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How Trevor Noah plans to reinvent ‘The Daily Show’
‘You use humor to enlighten people without preaching to them.’
At Friday’s press breakfast at the redesigned Daily Show studio, Trevor Noah made it clear that he wasn’t merely replacing Jon Stewart, but transforming the show into something that’s his own, something for the multicultural millennial generation.
Although they’ve kept the same announcer, that voice now booms, “From Comedy Central world news headquarters, this is The Daily Show with Trevor Noah,” and the studio displays a new Daily Show logo, sporting a sleeker and decidedly more modern sans serif font.
“It’s still The Daily Show,” Noah emphasized, but it seems like a lot is changing. He told reporters that he wants to have more musical guests than his predecessor. Ryan Adams, who recently released an album covering Taylor Swift’s 1989, will perform on the show this Thursday.
He also plans to focus the show’s content to the online realm, as opposed to cable news outlets. “Stories are made on Twitter,” he said.
Last month, it was announced that The Daily Show will be producing more original online content, with Noah playing an active role. Comedy Central also announced that Baratunde Thurston, the former digital director of The Onion and a New York Times bestselling author, will lead the way in creating this digital content. Correspondent Jessica Williams deemed him a “wizard” when it comes to his Internet skills.
“He’s a young, handsome, black Dumbledore,” she told the Daily Dot.
Williams plans to play an active role in The Daily Show’s new platforms, specifically when it comes to blogging and Snapchat. “That’s what’s fun about doing this new show with Trevor Noah,” she continued. “We really get to dive into the digital world.”
Williams became a correspondent at age 22, so “the transition was very vulnerable,” she said. “It was like comedy grad school… Jon was my favorite teacher.” She added that Stewart taught her not to go for the obvious joke and working with him made her sense of humor more sophisticated.
“Jon was always willing to explain jokes to me,” she reminisced.
When asked about her philosophy as a correspondent moving forward, she did not hold back: “Everyone at the end of the day wants to talk about white male politics. And I don’t give a fuck about that.”
Trevor Noah’s Daily Show will be the same in a structural sense. When Noah was asked whether the show would have a more international focus, he said that he performs around the place that he’s in. “I see myself as a citizen of the world,” he explained. “The show will be international by the fact that it’s in the world.”
Noah has diversified the Daily Show staff by bringing in people who have worked on similar shows from around the world. In addition, they hired three new correspondents. Desi Lydic, whom you may recognize from MTV’s Awkward, and Roy Wood Jr., a seasoned standup, both hail from the United States. The third correspondent, Ronny Chieng, will certainly bring an international perspective to the show; he was born in Malaysia, raised in Singapore and New Hampshire, and rose to comedy stardom in Australia.
When asked how Daily Show writers have changed the way they write material, Noah spoke about watching the Republican debates. “That was the first time we encountered specific subject matter that The Daily Show had specialized in, that was the brand of The Daily Show,” Noah said. “We had to sit down and figure out: How do we approach this topic in a way that feels authentic to Trevor, but at the same time, still speaks to what The Daily Show stands for?
“I’m watching the debates and someone says something about what one of the politicians did 10, 15 years ago, and they go, ‘That’s like the time that happened.’ And I’m the person going, ‘Why is that funny? What is important about that?’
“I come in on a clean slate with a lot of the politicians and news media outlets,” Noah continued. “Myself and Steve [Bodow, Daily Show executive producer] were watching the debates together and I was complimenting every single thing that Rand Paul said… Steve was like, ‘Just you wait. He’s gonna break your heart.’…So I said, ‘Let that happen. Let my heart get broken. But I want to be in the position where I get to start off fresh with some of these people.’”
Noah explained that he’s not going into the show with any preconceived notions or chosen targets: “I get to discover the person I will come to loathe and hate.”
Throughout the Q&A, Noah’s quips had a gentle tone, showing how much he’s matured comedically since the media unearthed his offensive tweets. He said he was excited to embark on this new adventure, and he’s not afraid to admit what he doesn’t know about American politics.
“I am neither left or right,” he said. He identifies as progressive, but was careful to assert that progression can come from the left or the right.
“I’m not politically progressive,” he said. “What makes me progressive is that I try to improve myself and… the world that I’m in, in the smallest ways possible. I know that I cannot change the entire world, but I’ve always believed that I can at least affect change in my world… Progression, in my opinion, is identifying your shortcomings. …Progression in America, because of the partisanship, became identified with one group over another. But I don’t believe that that’s true. I believe progression can come from both sides. In my opinion, liberal and conservative should instinctively be a place where people are saying, ‘This is how we aim to progress’… as opposed to saying, ‘We don’t want to progress.’
“Truth is truth regardless of who is saying it.”
The show’s first week of guests, which include comedy superstar Kevin Hart, Bumble CEO Whitney Wolfe, Republican presidential hopeful Chris Christie, and Ryan Adams, set a tone for what’s to come. Noah made sure to emphasize that although The Daily Show is political, “it’s a comedy show first and foremost…You use humor to enlighten people without preaching to them.”
Illustration by Max Fleishman
Eve Peyser is a writer and comedian based in New York. She has published bylines in Esquire, the Washington Post, Gizmodo, and GQ, and she works as a staff politics and culture writer at Vice.