Between The Laughs, South African Comedian Hopes To Educate : Code Switch Trevor Noah, named Jon Stewart's replacement on The Daily Show, turns a sharp eye on American policy — while answering the questions about world news that people are afraid to ask.
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Between The Laughs, South African Comedian Hopes To Educate

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Between The Laughs, South African Comedian Hopes To Educate

Between The Laughs, South African Comedian Hopes To Educate

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath. "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central has a new senior international correspondent. South African comedian Trevor Noah joined Jon Stewart earlier this week and started by reminding the audience that it's not just Europe that has to worry about terrorism.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE DAILY SHOW")

TREVOR NOAH: Like sometimes, it just feels like Africa's the vaguest of Islamic terror. What happens in Africa, stays in Africa.

(LAUGHTER)

JON STEWART: That was a tremendous accent. (Laughter).

RATH: Trevor Noah, welcome to the program.

NOAH: Thank you very much for having me, Arun.

RATH: So congratulations on "The Daily Show." We saw your second appearance on Thursday night. That's a big deal.

NOAH: Yeah, it really is. I think it's all sinking in, but I'm enjoying every moment.

RATH: Let's go back to your first performance. This was in December. It started off kind of risky with a joke that, at first, seemed kind of lame.

NOAH: (Laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE DAILY SHOW")

NOAH: Yeah, I just flew in and, boy, are my arms tired.

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART: OK. All right there. Oldie, but a goodie. Very nice.

(LAUGHTER)

NOAH: No, no, no, seriously. I've been holding my arms like this since I got here.

(LAUGHTER)

NOAH: I never thought I'd be more afraid of police in America than in South Africa.

RATH: You're, at that point, holding your arms up like you're surrendering to the police.

NOAH: Yes. Yes. I guess that was the fun of the joke. I could see the disappointment on the people's faces when they thought that was genuinely the line that I was opening with, which was part of the fun.

RATH: And going on to talk about, you know, your friends who are afraid of the Ebola risks and coming to America.

NOAH: Yes. Yes. You know, people were looking to countries like South Africa saying, oh, you're an Ebola threat when flying into America, whereas, America had more Ebola cases than we had 'cause we had none.

RATH: It's also kind of a risky way to start off there by - you're taking some jabs at your new audience, at their country.

NOAH: Yeah. Well, what I've always said about comedy is I think if you do it in the right way, you can say anything to anybody because they know where you're coming from. I guess they know it's not malicious or there's no mal intent.

RATH: So on your appearances in "The Daily Show" so far, you fall into a shtick with Jon where it's sort of like he's kind of playing the straight guy, like he's the dumb American, and you're kind of having fun at his expense. Do you think you'll keep going with that or is that going to change up as you go along?

NOAH: I think we'll change it up depending on the story. That's the fun thing. But I think right now, it helps with certain stories because Jon has to ask the questions that maybe people are afraid themselves to ask. If he's willing to take that stance, then you open yourself up to an audience where nobody's going to go, I'm afraid to say I don't know what Davos is, I'm afraid to say I don't know who the Boko Haram are. I don't - you get what I'm saying. So I guess Jon has been kind enough to offer himself up sacrificially.

RATH: (Laughter). And you've talked about a lot of heavy stuff on "The Daily Show" so far - the Charlie Hebdo attacks, racial profiling and poverty. And in your standup, you're known for tackling topics like AIDS. I'm guessing, though, there are some sillier, lighter topics you'd like to take on.

NOAH: Oh, definitely, all the time. I always say, people always remember those things, which I guess is a good thing. But I have the silliest jokes you will ever hear. (Laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF STAND-UP COMEDY SHOW)

NOAH: I enjoy your traffic lights, just standing there watching people obey them.

(LAUGHTER)

NOAH: I've never seen anything like it in my life 'cause, I mean, we do have traffic lights in Africa, but we don't use them the same way. It's almost like we saw them here and just brought them over just to fit in, you know.

(LAUGHTER)

NOAH: People were just like, what are these? These are the brand-new traffic lights. What are they for? Ah, just adds atmosphere to the intersection.

(LAUGHTER)

RATH: For people who don't know about your background, your stand up and your work before "The Daily Show," one of the things that you usually share is that you were born a crime.

NOAH: Yes.

RATH: Explain that to people.

NOAH: Well, I was born in South Africa during apartheid - a system of laws that made it illegal for people to mix in South Africa. And this was obviously awkward because I grew up in a mixed family. My mother is a black woman, South African Xhosa woman - and that's one of the clicks. That's not your mic malfunctioning. And my father's Swiss from Switzerland. So I grew up in a world where my existence in itself was a crime. And luckily, the country changed by the time I was 10 years old so I did not have to, I think, suffer through as much as my parents did.

RATH: Leading us out of "The Daily Show" because that's obviously a friendly audience, in terms of doing standup, who 's the tougher audience - Americans or South Africans?

NOAH: That's interesting. That's interesting. I would venture - I would say Americans may be tougher only because they've seen so much standup comedy. That's really what it is. People, they almost know what to expect, and there's a - you have to work harder to give them something different and something new. Whereas in South Africa, because the comedy scene is so new, because we've only had comedy, you know, since the really - since democracy started in 1994, so you're looking at a young comedy scene.

But at the same time, I feel like South Africans are less PC. We're a fresher nation. We laugh at more. We haven't gotten to the point where we're afraid to offend everyone so we say nothing. And that's a really interesting thing for me in America is - where it's interesting to see how afraid people are or how much censorship people put on themselves.

RATH: There's this notion that a lot of people have that great comedy or a lot of great comedy has its roots in great pain or in struggle. It may be hard for you to do this as a thought experiment, but do you think you would've been a comedian had you not grown up in South Africa?

NOAH: I genuinely don't know that. I think I may have become a comedian. I think because I still got it from my family. My mother is extremely funny. My grandfather was the funniest in the family. So it was something I feel that's been in the family on my mother's side for a while. My father's Swiss so humor doesn't play too well on his side. Everything is matter-of-fact and there's chocolate involved.

(LAUGHTER)

NOAH: But when it comes to my mother's side of the family, that was really the one currency we had was laughter. And that's really what it is. It's just, you know, your laughter takes you through everything.

RATH: South African comedian Trevor Noah is a new senior international correspondent on "The Daily Show." Thanks so much. It was great speaking with you.

NOAH: Thank you very much, Arun. Thank you very much for having me.

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