The evening after Trevor Noah announced he’d be leaving The Daily Show, he was back on stage, telling jokes before an arena audience of nearly 20,000.
Now, nearly two months later, Noah is releasing that set, in the form of his third Netflix special. “I Wish You Would,” as the hour is titled, arrives just two weeks before Noah formally signs off as the face of Comedy Central. And while Noah has been relatively coy about what’s next — though he acknowledges that he is writing scripts and, via his Day Zero Productions, prepping some 30-plus projects — stand-up will feature prominently.
In fact, the first post-Daily Show project that he’s announced is his 2023 “Off The Record” stand-up tour, which kicks off in January. As Noah noted in a THR cover story, he’s very eager to get back on the road, seeing and exploring the world in a way that his Daily Show schedule didn’t allow. “I used to almost live in a city before I’d do shows and I miss that,” he said. “I miss knowing where my favorite restaurant in London is. I miss knowing my favorite sandwich shop in Frankfurt, Germany. I miss knowing a great bar to go watch a sports match somewhere in Bangalore, India.”
Over the course of two conversations this fall, Noah spoke about the unique draw of stand-up, what he wanted to say with his third Netflix hour and why he, the outgoing host of The Daily Show, doesn’t think people should “exist constantly in politics.”
Your latest special, “I Wish You Would,” is the culmination of your first tour, post-pandemic, which was aptly titled the “Back to Abnormal” tour. What did you want to communicate with this set?
It was a celebration of coming back together with my audience. Stand-up has always been a wonderful outlet for me because The Daily Show exists in a hyper-political space. In my opinion, contrary to popular belief, I don’t think people should exist constantly in politics. I don’t think it’s healthy. I don’t think every conversation should lead with, “Who did you vote for?” Or, “Did you see what happened in Florida?” If you start conversations with politics, people have very few ways to connect because it’s one of the more divisive topics we have. In my humble opinion, that’s part of the problem in America: politics has become like sports and everyone is engaged in it, so there are fewer and fewer cultural touchpoints that people share now.
Gone are the days of everyone watching Will and Grace or Seinfeld, but everyone is involved in politics, so that becomes the, “Ooh, did you watch last night’s episode?” While that’s great for satire and for a show that’s trying to keep people informed of the news, if you live in that space 24 hours a day as some people do, it can be a little depressing and it can give you an unrealistic idea of what the world is you’re living in.
So, it was important for you to have this hour exist outside of politics?
Yes, for my stand-up, particularly this special, it’s me having an opportunity to break out of that world, out of politics. Like, here’s a different way to talk about the pandemic that isn’t framed around politics. I think we forget that we’re also having human experiences. In my comedy, especially in this period of time, I want to share with an audience the idea that we can have more grace for each other and we can understand that people can make mistakes and good people can do bad things — and that doesn’t necessarily mean we have to define them as just bad or just good. I think life is a lot more nuanced and complicated. I’m making jokes about a world where some people are shocked that not everyone is mourning the royal family’s loss. It’s like, “Well, yeah, there are different perspectives in the world.”
You recently announced a new tour that will have you doing lengthier stints in many of the cities you visit, which wasn’t possible when you had a show to do four days a week in New York. Talk to me about the appeal of that to you.
I’ve been really lucky that I’ve been able to maintain a semblance of what my previous touring career was whilst hosting The Daily Show. But one of the aspects I had to let go of was being able to spend time either assimilating or observing or experiencing a world different to mine. People are my passion and what I like is understanding other human beings and learning their perspectives. So, when I go do a show in Boston, I’d never liked coming to Boston with preconceived notions of Boston. I like being in Boston and then doing comedy that is either inspired by Boston or is my perception of Boston based on what Boston is at that moment. For me, it’s always meant that I’ve gotten to exist more authentically in a place. It means I’ve gotten to connect more holistically with an audience and I felt more enriched because of that.
It also means you’ll be back in theaters rather than these massive arenas you’ve been filling …
Arenas are great because you get to celebrate what you’ve created with your fans but, remember, you don’t make fans in an arena. You make fans in a smaller room. I think the same would be true for any artist, any musician, any live performer. You make fans in an intimate venue, and then you celebrate the journey with your fans in an arena. But I never want to lose sight of that close touch that you can have with being in a place. And also, great comedy comes from living life. So, when you can go live life, when you can go see all sides of an area — what is it like in the morning? What’s it like at night? What’s the nightlife? — I enjoy it, I participate in it and it’s where I get my material from.
Before you started at The Daily Show, you called stand-up your first love. How do you feel about it now?
When all the mountains and the valleys wash away, when everything else in my career is gone, the last thing I wish to be doing on this planet is standup comedy.
Why is that, you think?
First, I think it is the ultimate combination of everything that I love about being creative. The audience is right there, so I can’t blame anybody in between. I can’t say, “Oh, sales didn’t do a good job.” “Marketing didn’t do a good job.” “The studio didn’t do a good job.” “The time slot was no good.” No, the audience is right there. I’m right here. What I create, they immediately receive and it’s the most real form of direct-to-consumer possible. Second, I love that it’s direct. They can tell me right now if they’re enjoying it or not enjoying it. Third, I love that I’m the creative. It’s in my mind, there are no budget constraints, no [re-writing] a script. I’m the person who has to do this for the audience and it’s a beautiful act of service.
There’s nothing that can beat comedy, in my opinion. And it’s like, I’m sure a movie will be wonderful and when you’re acting there’s a different way to express [yourself] that’s exciting. But every actor I’ve talked to says, “Then two years later, you’re like, ‘Oh yeah, that movie I made is coming out.’” You’re still in the hands of editors. You’re in the hands of special effects. You’re in the hands of so many other things. There’s just something pure about somebody stepping onto a stage. It’s like theater for me. You step onto a stage and create a world using only what you have on your body and there’s something magical about that.