Trevor Noah and Arsenio Hall are two of the biggest trailblazers in late-night television.
The host of The Daily Show and the host of The Arsenio Hall Show are two of only a few Black comedians and performers to have fronted a late-night show. They got together for a metaphorical passing of the baton as part of the Comedy Central show’s FYC campaign.
During the hour-long chat, which you can see below, the pair touched on all manner of issues relating to the genre, comedy and politics.
Noah also revealed that he has a “few surprises” in store when he and his team finally return to the studio.
“As for going back to the studio, I have a few surprises as to what that will look like, I’m working on a few things with the team and we’re really excited because I want it to be intentional. People always say ‘When are you going back?’ I’m never going back, I’m only moving forward,” he said.
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Hall, who told a story about how when he wore ripped jeans on his show, he was the subject of a focus group, asked Noah when would he swap his infamous hoodies for a suit?
“I might never,” said Noah. “I might never put on the suit or the shoes or whatever. I don’t know. This is who I am. I think the pandemic has stripped a lot of people of that pomp and ceremony. I think it’s a good thing. We see each other a little bit more. I don’t know if I’ll ever go back to the suits and the leather shoes. If I do, I do. If I don’t, I don’t but I will no longer think this is something I have to do.”
Noah told a sweet story about meeting a young boy, who was so pleased that Noah was growing out his afro. “What is business hair? I had to question my own conditioning to understand these things. Does [the hoodie] determine what conversation I can and cannot have with you. For so many conversations in America, why a person is treated to how they are is down to how they’re dressed,” he said.
He added that he was influenced by Hall and it was obvious during the conversation that there was a fun chemistry between the comedians. Noah said, “I saw you on TV and I didn’t even think how momentous that was. I was just like I like that guy, I like those jokes, I like that hair, I like those people. Maybe I could do that and you know what, maybe I could.”
Hall called Noah a “trailblazer”. Noah responded by saying, “Part of the reason I’m here is because of you. Do you realize how hard this was for me? I had to come all the way from Africa, I had to take over a television show, I had to do it for six years just to get Arsenio Hall to interview me.”
Hall, whose show was on the air during the 1992 LA riots, said that he was considered a guy with “a lot of intestinal fortitude on the air, but I watched you and you approached some things that I’d be afraid to approach”.
Noah admitted that he is also always afraid. “A lot of the topics in politics are sensitive and when you multiply that with comedy, you’re juggling little bombs. One of those bombs could explode at any moment. If we’re afraid imagine how scared the audiences are. As long as we can do it thoughtfully and with measure, if the fires going to come, it’s going to come, but as long as we stand behind the work, we’ll do it.”
The Daily Show host said that he didn’t know if he was thin or thick skinned but that he “heals quickly”.
Hall talked about the difficulties of getting Black and female writers on his show in the 1980s and asked if Noah had the same challenge.
Noah said that he wanted to make it a “team of everyone” and said that there are even Republicans on staff. “I like to challenge my ideas against someone I respect.”
He admitted that it was Dave Chappelle who helped him find his voice. “I’ve become more comfortable not looking for the laugh, the laugh will look for me and find me in the moment.”
Hall told a funny story about how the execs at Paramount, which ran his syndicated late-night show, were not sure they wanted to give Bobby Brown two songs on the show, which made him laugh more when he realized they had no idea who he was.
“I rode a horse to Paramount, you probably arrived in a Tesla,” Hall joked, adding that he didn’t have to worry about the digital side of the business.
Hall, who said he first encountered Noah while watching his stand-up at Eddie Murphy’s house, asked Noah if he faced additional challenges being a Black man from South Africa.
Noah replied, “Black people are Black people, wherever you go on the planet. That’s not to say Black people are a monolith but rather to say as diverse and broad as Black people are, unfortunately there’s one experience that has connected Black people and that is oppression. I might not be from Philly… but when we talk about police, we all talk the same language. When you’re black, race is always at the front. You don’t get to opt out.”