Channel24 correspondent Rozanne Els attended the inaugural Tribeca TV Festival in New York and heard Trevor Noah dish about The Daily Show.
New York - Not long after Trevor Noah stepped into Jon Stewart’s shoes as host of The Daily Show, his new bosses experienced a panicked, albeit short, crisis of faith in the show’s new star.
Not because of the rife criticism that followed their choice, or the scandal over old and somewhat problematic tweets that came back to haunt him. Nope. Their doubts, says the show’s executive producer, Steve Bodow, were because of Noah’s insistence during the run-up to last year’s American election that Donald Trump would become the 45th president of the United States.
It’s one of the first things Bodow remembers when talking about the very beginning of Noah’s two-year-run on the show. He was “swearing up and down that Donald Trump was going to win. I thought that maybe we’re in a little bit of trouble, but we’ll humour him, go along with it,” said a (now) laughing Bodow at the inaugural Tribeca TV Festival in New York.
Bodow was joined on a discussion panel by Noah, The Daily Show head writer Zhubin Parang, as well as writers Michelle Wolf and Joseph Opio.
Noah turned out to be right and so too, it would seem, Comedy Central’s choice to tap him as the new host of an iconic late night television favourite. The show’s ratings are at an all-time high, and Noah’s contract was recently renewed through to 2022, to which Noah responded in typical dry humour: “It’s really exciting to renew this contract for either five more years or until Kim Jong-un annihilates us all — whichever one comes first.”
Both Noah and the show have moved beyond critics’ initial dismay at his appointment and Variety’s Maureen Ryan’s comments that the changeover was “as if our reliable attack dog had suddenly lost its teeth and self-medicated with Xanax,” has since lost its own bite.
'AN EVOLUTION, NOT A REVOLUTION'
If lack of substance or stance was the problem at the start of his tenure, it certainly isn’t anymore.
To wit – he knows what he’s doing. His takes on racial discrimination especially have been lauded by viewers and it’s showing in the numbers. Noah was, and still is, patient for people to come around.
"One of the hardest things to understand when taking over The Daily Show is that progress was going to be incremental and, in many ways, it would be an evolution, not a revolution" says Noah.
“I remember Jon said, ‘take your time, it took me three years just to figure out how to sit in the chair’.” For his part, Noah says sitting in that chair is much harder than it looks…
But, he adds, he knows what his goals are. His mandate from the network was to garner new viewers, younger people who are no longer watching TV traditionally, and choose social media and streaming services as their source of entertainment.
Enter the Instagram clips and behind the scenes videos from the set that keep us transfixed long after we should have gone to bed. But ultimately, whether via social media or the show itself, he – and the rest of The Daily Show team – are telling “the story of America and how it is dealing with the force known as Donald Trump.”
'IT'S SORT OF LIKE GAME OF THRONES'
“There is the one big story, which is Trump and how he affects the world.” Filling in the gaps are subplots like the Republican battle to repeal Obamacare or Ivanka Trump making strides to arguably become the most hypocritical feminist in the world. “It’s sort of like Game of Thrones,” he says of the interesting subplots that take the lead whenever an absence of more than a couple of hours from Twitter suggests a top aide secretly changed Trump’s passwords again.
Noah calls Trump “the most dishonest authentic person you will ever come across in your life. He can tell a string of lies but in a way that feels real and that’s what he’s good at doing. He connects with people below the surface. What he is saying is not what he means. You are fighting against what he’s saying and his audience is taking in what he means. I would hear what he was meaning. I didn’t know Donald Trump would win, I just thought that he was winning.”
Not long after Noah took over as host, one of the show’s most well-received segments – and probably the first that convinced some naysayers that he actually does have some hutzpah – compared Trump to African dictators. In essence, Noah reiterated at the Tribeca TV Festival, Trump is a dictator.
"Comedy does better when it's based on fact. The funniest things are based on the truth. We're constantly in the pursuit of the truth because that’s where we find the best jokes," he added.
The Daily Show with Trevor Noah airs Tuesdays through Fridays at 21:00 on Comedy Central (DStv 122).
(Photo: Getty Images)