“Trevor Noah is perched on top of a bank of chairs in the Daily Show conference room. It’s a Friday, which means there’s no live show, and Noah has time to clown around, undergoing half-a-dozen tie changes while being photographed by the Guide. This room is usually the hallowed space where the writers share their ideas and hone jokes for America’s best-known political satire, but right now Noah has his arms outspread and is tottering around as if he’s about to fall over. “That’s good,” says the Guide’s photographer. “Keep doing that airplane thing,” he adds as Noah regains his balance. “Airplane?” asks Noah with faux-incredulity. “That’s what you thought that was? Interesting. This is like a Rorschach test: you see whatever you want.”
Since the 32-year-old South African took over from Jon Stewart, who retired last August after 16 years in charge, his tenure at the Daily Show has been open to interpretation too. Some see a confident, charismatic comedy talent and a welcome point of difference in a bland – and white – late-night landscape, while others see him as an unwelcome reformist who has defaced the Daily Show that Stewart built.
Speaking to Noah in his office, though, you’d never get the sense this was someone who was described by GQ as “the biggest gamble on late night since NBC hired Conan to replace Letterman”. He talks in punchy, easy-to-grasp metaphors: US politics “is like transfer deadline day in the UK – ‘Ben Carson’s announced it’s official, he’s moving to Trump’”; running The Daily Show is like working out: “You can get good at it but it’s never easy, so right now we’re just getting our fitness up”; and Twitter is like a restaurant “where everyone hates the food but they keep ordering more of it”.
At the same time as doling out the aphorisms Noah keeps one eye firmly on three TVs tuned to MSNBC, Fox News and CNN, noting news items or moments for the producers to look at later in closer detail. He doesn’t look or sound like someone who is rattled, more like someone who has a plan and is sticking to it…”