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'I Was an Idiot': Trevor Noah Discusses the Backlash to His Hiring as Host of 'The Daily Show'

By Dustin Rowles | Celebrity | July 21, 2015 |

By Dustin Rowles | Celebrity | July 21, 2015 |

After our initial excitement and subsequent skepticism regarding the hiring of Trevor Noah as host of The Daily Show based on a few select tweets from his past (yes, I know, we were part of the backlash. FORGIVE US), many of us are coming back around on Noah, and hard. He essentially re-introduced himself to American audiences in a recent episode of Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, an episode that’s impossible to watch without both admiring his wit and intelligence and respecting Noah journey from South Africa to The Daily Show.

Noah begins his stint as the new host of The Daily Show on September 28th, and the more we hear from him, the more impossible it is to hold those old tweets against him.

In a lengthy profile for GQ this month, for instance, he gained even more of our respect by speaking about something he rarely talks about: The time his abusive step-father shot his mother in the face, after she left him.

Since she’d left Noah’s stepfather, she’d become engaged to another man, and when her ex-husband found out, he’d returned with a gun. Noah’s brothers—the man’s own sons—pleaded with him to leave. Instead, “he started shooting, and my brothers ran for their lives, and my mom ran as well, and my uncle, and everybody who was there at the house—everybody just ran for safety. My mom got shot, shot once in the torso, and another bullet went in her head. She got shot in the head, you know?

And just so you know what kind of mother Trevor Noah has, it’s the awesome kind.

Two days after it happened, Noah was by her bedside, crying. His mother asked him to stop. “She says, ‘No, no. Please, look at the bright side. I’m still here. Just be grateful that I’m still here.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, but still.’ 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. Everyone’s laughing and crying. You know? But that’s who we were as people; that’s who we’ve always been.”

And yes, Noah did open up about the backlash to his hiring based not only on those tweets, but on the stand-up routine making fun of black culture in America that he delivered on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno that helped to launch his career in America.

“I look back on it and I go, ‘Had I known, I would’ve done it differently.’ Because when you come from a different place, you don’t realize the minefield you’re walking into,” he says. “I do know this: I continued doing the Leno bit after I’d done it on Leno. But the way I did it slash would do it today is completely different. I’ve now learned how to be emotionally aware of how people may use your joke in a negative way. And that’s something that you’re always trying to navigate in comedy. You know, Dave Chappelle talked about it as well—if you’re not careful, someone can use your words to hurt somebody else.”

“I had given some people ammunition to oppress those who had already been oppressed.” Now he feels that he’d taken the wrong side. “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.”

As for some of the jokes that he delivered earlier in his career? He regrets those, too.

You show me half my jokes from even two years ago, three years ago—I hate them. Because you see, like, a young version of yourself. You’re like, ‘Why would you say that? You idiot! That makes no sense.’ Or, ‘That’s just stupid.’ Or, ‘Ahh, I can’t believe I said that about a woman.’ You should not like what you did back then, because that shows that you’ve grown. If you’re still doing it, that’s a scarier place to be,” Noah says.

“So that’s a great thing for me. When I get a chance to look back and go: ‘I was an idiot.’ “

Trevor Noah is 31 years old. He is still evolving as a comedian and as a person. He’s brilliant now; imagine how amazing he’ll be after learning on the job for a few years as host of The Daily Show.

Check out the entire profile over on GQ.

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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