Grammys Host Trevor Noah Talks Battling “Heroes” Chappelle, Chris Rock, Wanda Sykes for Comedy Album

Trevor Noah is returning to host the Grammy Awards for a fourth time — but this is the first time he is hosting as a nominee.

Noah earned his first nomination for best comedy album at the 2020 show with Son of Patricia, losing to Dave Chappelle’s Sticks & Stones. He’s battling the comedy king again on Sunday, alongside other Black icons: Chris Rock (Selective Outrage) and Wanda Sykes (I’m An Entertainer). All of their specials aired on Netflix; Sarah Silverman’s Someone You Love, on HBO, round out the nominees.

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“I’m nominated alongside my heroes: Wanda Sykes, Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle. I don’t ever take those moments for granted. I think to myself how crazy it is to even be in the same category as these people,” Noah tells The Hollywood Reporter. “When I was thinking of [doing] comedy, Dave Chappelle was already an accomplished comedian. When I was thinking of starting to maybe tell somebody a joke, Chris Rock was already one of the biggest comedians in the world, and the same goes for Wanda Sykes. So I have never been somebody who is in a rush to win or to be thought of as the best at anything. I’m really, really, really not even saying this just to be humble or anything. I’m really happy and grateful to just be in that company.”

Dave Chappelle Chris Rock Wanda Sykes
Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock and Wanda Sykes

The 39-year-old, who is in competition with acts in their 50s, adds: “I almost want to savor that even more because what an experience, what a journey to be on. That’s just mind-blowing for me. These are my mentors and my friends. This is a surreal experience.”

Noah is nominated with I Wish You Would, while Chappelle — who has won best comedy album four times — is up with What’s In A Name? “I’m glad that it’s happening in my fourth year [hosting the awards], because I think in my first year, that would’ve been an emotional overload. Being nominated for a Grammy is so momentous that I don’t know how you could focus on hosting a show at the same time. And hosting the show is so much stress and there’s so much that’s happening live that you don’t want to be distracted by this idea that you may or may not win an award. This is may be the perfect time for it to happen.”

Noah, a two-time Emmy winner, could make history with his first Grammy win — and others could also set records on Sunday night. SZA’s SOS could become the first album by a Black woman to win album of the year in 25 years, while Taylor Swift could become the first artist to win the top award four times with Midnights. And others could win their first-ever Grammy after years of releasing music, including Lana Del Rey, Miley Cyrus, Nicki Minaj, Victoria Monét and more.

Beyonce Taylor Swift SZA
Beyoncé, Taylor Swift and SZA

“I would hope that something like that could happen. Any time history can be made, I’m always in favor of it because I always think, ‘If you can just knock down that first domino, then hopefully the rest follow.’ And so I’m always rooting for people to break records,” says Noah, who hosted last year when Beyoncé became the most decorated artist in Grammy history with her 32nd win.

“I’m rooting for Beyoncé to break the most wins. I’m rooting for Taylor Swift to win the most albums. I’m rooting for SZA to become the first—. There’s just something magical about seeing somebody’s journey culminate in the making of history. What’s tough about these categories is that almost every single person in them is someone who I believe deserves to win that award. And that’s the one thing that sucks about awards is that not everybody can win,” he adds.

Noah says he doesn’t vote for the winners, which makes his hosting gig a bit easier: “I’m not part of the voting contingency, and I’m actually glad because then nobody can come up to me and say, ‘Who did you vote for? What did you do?’ Luckily, I don’t have that stress on my shoulders.”

But Noah knows a thing or two about losing awards: Though he won his first Emmy in 2017 —  outstanding short form variety series for The Daily Show: Between the Scenes — he has lost outstanding variety talk series five times from 2018 to 2022, all to HBO’s Last Week Tonight With John Oliver. But last year the Television Academy changed its rules and moved Last Week Tonight into the scripted variety category, and Noah joked about the British-American comedian onstage when collecting the Emmy earlier this month: “I told you we would beat John Oliver if he wasn’t in our category.”

Trevor Noah
Trevor Noah

The triumph for The Daily Show With Trevor Noah was noteworthy for several reasons: It marked the first win for the Comedy Central show since Jon Stewart’s final year as host and the win was for Noah’s last season.

“It felt like a beautiful surprise,” he says. “It’s extra special because oftentimes you win the award and then you just go back to making the show. You almost don’t have time to really ruminate on the time that you’ve spent making the thing or on the people that you’ve made it with and what the journey means to you. And being able to win the award after leaving the show and also having the time after winning the award to just sit with that feeling is really, really something that I appreciate because it allows me to do something that I think most human beings don’t have the ability to do, and that’s just process something really beautiful and wonderful that they’ve experienced in their lives.

“It’s the way some couples are lucky enough to go on a honeymoon after their wedding, and other people just have to get married and then just carry on with their lives. And this is just how life is. And for those who do have a moment to appreciate it, I do think it’s a wonderful blessing,” he adds.

Noah says he’s prepping for Sunday’s Grammys — which will air live on CBS from the Arena in Los Angeles — by listening to a playlist of the nominees and performers, which includes SZA, Billie Eilish, Dua Lipa, Olivia Rodrigo, Joni Mitchell, Billy Joel, Luke Combs, Burna Boy and Travis Scott.

He’s also aware of the debate about if comedians should continue hosting awards shows following Jo Koy’s fumble at the recent Golden Globes. Kevin Hart warned, “Those gigs aren’t good gigs for comics”; Whoopi Goldberg said hosting awards show can be “brutal”; David Spade called the gig a “no-win situation”; and Michael Che said that “comedians should boycott hosting award shows.”

Though Noah has built his career doing stand-up comedy, he says that kind of performance act is different to hosting an awards show. I think stand-up comedy is a performance that is curated not just for, but by the comedian, for their own audience. And so it’s a very insular experience. It’s one where you’re in total control and most importantly, you are the reason that the people are there. An award show is different because you are not the reason people have come, most of the time. And everyone that’s there in the audience is there predominantly because they’re hoping to take home an award for their body of work. So I think that makes the gig different.

“I think it means that it is not the same skill sets, and I think that means that the outcome is a little less predictable. Because if you’re a comedian and you’re onstage and you’re not doing well, you can switch things up, you can whatever. You can do whatever you want to do. You can’t do that at an award show,” he adds. “There are time constraints. There’s a show that still needs to run. There’s material constraints because you’re on network national television. So you don’t have all the tools at your disposal to perform the necessary maneuvers that you might need to to save it if it’s not going well. So it’s a very different discipline and I don’t take that for granted because it’s difficult in a very different kind of way to just doing stand-up.”

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