Trevor Noah Gets Candid on Past Jokes About Race, Women: "I Was an Idiot"

Byron Keulemans

"I may not be American, but I am black. It's not like I had to learn how to be black."

Trevor Noah spoke about the evolution of his comedy in an interview with GQ

"You show me half my jokes from even two years ago, three years ago — I hate them," said Noah, who endured backlash about his jokes on women and Jews after he was announced as the new The Daily Show host. "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."

The comedian added that it is a great thing for him to "look back and go: ‘I was an idiot.' "

Noah has often spoken about African-Americans in his comedy routines, but he said the way he has talked about race has shifted as well. When discussing his jokes about African-American names and speech, he said he would have done the routine differently.

"When you come from a different place, you don't realize the minefield you're walking into," he said, later adding,  "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."

He said he needed to better understand the "African-American experience" in order to avoid "giving people ammunition to oppress those who had already been oppressed."

"I may not be American, but I am black," Noah told the interviewer when asked if he had to learn how to talk about the culture. "It's not like I had to learn how to be black."

Noah also shared a personal story about how he learned to find comedy in everything, including heartbreaking situations. He recounts when his mother was shot in the head and torso by her abusive ex-husband. Days later, Noah was sitting at his mother's bedside crying and she 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,' " said Noah. "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."

He added, "It was one of those turning moments in life where I was like, ‘You know what? No one can ever tell me that line of ‘There's nothing funny about X.' If you can't laugh, you have nothing."