Trevor Noah Defends Millennials: We're Not "Entitled"

Trevor Noah - THR Photographed By Aaron Richter - H 2016
Photographed by Aaron Richter

The 'Daily Show' host — whose memoir, 'Born a Crime,' is out Nov. 15 — speaks out on behalf of Instagram and YouTube stars and laments the "disadvantage" of "working and creating within a space [traditional TV] that I and many of my peers don't gravitate toward naturally."

At 32, I have a balance of the two worlds — I grew up with older cousins, but I’m still very much a millennial. I have had my fair share of trials and tribulations on social media, as many have. I find myself defending my generation when people get angry about Instagram and YouTube stars. “These dumb internet stars, why are these kids getting TV shows? I was a waiter, and I auditioned for years, and I deserve that job.” You cannot be angry that young people today have a different path to discovery. So you got discovered at a grocery store or in your improv troupe. Well, this person created their thing online. I don’t know why people are angry that millennials have created a path to their own audiences without the gatekeepers.

And whenever people say that we’re selfie-obsessed, I want to go, “But people have always been self-obsessed!” I remember when everyone was still using those disposable Kodak cameras to take pictures of themselves. The difference was there were limits to how many pictures you could take — and you had to pay to get them developed. We take more selfies because we can.

Saying millennials are selfie-obsessed is like saying Gen X-ers were TV-obsessed because they watched more TV than their parents. You interact with the world that is presented to you. Gen X-ers watched more TV because that was the golden age of television, when people would congregate around this magical box and watch the same thing. I’m in a generation where many never had cable or they’re cutting the cord. “I watch what I want to watch when I want to watch it and how I want to watch it.” So people say we’re entitled. I think we’re merely exercising our choice. And that’s a disadvantage for me. Sometimes it feels like I’m working and creating within a space that I and many of my peers don’t gravitate toward naturally.

We’ve found that lot of viewers are watching The Daily Show on Hulu and Facebook. People have always said, “This show is on this or that network.” Millennials don’t know that — and they don’t care. They just know what they like and watch it. It’s a frightening proposition for networks because they’ve always been the gatekeepers.

My generation has seen conversations around gender equality change dramatically, has been at the forefront of transgender activism, has seen protests around racial segregation rise up again. Yes, there are some millennials who go online and only want to post memes, but there are others who go online to engage in social discourse. There are some who only want to share, but there are others who want to read.

A lot of the perceptions of millennials don’t take into account the frustration of a generation that feels like it has inherited many of the ills of the previous ones. Gen X-ers and baby boomers experienced the booms of economy and housing. They had their tough times, but it’s the millennials who’ve gone through the recession and are dealing with college debt spiraling out of control. Then you’ve got climate change, which millennials are very much aware of. And I don’t think the generations before us were as engaged in what was happening in Syria or a random country in Europe. Whereas because of technology and the way we absorb it, millennials are constantly bombarded with information. And while that can be overwhelming, it’s also very empowering.

One thing I envy about previous generations is their appreciation of time and ability to exist in the moment. That is something we have lost. I’ve even noticed it in myself. It’s tough now to sit down and watch a show or read a book; we’re doing so many things at once. The advantage is that you can do so much more in so much less time, but there’s a certain part of us that’s always distracted. You’re on a date with someone, and you’re not paying 100 percent attention to them because you’re on your phone instead of engaging.

Every generation likes to pick on the next. Imagine what the generation before the postal service thought. “You’re so lucky. You can just send a letter and it gets taken across the world.” And before that, “What! You can just send a telegram? In my day, the only way to send a message was by getting on a ship!” One day our generation will be complaining, “At least in my day we had to open an app! We couldn’t just think of another person and have them go on a date with us. We had to press our phone to do that!”

This story first appeared in the Nov. 18 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.