Trevor Noah Readies for His ‘First Date’ With America

Photo: Steve Granitz/WireImage

Trevor Noah feels like he’s on a roller coaster. On the eve of his new role hosting The Daily Show on Comedy Central, the 31-year-old South African stand-up comic told Vulture how succeeding Jon Stewart is affecting his nervous system. “There are moments of nervous anticipation, and there’s exhilarating excitement, and there are nerves and moments of boredom where you’re slowly climbing up to a peak,” Noah said in a phone interview. “And then you go for a few loops, and then you go for a straight, and fast, and then slow. So it’s a little bit of everything all of the time.”

Since Stewart retired this summer, Noah’s been on a whirlwind press tour, attending tapings of other TV shows, and creating mock episodes with his staff to prepare for Monday’s premiere. He took a few moments to share with Vulture why he's treating episode one like a first date, and the three things Americans should know about him.

Is there anything going on today that would be sexy to cover if you were to go on the air tonight?
[Laughs.] That’s funny. No, today is not a sexy news day.

What do you think America’s perception of you is right now?
Wow, that’s a strong one. It’s difficult because America is such a big place; America is such a broad term, I’ve come to learn. I think a lot of people are interested to see what the show is going to be like. A lot of people are interested to see what I’m going to be like. People have read articles, opinion pieces, blogs, tweets, and a lot of everything — and I guess people are now going to see for themselves who this mystery person is.

What are the three most important things you’d like us to know about you?
One, I’m going to work my hardest to make sure that Jon’s confidence in me is justified. Two, I love having a good time, and I love making people laugh. And three, I’m always willing to learn, which is fun because it leads to opportunities and situations you might not necessarily have been in had you not been willing.

What scares you or makes you the most nervous about taking over for Jon?
The most difficult thing has been the fact that we have a very short amount of time to figure out what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. That’s our greatest challenge right now — figuring out what we want to do and how we want to do it in that five-week period.

I’ve read that you’re treating the first week as a mini-series. What does that mean?
I myself will not find the show by episode one. I only have 30 minutes on television. Because it’s a daily show, I can’t say that 30 minutes will be enough to sum up what the tone or rhythm or flow or subject matter of any show is going to be. I feel like the first week will be a better representation of where I’m aiming to take the show. We may not get it 100 percent right, but that’s the great thing about being willing to learn and open to change. I’ll be listening and looking out for the things that do and don’t work. But we’ll go out as enthusiastically as possible, and aim to get the most realistic version of what we aim to do in the show going forward. So when you’re done watching that week, you’ll have a better idea of what the whole show will evolve into, as opposed to if you watch one day.

What can people expect from the first episode?
They can expect Kevin Hart! They can expect an introduction. It’s going to be very awkward because it’s a first date for many of us, isn’t it? It’s going to be my first date with the Daily Show audience — with a new Daily Show audience and an old one. And it’s going to be their first date with me. We’re going to spend that first episode really getting to know each other. And the best way to get to know each other on any date is to talk about things, and figure out how you feel about each other. 

People seem excited about Kevin Hart being your first guest. Any other dream guests?
When I’m a good enough interviewer and when I’m comfortable enough in the chair, my dream is to talk to Oprah. But that’s something I won’t rush into now because I would want to do myself, the show, and Ms. Winfrey justice. It’s funny. I struggle to think of dream guests because I think often you limit yourself to what you think a dream guest is or whom you think a dream guest is. You can just have dream conversations with fantastic guests. In my head, I want to get to a dream show, and then every guest that will be on it will be part of that dream. 

Several months ago, you said on a podcast that you’re not an expert on American politics. Have you been studying?
That’s the great thing about politics. Anyone can get involved in it. The word itself comes from the Greek — which means "for the people." So I think what’s happened all over the world is that politicians have successfully convinced people they’re not smart enough to be involved in politics. And in essence, it’s the complete opposite. Every single person should be involved in politics. So maybe that’s an advantage I have. I don’t consider myself an expert in politics, so in trying to learn the process, I will be able to explain it in a way I hope people will then understand with me. 

Are you ready for a more stable existence? You’ve been taking your stand-up all over the country for a long time.
Huh! That’s a question I don’t know if I’ll be able to answer because I don’t know what a stable existence really is. So we’ll see. That’s all a mind-set, to be honest. Depending on how you run the show, or how you run your life, it can be as stable or as unstable as you choose it to be. 

In your stand-up, you’re very personal. Will you bring some of that to the show?
I will try. If there’s an issue that involves me in the world, I will talk about that. Often I try to relate to things through my own stories. On the show, what’s different is that I will be relating to issues through the stories of others, which I don’t mind at all. I’ve also done that in my stand-up. So it’s still personal because of how I feel, but it may not be as much about me as it would be in my stand-up. Which is something I’m glad about. 

The media landscape is so different than it was when Jon Stewart started. He went after the 24-hour cable-news cycle. But this is a different time. Should the Vultures and the BuzzFeeds be scared?
News comes from so many different sources now, and I have to expand my horizons in how I look at it and how the show looks at it. So, you know, cable news is not necessarily our focus anymore. I also have to find what separates this show from The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. In time, we’ll find a more natural rhythm, we’ll find issues and topics that the show deals with in a different manner. But from the onset, I don’t define myself by the cable-news stance. I will make The Daily Show the way I think I would make The Daily Show. 

It’s overwhelming the number of sources you can choose from, right?
Yeah, which is a good thing and it’s a bad thing. It’s a gift and a curse. But I won’t complain about having too many sources right now.

Just as a consumer, you could spend the whole day looking at media.
You can! And you can also spend all day looking at that media and learn nothing, which is just as sad sometimes.