If you even halfway dig comedy, you have a strong opinion about South African stand-up Trevor Noah. The otherwise likeable guy—who admires his mom and tells delightful stories about family life—divided fans when he took over for Jon Stewart as host of The Daily Show in 2015. But don’t hate him for his hosting duties (nobody could live up to Stewart’s legacy). Hate him because he’s so damn multi-talented. At 33, Noah has already written a book (Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood) and released multiple stand-up specials (most recently Netflix’s Afraid of the Dark, which debuted in February). Oh, and he once starred in soap operas. Here’s what Noah had to say in advance of his upcoming Las Vegas visit.
What can we expect from your stage show? I’m excited, because it’s going to be my first solo show in Vegas. I’m bringing everything. It’s going to be a collection of stories about traveling the world, some stuff that I’ve been working on about families and some anecdotes about growing up as a first-generation immigrant in a new country. I’ll be talking about stuff that’s happening in the country right now—small things and big things alike. It’s really a mixed bag.
Do you have a favorite Vegas comedian? My favorite comedian that I’ve had the pleasure of watching in Vegas has always been George Wallace. He’s phenomenal. The fact that he was out there for so long and continues to be so amazing as a comedian has always inspired me.
Did you always know that you had a book in you? Might there be another one in the future? I’ve always enjoyed telling stories, but I never thought that they’d take the form of a book. I was in no rush to write the first book, and I don’t think I’d be in a rush to write the second. When I have stories to tell and I have ideas to share, I’d love to share them, as long as people read them. It’s an exciting time for me: I’m in the privileged position to be able to say, “I’ll take my time and make it the best product.”
What are the challenges of balancing so many different creative pursuits? I try and breath and keep myself healthy, which helps quite a lot. Most importantly, I make sure that I’m only doing what I enjoy. Some people go away on weekends to party and drink. I prefer to go on weekends and perform stand-up comedy. We all have our vices, and stand-up happens to be mine.
Speaking of vices, do any Las Vegas indulgences tempt you? Food is a vice, traveling is a vice, chocolate is a vice. Oh, man, I could do way too much of those three things.
You know what’s funny—there was a time when all comedians were taking drugs and cocaine. If you hang out with comedians these days, it’s all kale and quinoa and health and working out and sleeping early. It’s the natural balance of the world. Comedians used to be the mad people who were causing chaos because of how stiff politicians and business people were. Now politicians are the crazy people, so comedians have become the stiffs.
Your 2015 stand-up special, Lost in Translation, explored themes of misunderstanding, whether across cultures or generations. What do people still misunderstand about you? I laugh when I’m terrified. Once I was on a flight, and we hit some really bad turbulence. The person next to me clearly thought I thought it was hilarious, and they were not impressed. I was trying to explain to them that, No, when I’m terrified I start laughing. But that was something that just didn’t come across.
What unique perspective on American politics has your South African upbringing given you? A lot of Americans have never dealt with a leader like Donald Trump, somebody whose self-praise and adulation seems to come before the needs of the general population. Somebody who seems intent on enriching his family before dealing with the issues facing a nation. Those types of things are very familiar to me. This guy is like a leader from, unfortunately, many third-world countries, where things are not done in a manner that is befitting a democratically elected leader.
With so much late-night competition, how do you stand out? One of the key things is how I perform—there aren’t many stands-ups on late-night anymore. Something that differentiates me from the crowd is the way I tell a joke, or what jokes I choose to tell. It’s also the way I see the world. I come at things from a different angle, as do many of the other shows. First of all, no one else is in my time slot, so that’s a blessing in disguise. Secondly, I have a unique view on the world for the most part, because of the life that I’ve lived, where I’ve come from and everything that I’ve experienced. I guess that’s part of the reason I’d like to believe that The Daily Show has experienced its success is that it’s a good combination of inside and outside together.
After achieving success at a relatively young age, what big goal is still far on the horizon? My dream has always been to build schools. I’ve always wanted to find a way to revamp schooling as a system, in South Africa and in the US. [Both countries] face very similar challenges because of their racialized histories. … I’ve always realized how different a person’s life could be, depending on what education they received. I’m an example of that. I was lucky that my mom was able to get me in a good school as a kid, thanks to scholarships. Were it not for that, I don’t know where I would’ve ended up in life. In the long term, I’d like to dig in deep and explore different ways to get as many young kids educated as possible.
Trevor Noah May 12-13, 10 p.m., $55-$76. Mirage, 702-792-7777.