LOS ANGELES — Trevor Noah has responded to the backlash that ensued after his “Daily Show” appointment was announced in March, which prompted the resurfacing of tweets of his that were deemed racist, anti-Semitic and sexist.
“I don’t strive to be offensive,” he said Wednesday morning at the Television Critics Assn. press tour event in Beverly Hills of his Twitter faux pas. “That’s not who I am as a person. That’s not who I am as a performer.”
“You can never control what people find as offensive or not,” he continued, noting that his fans around the world understand the context of his jokes, plus his unique sarcasm and humor, which he hopes his Comedy Central viewers will soon understand and learn to appreciate. “That’s going to be one of the things — getting to know my audience, getting my audience to know me.”
Following his press debut last night, when he put on an intimate comedy show that included long-running gags about racism, attacks on minorities and media scrutiny, Noah told the TCA room that he will not shy away from making jokes about the media’s conflicting coverage when he starts on “The Daily Show.”
As for the media craze that surrounded his social-media controversy, he doesn’t anticipate the same reception once he takes over hosting the latenight show. “Interestingly enough, I feel the scrutiny will be reduced.”
He also acknowledged that he expected some sort of backlash when he was announced as Jon Stewart’s replacement — he just didn’t know what the media would choose to attack. “I knew there would be some sort of backlash around ‘The Daily Show.’ It’s a huge institution. I didn’t know what it would be about … and then they went with that, which was an interesting choice, but I knew that something would come of it.”
When a reporter asked him about his immediate reaction to the backlash, Noah steered away from responding directly to the content of his tweets, which many were offended by. “What was interesting is you saw the change in the conversation go from ‘Is this guy offensive?’ to ‘What is comedy and what is this role in our society?’ I think that’s a great conversation that came from it.”
After his rocky foray into the public eye, will the comedian be more careful on social-media platforms going forward? Yes, to some extent, he says.
“It’s funny because people ask me about tweets now that happened two and half years ago. I think as a whole, funnily enough, Twitter has changed,” he explained. “It goes through phases. It became the room for jokes. Now, Twitter has become largely a negative place … but there was a time when Twitter wasn’t that. It was a place where everybody was making jokes. Over time that changed, and I changed with it. In society, we changed and that’s progress, in my book.”
Despite the controversy surrounding his launch, Noah says he’s most nervous about living up to his predecessor.
“The biggest pressure for me is living up to the expectations that Jon has of me. Jon believes in me … There’s an immense pressure for me personally to live up to that legacy to keep that flagship going. It don’t think of it (as being) about me. It’s about the show first.”
As for what to expect with the new show, Noah said that the topics covered will be the same (current events, politics, etc.), but the perspective will be the biggest change. “In terms of content on the show, we’re still dealing with the same issues. Issues are not really changing in America and the world. It’s just a different angle. My angle,” he said.
“I am a 31-year-old half-black, half-white South African who’s lived in a America for a few years on and off,” Noah said, in comparison to Stewart, who’s a white, Jewish, middle-aged man. “Jon would comment on it from a very different place than I would because I’m more of an outsider to that world than he is.”
Noah notes that he realizes he has a lot of work cut out for him to achieve Stewart’s status, which he hopes to work hard at over the years. “My job at first is to be extremely funny, but what I find funny will hopefully deal with things that we would not initially laugh at.”
With two months until his debut, Noah is looking past his controversy and has a positive outlook on taking over “The Daily Show.”
“Luckily, Comedy Central hasn’t limited me to 140 characters on the show,” he quipped.