Trevor Noah is the latest celebrity to dip into the podcast pool with his Spotify project, What Now? with Trevor Noah, which launched on Thursday. His first episode features wrestler-turned-movie-star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who opened up about his connection to his culture and the backlash for championing the People’s Fund of Maui.

After sharing his interest in “spirited conversation,” Noah segued the conversation into his guest’s background. Johnson said he grew up greatly appreciating his Black and Samoan cultures.

“At a very early age from my mom and my dad, it was always ‘what you are is perfect’ and ‘what you are is cool.’ Black culture, Samoan culture,” he explained. “We come from a world of pro wrestling. And at that time, Trevor, if you think about it, pro wrestling was nowhere near the global juggernaut that it is today. And it was, it was a very small subculture. So be proud of everything that you are out of the gate; it was always ‘be proud’… It’s a cool thing. And I got to tell you, as you go down the road of life, you start to realize just how special culture is, how special all of our culture is.”

Later, Noah brought up when the Jumanji star and Oprah Winfrey caught flack for asking the public to donate money to their Maui wildfire recovery fund. In case you missed it, the internet was unhappy with the duo, pushing them to support those impacted by the wildfires that struck Maui, Hawaii, in August. Most viewers found the ask tone-deaf, which Johnson confessed to Noah, was a reaction that surprised him.

I woke up the next morning wondering the same thing,” he shared. “Thinking, what? What happened? Did I miss something? So it took me a couple of weeks to really process that. And I felt like that moment was a pivotal moment for me in my life for a few reasons.”

He explained, “Number one, I want to go back to the brass tacks of it and the whole idea of creating this fund, the People’s Fund of Maui, is to help people and help survive and thrive. These are my people. These are my Polynesian people. My Hawaiian Kanaka Ohana. My grandparents. They’re all buried in the islands, you know, so it meant so much to me. And I know it meant so much to our people, right? That we were able to come together and create this fund.”

Johnson added that as he and Winfrey received the backlash, he focused on the good.

“What’s interesting is when all that started to happen and the backlash started to happen and it started to come our way,” he said. “So I always feel like in moments like that, it’s important not to get caught up in it. It’s important just to pause. Let’s be prudent. Let’s pause. But let me just wait and see. And, I felt like my gut said it’s going to take a couple of weeks, but let me really take a look at it. I don’t want to respond to it right now. Yeah, let’s stay focused on the mission. And the mission is to help the survivors right now who have nothing.”

But it wasn’t easy. Johnson said the experience “really tested my ability to separate noise from criticism that was really worthy of my attention in this case and this noise.”

“At first it was a wave of noise,” he recounted. “OK, how dare you ask us for money! And I thought the same thing you did was right. Whatever you can give, if you want to give a prayer. Great. A buck, seven bucks or nothing. So there was the noise that started to feel like it was political noise. Then it started to feel like it was, it just started to feel really noisy. And I wanted to make sure that we just paused, and I was just waiting for, well, where’s the criticism here that is worthy of my attention? That really makes sense.”

After allowing himself to get angry by the controversy, he ultimately understood where his critics came from.

“I came out of that, and then I went, ‘That’s right. I got it. Now I understand.’ And you know what? Last thing you wanted was to hear people ask for money regardless of the situation,” he said.
Johnson shared that the fund has supported “8,000 survivors,” which he’s incredibly proud of.

“It’s really beautiful,” he said.

Noah, Ben Winston, Jenna Weiss-Berman and Max Linksy executive produce What Now? with Trevor Noah. Day Zero Productions, Fulwell 73 Productions and Audacy’s Pineapple Street Studios are also involved in the show. 

Listen to the episode below: