OSN’s Comedy Central HD launches in Dubai with superstar comic Trevor Noah

The Daily Show host Trevor Noah talks global comedy and learning Arabic as he launches OSN’s Comedy Central HD in Dubai.

Trevor Noah, host of The Daily Show, during a press junket interview to launch the Comedy Central TV channel in the UAE under the OSN network. Alex Atack for The National
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It’s an international channel with a regional outlook. Comedy Central HD, launched Saturday on the Dubai based broadcaster OSN and found on channel 207, aims to do more than simply bring its international stable of programs to the region.

As arguably network's biggest star, the South African comic and The Daily Show host Trevor Noah explains, there will be a genuine commitment to showcasing some of the region's biggest stars on the world stage. But not at the expense of his high profile gig, of course

“If someone like [Saudi comedian] Fahad Albutari will teach me then yes I will be exploring my Arabic and I believe I will be very good and he will no longer have a job,” the famously multilingual Noah says from the channel’s launch party in Dubai.

“That is really my plan, to take over the Arabic speaking comedians and bring it all together in one comedian which will save money and be good for the network and be cool for everybody.”

Jokes aside, Noah adds: “I really do want to learn Arabic though. I like to learn as many languages as I can. I guess technically I speak about six languages, but I don’t count the ones I can just hold a conversation in. I play a bit with Hindi, I tried to learn some Japanese, my Portuguese is not fluent so I don’t count those, but Arabic would be fun so if somebody will teach me I’m willing to learn. Yalla.”

Noah then proceeds to talk to us about replacing the much loved Jon Stewart as the new host of The Daily Show and finding the funny side in the topsy-turvy American presidential race.

In 2011, you moved to North America. What drew you to relocate from South Africa where you were already an established comedy star?

It was largely circumstantial, though I always knew I wanted to live in New York because any place where you can do comedy all the time is home for me. London was the same when I lived there and I did as much as I could, but New York really has that gritty comedy that I really enjoy, and audiences that are constantly coming in, both tourists and Americans. Anywhere where I can build that kind of comedy that's not homogenous is something I enjoy. I do my comedy for the world, I don't just want to do it for one audience. The Daily Show just fast forwarded that whole idea I guess. I believe comedy is a global movement and I have met people who are trying to travel the world spreading the message of laughter — good friends like Eddie Izzard (who has himself undertaken comedy tours in English, French and German) and Russell Peters who are going out to the world and saying 'we should get everybody laughing together.'

How does Comedy Central’s Middle East launch fit into this world view?

I think the launch of the channel here is just the beginning. It's really making the world a smaller place and with The Daily Show, which obviously is set in New York City, it's exciting to be able to bring the world to that, when for a long time it's been assumed that Americans don't really have any interest in the world. I think that's changing all the time. If we can get as many influences from the world into The Daily Show and into the US and get the same thing happening vice versa — once we realise we're all laughing at the same thing — that brings us closer together rather than separates us.

How has the experience of filling the shoes of a comedy legend like Jon Stewart been for you?

It’s not really a case of filling shoes, it’s making my own shoes. I have to find the leather, get the stitching going, find a sole and start building my own pair of shoes. Filling shoes would be easier because you just have to find a way to ease your feet into them. But it’s been good. We’ve just passed our 100th episode, although it only feels like yesterday, and it’s been really good.

You’ve previously worked as a comedian in your native South Africa and the UK, and now in the US. Are there major differences between audiences?

The US is one of most patriotic nations in the world so you have to be careful about the way people interpret what you are saying. One thing I love about the UK is, I don’t know if it’s because of centuries of colonial guilt, but audiences out there are a lot more accepting of lambasting comedy. A lot of Brits themselves are self-deprecating. South Africa to a certain extent too. People are open to being teased and being the subject of the comedy. Americans you do have to be careful. I think it’s just the way Americans have been brought up — a lot of the time they see it as an attack as opposed to a friendly jibe. You try your best to make people understand you’re just joking but you can’t always control it.

Have you had any hairy moments with this American sensitivity to criticism, particularly coming from a foreigner?

It’s not so much hairy moments but my favourite thing is when people don’t even realise how xenophobic they are. That’s the greatest irony for me; when someone is say, anti-Trump, but then they turn round and say to me ‘why don’t you go back to Djibouti?’ Why would you do that? I mean I’m impressed that you know about Djibouti, but the fact that you would think that yet at the same time be against someone like Donald Trump is a paradox that fascinates me.

The current US presidential race is proving a fertile picking ground for comedy. Does that make your job easier or harder as you try to think of things even more outlandish than reality?

It’s a gift and a curse. There are going to be five other shows thinking of the same joke because it’s already been delivered. As a comedian it’s always nice to have original content and a new idea. That’s the biggest gift and curse of someone like Donald Trump — he gives everyone the same idea which is ‘this is insane.’ I think there may be some kind of global league going on. Let’s remember that this also the year that (British football club) Leicester City won the Premier League. It’s like there’s something weird going on all over the world that is changing everything. This is the year when you bet against everything you would normally expect.

Who would your dream Daily Show guest be?

Barack Obama, on his last day in office.

The Daily Show with Trevor Noah is on OSN's Comedy Central HD. 10pm from Tuesday to Friday. For details go to www.osn.com