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Trevor Noah Is Up on His Feet Again

Trevor Noah, host of The Daily Show since Sept. 28, had an eventful week last week that included an emergency appendectomy procedure Nov. 4, which gave him plenty of fresh material when he was back in the host chair a day later. On Nov. 22, Comedy Central airs a one-hour standup special, Trevor Noah: Lost in Translation, which shows the South African comic riffing on everything from family to relationships to racial tension in the U.S. He ducked out from a “day of craziness,” he said, to chat with B&C about the special, his ever-evolving day job, and which GOP candidate provides the most yuks. An edited transcript follows.

So how’s your health?

I feel good. I’m alive and I’m good.

There’s no indication that your appendix was the source of your humor, like a funny bone?

Well, we don’t know. I guess we’re gonna keep on [watching] that going forward.

Your special, Lost in Translation, is based on a show you did in Washington last summer. Is Washington a much different crowd for comedy than other big cities around the U.S.?

Washington is a fantastic place. It’s one of the first places I ever sold out a show in America, so I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Washington. They’ve always been great to me. I’ve always enjoyed the diverse crowd and how open and forward thinking the city is.

Any tease from the show you can give us, a joke that pops?

[Laughs] That’s a precarious one. If a joke pops for me, I might be jinxing it for someone else. I’m really proud of it. I talk about everything in the special—police shootings in America to the general humdrum of flying post-9/11. I talk about relationships, traveling, family, a little bit of everything. I like to dabble in different topics while still engaging larger things.

What’s been a highlight of your first six weeks hosting The Daily Show?

I don’t know. It happened so quickly that you don’t have time to single out a highlight, you know?

It would have to be the launch of the show—those were the most amazing, overwhelming moments. Everything else is a work in progress, every single day, grinding to find the voice of the show, striving to find new avenues and new angles to tackle things from, and then striving toward it. It takes a very long time, but it’s a very rewarding challenge.

Any major mistake from the first six weeks that sticks with you?

Oh no, no, no. That’s the toughest thing to learn—you did everything the best you could in the time you could. In everything you do, you try to make it better as opposed to saying it was wrong or broken. That’s how I look at it, and that’s how we look at it at the show. We understand there’s no perfect show. Some will be better than others, sure. Because you do a show every day, you have to get it done and when it’s done, you move on. You have to try to do it again tomorrow.

Digital content is a key aspect of the show. What’s working in terms of getting the brand out there on the digital platforms?

We’re doing really well in terms reaching a younger audience. We’re a lot more present online—all the different formats, which no one really understands right now, to be honest. The world of Snapchat, everything—as much as the Twitters and Facebooks and blogs. There’s so many different mediums that people are on, it’s really difficult to catch up. We do our best to make sure we’re in those spaces as authentically as possible.

You brought on Baratunde Thurston to head up digital content. What is in the works?

We have short-term projects, medium-term projects and then long term. Some of the stuff ties into what we’re doing on the show that day; some stuff we look to do long term and grow into it. It’s all ebb and flow. You have to not be afraid to make mistakes, to grow from them, to learn and constantly evolve. That’s really what the whole process is about.

What’s a long-term project?

Expanding the show in a more holistic way into, let’s stay, Snapchat. Finding the right way to do the show on a different platform without sacrificing the on-air show and at the same time complementing what you’re doing on both sides. It’s just about finding a way to break down the digital footprint. Which is very difficult, but I think it can pay off.  

Jon Stewart has a deal with HBO for various projects. You must be relieved to see that a former Daily Show host can find work.

[Laughs] That’s hilarious. It’s exciting for everybody involved. No one really knows what Jon will do—everyone is speculating. He’s still in the mix, he’s still very young, even though he’ll deny it. He’s still got one of sharpest minds in town. It’s gonna be interesting for everyone to see.

What are you watching on TV?

A little bit of everything. I watched Supergirl the other day, I’m watching Narcos. The Leftovers… I’m watching a bunch of documentaries; I was watching the Vice documentary on the American corrections system.

The next 12 months leads up to Election Day. Is this a gold mine for comedy?

Oh yes, definitely. It’s a gold mine for comedy, but at the same time it can get a bit tedious, a bit tiring. It’s so far out and so repetitive and sometimes so just mulled over that you have to find what is worth talking about and what is funny to talk about, and try find a few palate cleansers in between to keep it fresh so people are not hating the election by the time it comes up. 

Which GOP candidate is the best source for comedy?

That’s an interesting one. Trump is the obvious one but I think [Ben] Carson has a bit of magic in him. Carson definitely has a bit of magic.

What’s your impression of living in New York for the first time?

You get used to [the pace] very, very quickly. New York is one of those places where you meet the pace or you’re gonna leave. Luckily it’s been working for me.