‘Daily Show’ Host Trevor Noah on Being Black in US: ‘I May Not Be American, But I Am Black’

“I’ve now learned how to be emotionally aware of how people may use your joke in a negative way,” the comedian says

Last Updated: July 21, 2015 @ 11:02 AM

Jon Stewart’s “Daily Show” replacement Trevor Noah says he now understands what it means to be black in America.

“I may not be American, but I am black. It’s not like I had to learn how to be black,” the comic from South Africa says in a new GQ interview.

This was not always the case, as Noah’s early standup material sometimes focused on the differences between Africans and African-Americans. For example, one of Noah’s early jokes was, “You’re not African, but we play along.”

He now says he regrets that choice of words. “I had given some people ammunition to oppress those who had already been oppressed,” he said. “I hadn’t fully understood the African-American experience. I hadn’t read the books; I hadn’t met the people; I hadn’t traveled the country.”

“I’ve now learned how to be emotionally aware of how people may use your joke in a negative way,” he continued. “And that’s something that you’re always trying to navigate in comedy.”

Noah says he has had to overcome more than just racial adversity in his life, however. In the same interview, he related a heart-breaking story about his mother, who was shot in the head by her abusive ex-husband and miraculously survived.

“She says, ‘And on an even brighter side…look at my nose. I’ve got half a nose now. So now you’re officially the best-looking person in the family. There’s no contest.’ And then I start crying,” Noah said. “Everyone’s laughing and crying. You know? But that’s who we were as people; that’s who we’ve always been.”

Noah takes over the “Daily Show” desk from Jon Stewart on Sept. 28, and Comedy Central president Michele Ganeless is confident in him, but still has her fears. “I will not lie. Yes: I have moments of great anxiety,” she told GQ.

Nevertheless, Ganeless is confident in Noah’s skills. “He is a student of our culture. But he looks at it from a very different perspective,” she said. She also referred to Noah as “super, super funny.”