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As host of The Daily Show, Trevor Noah is known for making people laugh, but the South African comic has overcome great challenges to achieve the success he has today.
Noah, 33, was born during Apartheid to a black South African mother and a white Swiss father. As a young boy, he faced poverty and segregation — and later an abusive stepfather who shot his mother in the head after their divorce.
The host of Comedy Central’s popular late-night news satire show sat down with PEOPLE and Entertainment Weekly Editorial Director for the latest episode of The Jess Cagle Interview and opened up about one of the scariest days of his life.
He recalls getting a phone call as an adult from his brother saying that his stepfather had shot his mother, Patricia. She miraculously survived after the bullet went into the back of her head and out her nose, missing her brain and arteries. His stepfather was convicted of attempted murder but sentenced only to probation.
“I remember after the shooting, my mother was in the hospital, and all I felt was rage,” says Noah. “My mother said to me, ‘Don’t hate him for doing this, but rather pity him because he too is a victim, in his own way, of a world that has thrust upon him an idea of masculinity that he has subscribed to and is now a part of. As for myself, I do not wish to imbue myself with a hatred that only I will carry.’ ”
He admits it took him a while for him to understand exactly what his mother was saying.
“I think watching my mom, her growth post-shooting, our family and the way we became stronger, really became the example that I chose to live by. That’s really what I’ve stuck to, and that’s how I try to live my life every day,” he says.
For more on Trevor Noah, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.
Noah, who wrote about his upbringing in his bestselling 2016 memoir Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, says he never let challenging times shake his sense of humor.
“The mission I have adopted for the show is pursue the truth at all costs,” he says, “because that is where the comedy lies.”
This article originally appeared on People.com