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Trevor Noah interview

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Trevor Noah is one of the hottest young comedians on the planet. Will Smith loves him, and he went down a storm on Letterman and Jay Leno. FELICITY EVANS talked to Trevor about how he’s been inspired by his South African apartheid childhood, what makes him laugh, and how he’s keeping his feet very firmly on the ground…

For more in Trevor Noah, visit his website

How did you begin performing, what inspired you?
It was just something I stumbled into, I never really thought of it as a career of sorts, I just happened to be in a comedy evening one night and my cousin suggested I try it, which I did, I just jumped on board. Talk-show hosting was something I did long after I’d started stand-up comedy. I never stopped stand-up I just dabbled in other things here and there.

Your star is very much in the ascendency at the moment – do you feel overwhelmed, or exhilarated?
Well, people think it’s overnight but it’s been a very gradual, seven-year overnight! It’s something I’m taking in my stride as I do enjoy working hard, doing what I do, but I try not to get caught up in all of that.

Being a stand-up comedian and coming from South Africa, and using South African culture and politics as inspiration, does it sometimes feel like there’s something of a responsibilty, in doing that?
Oh no, I see it as an opportunity, a privilege! I don’t see it as a responsibility, rather something I’ve been able to be a part of, which is really great.

‘Just recently I got to do my show at the Apollo in London, which was electric beyond measure’

What’s been the best bit so far?
Oh, wow! There are so many I can’t even put them in a category! Maybe: just recently I got to do my show at the Apollo in London, which was electric beyond measure. There are so many things I’ve done along the way I couldn’t… there’s not been one great moment, there have been so many!

You strike me as someone who’s on a roller-coaster, and you’re just enjoying the ride…
Oh yes, definitely!

You create comedy out of some very tricky subjects. Do you find that the response from the audience varies from country to country? Are things harder to say to a South African audience than, say, a US audience?
No, I actually find it easier to talk about these things in South Africa. We’re in a place where we aren’t PC about it, we’re still quite raw about it, we’re dealing with very real situations head-on. The more you travel, the more you collide with a PC mentality where people are trying so hard to not be offensive they don’t actually allow themselves to think or say anything. In the UK a lot of people get uncomfortable sometimes, and as you go from place to place you realise how different people are, and how easy it is to talk about it in South Africa.

Is that positive, to finally be able to laugh about things that, when we hear about them happening, are shocking? (For example, Trevor jokes that as a mixed-heritage child with a black mother and white father he was born ‘a crime’, as black people and white people in South Africa were, at the time, not allowed by law to mix)
Yes, we’re in a great place, which I enjoy. We can do stand-up, we can have audiences watching the stand-up – it’s fantastic and I celebrate it, and enjoy it.

‘As a comedian you want to find “your people” who will share something with you, the way you see the world’

Do you feel like you have certain messages you want to convey, or is it simply about making people laugh?
I try to find a place that’s as truthful as possible for an audience, because I need to build a relationship with them. Comedy is subjective and actually I don’t want everyone to like me! As a comedian you want to find ‘your people’ who will share something with you, not even your views but just the way you see the world. For me, if I can do that then I’m happy.

Who makes you laugh?
There are so many! Eddie Izzard, Daniel Kitson, David O’Doherty. But there are so many great guys it’s hard to pick one.

And your comedy hero?
I would have to say Daniel Kitson, his is the purest form of stand-up I’ve ever seen.

Congratulations on your recent collaboration with Will Smith, and for being signed up by his production company for your new sitcom. How does that feel?
Oh, that’s all still in the very early stages! I’m taking it one step at a time as it’s very far from actually happening; with American TV shows, unlike the UK, you can get signed on and it doesn’t mean anything. You can even get the show and it still doesn’t mean anything! You…

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