It’s not lost on Trevor Noah that he has a big seat to fill as he prepares to take the helm of Comedy Central’s “Daily Show” in September. He doesn’t even have a funny quip about it.
Noah will succeed Jon Stewart as host of the news satire program that, under Stewart’s 16-year reign, made news relevant for a new generation. And his media tour to win over the minds and laughs of a constituency still hoping Stewart will reconsider is in full motion.
A day after performing a comedy set for the press as part of the Television Critics Assn. conference, Noah took the stage Wednesday in Beverly Hills to answer questions about his prospects as host. And the 31-year-old South African comedian let it be known that he feels the pressure. The pressure to reassure Stewart he chose right.
FULL COVERAGE: Television Crtitics Association press tour 2015
“The biggest pressure for me is living up to the expectations that Jon has of me,” he told reporters. “Jon believes in me.... I never dreamed that I’d be sitting here in this chair talking to you now about hosting this show. I guess Jon knew something about me that I didn’t.... There’s an immense pressure for me to live up to that legacy and keep that flagship going.”
During the span of his 20 minutes on stage, there was no funny business. Noah was sincere and thoughtful when talking about his new position and the inevitable comparisons that will result.
“I understand there will be comparisons,” he said. “I understand people will initially go, ‘This guy is not Jon Stewart.’ And I’m glad I’m not. That would be a disservice to him if I could come in without 16 years of experience and equal what he does. That’s not my intention. My intention is to start something off the way he did at the same page many years ago.... lucky I have a good foundation set up.”
Noah also noted that aside from minor cosmetic changes, the show will largely remain the same because “we’re still dealing with the same issues."
The difference, Noah said, will be in the point of view on those issues.
“The way you approach a story, the way you look at a story, depends on your point of view,” he said. “The way you look at comedy depends on your point of view. So, Jon is a white, 52-year-old Jewish guy who grew up in New Jersey. I am a 31-year-old, half-black-half-white South African who’s lived in America for a few years on and off. So the way we’d look at the same story will be completely different. The way we’d tackled an issue will be completely different because we have different access to certain jokes, to certain sides of a story...”
He continued: “If you look at the issues going on in America right now like racial inequality--Jon and I come at it from totally different points of view. Jon would have to empathize, while I myself come from a different place. And it would be the same for him on something else I don’t have direct access to.”
The topic of racial sensitivity as it relates to Stewart, who hosts his last show on Aug. 6, and Noah has come into the spotlight. Earlier this month when a former “Daily Show” correspondent, Wyatt Cenac, revealed a disagreement with Stewart over the host’s impersonation of then-presidential candidate Herman Cain that Cenac took as racially insensitive.
And Noah came under fire earlier this year, shortly after being announced as Stewart’s successor, over his Twitter history. Some old jokes on his account were called out for being sexist and anti-Semitic.
“I don’t strive to be offensive,” Noah said.
He later returned to the topic: “Interestingly enough, I think scrutiny will be reduced. I knew there would be some sort of backlash or furor around [the new host] of ‘The Daily Show.’ It’s a huge institution. When an announcement is being made that someone is being replaced, someone is going to say something about it...I didn’t know what that thing would be, though ... And then they went with [the tweets]. It was an interesting choice. But we saw the change in the conversation, which I was happy about, go from, ‘Oh, is this guy offensive,’ to ‘What is comedy and what is its role in our society? When do we draw the line?’”
Noah takes over as host of “The Daily Show” on Sept. 28.
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