TORONTO—When Trevor Noah becomes The Daily Show’s new host on Monday, he won’t have a cheerleading section in the New York audience.
The Johannesburg native says he wants to keep things strictly focused on work as he replaces Jon Stewart.
“I will not have family at the premiere,” Noah said in a recent phone interview to discuss his weekend performance at Toronto’s JFL42 comedy festival on Saturday.
“It’s funny, because I don’t see that night as a celebration. For me, that’s my first day of work, so it’s the same way if I worked for an accounting firm. I wouldn’t bring my family to my first day at work at the office. I’ll celebrate with them in the holiday.”
Not that they’re pleading to be there anyway.
Noah admitted his mother in South Africa thinks his new gig is just as significant as his younger brother being elected head of the student council.
“My mom is very down to earth, so in her world, an achievement is an achievement — whether it’s the youngest or the oldest,” he said with a laugh.
“So they always keep me very down to earth, which is at times frustrating but often appreciated.”
His family does have satellite TV and will watch his Daily Show debut — he thinks.
“So they will watch — or not, because my mom, she always says, ‘I get my funny from you personally, so I have no time for these ‘shared’ shows.’
“She doesn’t want to share me with anybody. She has no time for that.”
Noah, 31, said his mother is a big source of his humour.
A black South African, her relationship to Noah’s white Swiss father was illegal during apartheid.
In 2009, she survived being shot in the head by Noah’s stepfather, who was later convicted of attempted murder.
As many comedians do, Noah has come to terms with the darker chapters of his life by talking about it in his standup routine, which he’ll bring to the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts in Toronto.
“One thing I always grew up with in my house was laughter,” he said. “My mom was always laughing, she’s still always laughing.”
Noah’s standup eventually caught on internationally, landing him spots on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and Late Show with David Letterman.
He also hosted several TV programs, including his own late-night talk show, and was briefly a contributor to The Daily Show.
Yet many in North America hadn’t heard of him when he was announced as The Daily Show host.
Then came the backlash: Controversial jokes that Noah had tweeted surfaced in the news shortly after he was named as Stewart’s successor.
He said the experience didn’t make him shy away from social media, but it did help him better understand the world we live in.
“We live in the world where people want to click on stories that incite and excite people, so I understand. It’s easy to create any narrative you choose to, if you pick the right excerpts of anybody’s life or things that they’ve said,” said Noah.
“At the end of the day, as a comedian, I don’t set out to be offensive. That is not something I do. But you can never escape offending a human being.”
Noah said he hopes to continue doing standup alongside The Daily Show.
And he wasn’t fazed about having to perform in Toronto just two days before his new job starts.
“If I have not done enough work at that point to be ready, then I don’t think an extra day is going to help,” he said.
Immersing himself in the work meant he didn’t have time to be “swallowed up by emotions of either excitement or nervousness,” he said.
The best advice he’s received ahead of Monday came from the very man he’s replacing.
“Jon Stewart gave me advice,” said Noah. “He said, ‘Don’t take anybody’s advice.’”