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Beginning today, the erudite comedian will release a weekly Spotify podcast, which he’s titled What Now? With Trevor Noah. As he explains it, he’ll sit down with thought leaders of all kinds — actors, athletes, scientists, politicians and CEOs — for an intimate, wide-ranging conversation that he hopes will be both illuminating and timely. His first guest is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. He’ll also offer commentary on newsworthy topics, according to the audio giant.
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Between stops on his global stand-up tour, Noah Zoomed in to discuss what he misses most (and least) about The Daily Show, the times in recent months that he really wished he still had a platform and what he intends to do with this format that he couldn’t do with the last one.
It was a year ago this month that I sat down with you in New York and asked you that very question, “What now?”
That’s funny, and here we are …
At what point did you realize that this, a podcast, would be part of your answer to that question, and why was it something you wanted to do next?
I’ve always been intrigued by podcasts. I’ve always wanted to do it. There are many things that I have on a list of items I would like to do in life, but I’m also very careful to not overload myself with projects where I find myself splitting myself between all of them. So, yeah, I’ve thought about this for a while, but I never thought of it as a replacement or something different. It was just something in my life that I couldn’t do while running The Daily Show every day.
On The Daily Show, you often stretched the limits of what was expected when it came to your guests. In terms of booking this, who are the people and what are the conversations that you would like to have and, perhaps, felt like you couldn’t have in that last gig?
Everyone has been saying to me — because they know The Rock is going to be our first guest — “Oh, so you’re going to be interviewing A-list celebrities.” And I say, “No, we’re going to be having A-list conversations.” I think there are far more interesting conversations to have that go beyond people just promoting their next project. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with doing that, everyone needs to do it. But what I love about being in a space where you can speak to somebody for an extended period of time is that you can get to know them. You can get a deeper understanding of how they see the world and maybe even talk about how they feel about how the world sees them.
OK, so what did that look like with The Rock?
It’s fascinating to speak to the person who was trying to raise money for the Maui wildfires and then experienced the backlash he did in a way that some people completely understood, and other people completely didn’t. But, what is that like from the inside? How does the person process that information? What do they think about it? And then talking about his life and who he is. Like, what made Dwayne Johnson the person he is today? I think people will come out of the conversation having an interesting and dynamic view of somebody that they may have had a one-dimensional idea of previously. When you look at the shows that we have coming up, one of the main things I’m doing is making sure that the podcast is as fresh as possible. So, we’re not taping episodes weeks and weeks in advance. I’m not doing that because, and this is really important to me — I want it to feel timely. You can listen anytime you want to, but we are recording it as close as possible to the podcast coming out because it needs to feel like it is connected to the zeitgeist and what’s happening right now. Every single week, it will be a person or a topic that I think will interest people for some reason or another — and it may not always be for the reason you think. That’s what I’m enjoying right now.
How political do you want or intend to get with the show? Obviously, The Daily Show was inherently political, but your stand-up certainly isn’t.
It depends on where we are. I loved what you said about The Daily Show, that it was me stretching the aperture or stretching this idea of who a guest could be. And that’s an interesting way you put it because it is true. The Daily Show came with a preexisting idea or a preconceived notion of what a guest should be or who that person would be because of the topics The Daily Show has always covered. I myself have a broader swath of what I consider an interesting conversation. So, for me, I’m as interested speaking to Justin Trudeau as I am speaking to [psychotherapist] Esther Perel. I’m as interested speaking to Jeff Bezos as I will be speaking to Jennifer Lopez. It doesn’t matter. I think that as humans, funny enough, we are a lot broader than people will have us believe. And what I think is an interesting conversation is something that transcends that idea. I’ve always loved shows like 60 Minutes, for instance, where I watch an episode, and if you ask me before the episode, I’ll go, “I don’t know if I have any interest in that.” But by the end of it, I go, “Wow, that was really interesting” and I’m in. A story well told and a conversation well had can get anybody interested in any topic.
I’m curious how the booking process has compared to The Daily Show? I remember you telling me how, in some ways, booking had gotten a lot easier during your time on show, and in other ways, it became harder either because people feared that they weren’t or wouldn’t appear intelligent enough or because they were simply afraid to say anything in this fraught moment.
Yeah. And that’s what I love about podcasts, as well. It’s a space where you are far less likely to be taken out of context. It is a space where clickbait is a lot less relevant, where you exist in the full context of the conversation we had. What I like about that is it creates a space that I hope is more inviting to people who may have been intimidated by a quick slot on TV. That’s why I want to be speaking to anyone and everyone where I think we can have a dynamic conversation. I don’t care if you’re a Republican politician. I don’t care if you’re somebody who doesn’t see eye to eye with me on social issues. I don’t care if we’re not in the same field. Let’s sit down and talk and discuss things that people don’t seem to expect anymore because we’re so entrenched in just shouting at each other from one side or another. And I honestly hope that I can create an environment where people go, “I listened to that show. I heard what this person said. I may not agree with them, or I may only agree with them on some things, but regardless, I now have a fuller understanding of who they are and how they see the world.”
I’m curious, what was the last event, be it political or cultural, where you really missed having a platform?
I’m trying to think, because it spans quite a few. I mean, I definitely would have loved to comment on how ill-equipped the American legal system seems to be in dealing with a former president who just doesn’t respect gag orders or anything that is happening in that world. Or when the story about Lizzo came out, I would’ve loved to have had a candid conversation about that. It’s like, how do we see work? How do we see how people are treated in work? What is the expectation and the idea of how people should or shouldn’t feel, and how applicable is that? It’s an interesting and complicated conversation to have. But I look at many of the things that have popped up in the news where we haven’t had a conversation. People have just shouted “Yes” or “No,” and then it’s just faded into the ether without us moving away from it thinking, “Huh? Yeah, I don’t think we’ve talked about that.” And so that’s what I hope to do.
A year removed from The Daily Show, what do you miss most and least about that platform?
The thing I miss most is easily the team and the people I worked with every day. We had the most fun, and it was the most engaging environment to be in because we were a community that was tight knit and we were experiencing the news together. We were working on figuring out a way to process that and create a show for our audience. The thing I miss the least is not having the time to process how I feel about an issue and giving it time to develop. From the very beginning, I never felt like it’s necessary for us to engage immediately on every single topic as it is happening before we know everything.
I’ve never been a fan of, for instance, how the news reports on mass shootings. One minute it’s this, and then it changes, and then the next hour it changes again. It’s not necessary, especially on a nationwide platform. And I feel the same for myself as a human being. I like to take the time to process what’s happening, to see what’s happening and the discourse around it, and then to understand how I can contribute to the conversation without adding to the noise. And so that’s the thing I miss the least: people expecting of me or the show an immediate response when, in fact, oftentimes the best response is not an immediate one, but one that is a little bit thought out and that considers all the aspects affecting it.
Do you consume news differently now and perhaps with less anxiety?
I do, actually. I remember my friends would always tease me because I would be the person in the middle of someone’s birthday party with my phone in a corner because there’s a news alert that’s just come out about something that’s happening somewhere in the world and now I’m reading up on it because I know I have a show the next day and I want to be informed and I need to know what’s happening. I couldn’t turn off. In the morning, I would read the news. In the afternoon, I’d be reading the news. In the evening, I’d be reading the news. And at night, I would be reading the news. This would constantly be a part of my life. Now, I can take a day off. Now I can take two days off. Sometimes I’ll let a story develop over a week to try and read it from the beginning to the point that I’m reading it at and see how it has evolved and how much the information has either changed or affected the perception of the story. And you’ll be surprised at how often that happens. You read a story on a Monday and then you read it on a Sunday and you’ll be shocked at how much the narrative or the ideas around it change. And that’s something that I’ve afforded myself — that ability to step out of it for a moment and come in with a fresh perspective that is shaped not just by me not reading it as often, but also living in the real world more often.
Are you surprised that your slot has yet to be filled a year later?
Well, look, I think the strike negatively affected the show, and so I get it. I also don’t think it’s an easy slot to fill. What I will say is it’s been fun seeing how the team has managed to craft a different week of shows for each person coming in. And I’ve seen the people have fun, and some of them are friends of mine and we have conversations about it, and it’s been really cool chatting with them. So yeah, it’s been an interesting period and I’m not necessarily surprised, because I think the strike threw everybody for loop.
Are the various guest hosts seeking counsel from you and, assuming so, what did you tell them?
It does happen, but I’m always hesitant to offer advice because my advice often applies to me. One of the best things Jon Stewart did with me was he didn’t offer me advice, he gave me counsel around the general ideas of the job, which I’m eternally grateful to him for. So, yeah, anyone who asks me for anything, I’ll gladly check in with them, but I’m also careful to not make this a job that I had [now] that I don’t have it anymore.
It’s interesting, James Corden recently announced that he was doing a podcast, too. Obviously, Conan O’Brien went this route as well. It seems to be the post-late night show path …
Well, I think everybody’s yearning for something and that thing is a world where you can create something that doesn’t have the same thrust as television, but has a lot of the impact that we are looking for in the world. And I’m a fan of podcasts. I love that you’re able to listen to a podcast on mental health or wellness or psychology or politics or news or sports. I love that you’re driving around, you’re in the subway, you’re in a bus, you’re walking, I think it’s really cool that you can take these moments to have interesting, in-depth conversations that take you somewhere. I also think there’s still always going to be a space for TV to do what it does at the pace that it does it.
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