Trevor Noah has been hosting “The Daily Show” for close to three years, following in Jon Stewart‘s footsteps. Noah has found his voice in the late night landscape, and much like Stewart, he has branched out into producing new shows for his brilliant correspondents. He also won an Emmy last year for his web show “Between the Scenes,” in which he interacts with audience members during “The Daily Show” commercial breaks.
Noah recently sat down with Gold Derby senior editor Daniel Montgomery to discuss the state of politics today under Donald Trump‘s presidency, the spinoff shows he is producing and his autobiography that will soon be adapted into a major motion picture. Watch the exclusive chat above and read the complete interview transcript below.
Gold Derby: Trevor Noah, you’ve been hosting “The Daily Show” now for almost three years since Jon Stewart stepped down from the anchor desk. In that time, have there been any lessons that you’ve learned about doing the show that you didn’t when you started that you learned over the years?
Trevor Noah: I think there are many lessons I’ve learned while hosting the show but those lessons are oftentimes overshadowed by learning how to live in America under a Trump presidency, which has been as exciting as learning how to be the host of “The Daily Show.” I think it’s a journey that we’re all on as people so what’s been great is I haven’t had the time to focus on my discomfort with learning how to host and so what happens is over time you’re just doing it because you have to get other work done, and then one day you realize that you’re a lot more comfortable than you were a few months before and a few months before that and a few months before that.
GD: And you started the show under the Obama presidency and this presidency, suffice it to say, is different. Is it easier? You host a show on every day so the endlessness of the news cycle, does it make it easier or does it make it harder?
TN: I think in many ways processing Donald Trump is something that is easier for me because unlike most American politics, Donald Trump is not something that is foreign to me. Most of American politics is in many ways inaccessible to people and it existed for many years in a space that was really an elite space, where people felt like they didn’t know what was going on and what jargon was being used and who was saying what and what were the characters, and you have to admit, Donald Trump has brought politics to a level that every single person on the ground seems to understand, because he himself processes the information in such a simplistic way. So that’s become easier for us on the show because now we are dealing with politics that has become pop culture and so we don’t have to retrofit it and try and create the opposite effect.
GD: It was kind of a surprise, his election, to many people, myself included admittedly. How has it gone compared to what you were expecting covering this presidency versus what you thought on election night when this was happening?
TN: Oh, I think this presidency has gone exactly as I expected it to go. In fact, we had an episode of “The Daily Show” that we did on Halloween once and it was about a future vision of what Donald Trump’s presidency would be and granted, it was exaggerated, but in many ways it came to pass. A lot of the ideas are what we believed would happen. I said from the very beginning, watch out for the money, watch the people around him, because Donald Trump reminds me in many ways of many African dictators. His demeanor, his style, who he presents himself as and how he processes his power is something that’s all too familiar, not just for an African but for someone from the Middle East, for instance. Anyone who comes from a developing nation is all too familiar with a leader like him, so it’s not as shocking as it may be for many other people.
GD: And given how unusual this period is, at least for American political life and history, do you think comedy in any way is better suited to cover a Donald Trump presidency than traditional media may be used to?
TN: I think in many ways it is. I think comedy is a tool that is fantastic for processing information that is otherwise terrifying. When you’re laughing, you can’t be as afraid. When you’re laughing, you’re engaging with your truest self so I don’t think it’s any mistake that in most countries where free speech is eliminated and where dictatorships are set up, the one thing that is eliminated very quickly is comedy or satire, and that’s because it reminds populations of the follies. It reminds people of the fallacies that they’re experiencing every day. It points out all of the ludicrous ideas that are taking place and so I think that’s what makes comedy a powerful tool when used in the right way.
GD: And this is also an unusual administration in terms of it’s our first Twitter president in a sense and it sort of represents this modern era through all communications and entertainment, and “The Daily Show” has a large social media footprint. How do you think about this show’s role in the multimedia landscape that we’re now in?
TN: Well I think in that way, Donald Trump came around at the exact right time, because when I took over “The Daily Show,” one of my biggest mandates was to create a show that would exist across all platforms, a show that would take advantage of the social media landscape that we live in today, because people consume in so many different ways, shapes and forms. So in building the following that we have now, 19 million followers on social media, creating the billions of streams online, I think what was key for us was to communicate in a way that matched up with the president of the United States and because Donald Trump has shifted the world that way, because foreign leaders reply to him on Twitter, because adversaries in Congress reply to him on Twitter now, he has created this space which is a norm because we kicked off this millennial show that was inspired by a generation of social media I think this has fit in comfortably with the world that we live in today.
GD: It’s also an era with social media, the benefits of communication come the drawbacks, Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, Twitter bots and trolls. How do you think about participating in that landscape that’s hopefully more positive?
TN: I think the key is to be focused in your intention. The key is laying out your position. I think in many ways, communicating in such a way that people understand your intention is to evoke laughter, which is what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to make you laugh about what is happening, not because what is happening is not serious but because we feel like laughter helps you process that information, or at least I do. So in doing that I feel like we add a level of positivity into the world, because people do struggle to process negative information day in and day out, and when you can find a way to put a positive spin on it, you create, in many ways, the Charlie Chaplin effect that he created during the war, when World War II was happening, soldiers were watching his videos about Hitler and it changed the way they perceived this undefeatable leader in their minds, because of the way he was comedically processed. So that’s something I’ve always been attracted to, is just how you present it and what your intention is.
GD: Part of that, your online footprint is “Between the Scenes,” which is taped between the commercial breaks of “Daily Show” where you’re interacting with the audience. You won an Emmy for that, congratulations, last year. Where did that idea come from and how did that develop?
TN: The idea came about organically. I would talk to the audience every single day, between the scenes. When we would go to an ad break, I would just chat to the audience and engage with them beyond what we were doing on the show and over time I realized that the live audience was enjoying that and I realized that I could share that with an audience that was not joining us every day, because what it does is two things. One, it continues a conversation in a less formal way, and two, it gives people access to me in a slightly different manner, which is really important when you’re building a relationship with people, I feel. If you only know somebody in one specific way, then your view of them is going to be defined by that one specific way. But I think what builds relationships organically is understanding people in a variety of situations and seeing how they are when they’re working or when they’re not working or when they’re down or when they’re up, and I think that’s what “Between the Scenes” became, a show between the show that could go out there and connect with people in tiny little vignettes that integrate “The Daily Show” into social media in a really organic way.
GD: One of the challenges I would imagine on doing a satirical news show under any circumstances would be there are times when the news can be funny and made funny, and there are times when it’s hard to laugh about certain events in the news, many events in the news. How do you walk that fine line on a day to day basis, night to night basis?
TN: I think the key is to process the information as honestly as possible, so what we do at the show is we’ll sit with the information. We are human beings. We’ll laugh when we laugh. We’ll cry when we cry. And then the key is to try and translate that to the show. So I will give you an honest representation of how I feel about this information, and then use comedy as the vehicle that propels us through the news at hand, because that’s how I’ve always processed the world. So the first and most important thing for me is to accurately and honestly present the information and my emotions surrounding it, and then use comedy as the tool that helps me process that information.
GD: Recently following your show now is “The Opposition with Jordan Klepper,” which you co-created and produced. Where did that idea come from and how did that show take shape?
TN: Well I think the idea was born from Jordan Klepper who was on the show at a time when I started obviously and Jordan’s character was one who reveled in enjoying being ignorant. He enjoyed being the person who would probe our world effects. He would enjoy being the dissenter in the room and it was only natural that Jordan would then go on to create a show that would follow ours, which in many ways revels in a point of view that is alternative, revels in a point of view that is in many ways not linked to a reality that not many of us subscribe to based on facts. That’s what’s really fun is that you get to have this show that comes after “The Daily Show” that isn’t processing the news in the same way, isn’t maybe even processing the same news, but still gives you an insight into what’s driving America’s conversations in and around politics and the news.
GD: You’re also producing a new comedy with Roy Wood Jr. It’s one of the things that the history of “The Daily Show,” the correspondents have had such a long history of going on to huge, bigger and better things. What’s it like working with that group of people and seeing their future so bright ahead of them?
TN: It’s really exciting and sometimes a little bit sad because I work with some of the most amazing people and then I see that they’re gonna have to leave at some point to go on and do fantastic things, and I’m lucky to be a part of Roy’s new show. I’m also lucky to still have him on the show, and I think every single correspondent that we work with on “The Daily Show” is here because they’re amazing in different ways and so what’s really wonderful to see is people coming to the show, growing their voice and then creating an idea of what they want to then go on and create. I’m proud that I am in a space where I get to do what was done for me, and that is bring in new voices, hone their voice, hone their talent and give them a platform to then go out and create something that is an amplification of who they were in the first place.
GD: You recently signed a deal to be the host of “The Daily Show” through 2022, so you’ll be around to cover the apocalypse and the post-apocalypse.
GD: Given the news cycle and the way things go, how do you even envision four years from now or do you just not? You just go one day at a time.
TN: I don’t. I haven’t burdened myself with that yet. I’ve gotten comfortable living in the moment of the news right now and I’ve gotten comfortable in the discomfort of not knowing what’s going to happen because I’ve come to realize Donald Trump doesn’t know what’s gonna happen, so if he’s in the same boat as me then I have to get comfortable with that. Because he’s flying by the seat of his pants, I then have to process the news in the same way and that’s liberating, because in many ways I don’t have to worry about what’s going to happen. All I have to do is process and react to what’s happening today.
GD: You recently wrote and released an autobiographical book, “Born a Crime,” which, to detail those kinds of personal experiences in your life must be intense, but now it’s gonna be made into a film also. What’s it like, the idea of seeing that story of your life and your mother onscreen like that?
TN: I think that’s gonna be a really beautiful experience. Having a journey lived and then written and then acted out is something that is unique and one that I don’t take for granted at all. So I’m excited to see how we can translate the story onto the big screen. i’m excited to see how myself and Lupita [Nyong’o] can work together to tell the story in the most authentic way and it’s a process that is going to be long and interesting and I’m really excited to see how it turns out.
GD: What’s it like, just the idea of not just the story of your life but you’re casting your own mother, Lupita Nyong’o playing her? How is that even to conceptualize?
TN: It’s surreal, but it all makes sense. You meet people in life that remind you of other people. You meet people who you connect with on levels that exist beyond just the physical, and I think that’s what happened with myself and Lupita so it was only natural for her to play my mom because she reminded me of my mother in so many different ways, a strong beautiful black woman who is unashamedly going into a world that many people haven’t gone into before her, so I think that’s what’s gonna give the story a lot of the brevity that it deserves.
GD: Thank you very much and congratulations on everything with the show.
TN: Thank you so much, appreciate it.
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