for his faux newscast on Comedy Central.

“I think the election [season] is too long,” he says. “It doesn’t feel like the election is about swaying anymore, it feels like it’s just about reinforcing people’s echo chambers.”

Born in Johannesburg, Mr. Noah is the son of a Swiss-German father and a mother of the Xhosa ethnic group native to South Africa. His parents’ mixed marriage was illegal under apartheid, and the white minority government jailed his mother more than once. Much of this made its way into his act, as have the changes in his homeland post-apartheid.

“You see upwardly mobile people of color now. You see people in power who are every race,” says Mr. Noah, who speaks a half-dozen languages. “You still see a lot of poverty, but you definitely see a future that is possible. I see those changes every time I go home.

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“I also see how easy it is for people who maybe once had nothing quickly become engulfed in greed or rather ignore the plight of those who are still [poor] when they are not. But the progress is undeniable.”

Mr. Noah, who came to the U.S. in 2011, finds that Americans often do not understand the diversity of African culture, from its pre-Colonial roots to today’s modernization.

“People just think of the extremes. People think we are only Third World,” he says. “That we are only corrupt. That there is no government that is functioning. The truth is there’s a lot of nuance in Africa.

“People go, ‘Do you guys have wild animals?’ I go, ‘Yeah, but we also have Bentleys in the streets.’ It’s just a weird mix of things that doesn’t fit in one box.”

He has seen firsthand racial unease in Africa and America. The public anger over and focus on police shootings of black men, he says, might be better understood by white people if they could walk a block in his shoes.

“One thing I think a lot of Americans take for granted is the idea that anyone would be in a situation where they may be in danger just because of their color of their skin,” he says, adding that he has become “more aware” of such factors since living in the U.S., particularly in his encounters with law enforcement.

“I’ve been pulled over walking, I’ve been pulled over driving. It really seems ridiculous the police would treat you differently based on your skin color. I’m just cognizant of these things when it’s happening to me.”

After bringing his singular brand of humor to the U.S., Mr. Noah became a contributor to “The Daily Show” in December 2014. In March 2015, as Mr. Stewart announced his departure, Mr. Noah was named as the next anchor.

Since taking charge of “The Daily Show” desk in September 2015, Mr. Noah has stuck to the same format of skewering politicos, one-on-one interviews and segments contributed by a rotating stable of “correspondents,” a proving ground for talent that has included Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell, Samantha Bee, John Oliver and Jessica Williams.

With the format largely unchanged, Mr. Noah has brought an urbane hipness to the proceedings. The theme song was altered to have a more hip-hop beat, and Mr. Noah often starts the show standing, often dancing, rather sitting than behind the desk. As a foreigner — and more important, as a comedian — his modus operandi has been to view American political culture with a disconnected amusement filtered through a hope for reason.

“The most important thing is I like to have different people’s opinions,” he says. “I can try and guess what somebody thinks from a certain race or a certain gender, but it’s nice to hear it from that person themselves.”

His recent chat with former President Bill Clinton took nearly the entire half-hour episode, a conversation Mr. Noah called “momentous.” He also cites Will Smith and Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, as among his favorite guests.

“Michael Hayden, the ex-CIA chief and NSA chief, was really, really candid and sent me away with a few ideas that I didn’t think he would have had being in the position he used to be in,” Mr. Noah says. (Mr. Hayden writes a column for The Washington Times.)

A frequent target is former Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson, what with his dry delivery and eccentricities such as recently ditching a newscaster mid-interview as he cast his eyes about for his luggage.

Mr. Noah stresses that the point of his antics is to chuckle, not to hurt feelings.

“Ben Carson came to the show [and] we had a great time with him,” Mr. Noah says, adding that the former surgeon laughed at Mr. Noah’s impersonation of his drone-like speech. “He knows that I’m just teasing him, but he also knows that I’m not trying to disrespect him as a human being.

“I do believe in a world where we can disagree, mock each other, but still find a way to move forward.”

However much Mr. Noah and his team may believe in their material, the ratings for the long-running show are down significantly since Mr. Stewart’s exit. A change of hosts is always risky business, as is the struggle to build and maintain an audience. “The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore” recently got the ax, but Comedy Central maintains it is “100 percent behind” Mr. Noah and is pleased with his showing among millennials.

“I was lucky in that Jon gave me some great advice: ‘Don’t let anyone trick you into thinking it doesn’t take a long time,’” Mr. Noah says.

“[Mr. Stewart said] ‘Just take your time and do what you need to do.’ I still have a long way to go in terms of getting the show to where I need it to be at,” Mr. Noah said.

Mr. Noah’s book, “Born a Crime,” which tells stories of his life growing up in South Africa, his brushes with the law and other misadventures — all tinged with humor — will be on sale Nov. 15. 

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