Jokes Aside, Trevor Noah Actually Wants To Inform You
The Daily Show host on the 5:30pm curse and comedy in the Trump era
By Mary Tuma,
4:00PM, Sat. Mar. 9, 2019
Let’s get the elephant in the (Austin Convention Center) room out of the way first – no one can truly “replace” political satirist godfather Jon Stewart. His acerbic wit and genuine passion – and rage! – helped us get through the nightmare that was the Bush years. (And for that we are eternally grateful.)
But Trevor Noah, the South African-born comedian who took over The Daily Show in 2015 upon Stewart’s departure, offers a fresh outsider’s perspective due to his oftentimes painful mixed-race upbringing abroad during apartheid (detailed in his 2016 memoir Born a Crime) and brings a diverse trove of correspondents, both of which grant him an edge over his predecessor. Noah’s brand of jokes – part skewering political hypocrisies, part juvenile punch lines – delivers much needed levity in the surreal and maddening Trump presidency. Noah’s crew also must contend with a brave new faster-paced media landscape that looks much different than the one Stewart’s iteration navigated.
“There’s no real news cycle anymore. The news cycle used to have a rhythm, a cadence. Now we call it the 5:30pm curse: Someone’s getting indicted, there’s a new Trump Tweet, there’s a new scandal. Instead of running away from it, we’ve learned to embrace it. We’re getting acclimated to the chaos,” said Noah during a Saturday SXSW interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, who himself has grappled plenty with the absurdity of the current political climate. (“News has become a parody of itself now,” said Noah. “You can’t control it either, Jake. I can see it on your face when you’re reading news, I know you’re thinking, ‘I must be on Comedy Central!.’”)
The show’s six correspondents – Ronny Chieng, Michael Kosta, Desi Lydic, Dulcé Sloan, Roy Wood Jr., and Jaboukie Young-White – joined Noah onstage to talk about the ideas behind their field pieces and segments that cover everything from women’s pay equality, the Jussie Smollett scandal, and race relations. In her “Racist 911 Calls” segment, Sloan skewers the trend of white people calling the police on unassuming black neighbors for innocuous acts including swimming with socks on or barbecuing. “A white woman called the cops on another woman for humping her dog. You have a hot dog, what’s the problem?,” Dulce laughed with the crowd. “It’s never about what the person is doing, it’s just white people saying, ‘You’re in my space and need to be afraid of me, and so I’m going to check you by calling the cops.’”
And when a segment hits a particular nerve, especially in today’s volatile atmosphere, The Daily Show reporters aren’t immune from real-life pushback for their satirical news. When Sloan ran a piece on the gender pay gap, she received a deluge of online harassment, and Kosta’s piece exploring Sweden’s respectful relationship with guns – in comparison to the U.S.’s alarming rate of mass shootings – generated hate mail and even a podcast seeking to debunk his point. “Kids as young as 13 have AR-15s and learn to shoot after school. Adults were there with six-packs, shitfaced, with assault rifles. And everybody’s cool and no one kills each other,” said Kosta. “That’s the point of the piece – that we can own guns respectfully. I know Texas needs to hear this shit!”
Looking ahead to the 2020 elections, Noah and his team aren’t here to just tell jokes, but hope to actually inform. “We want to recalibrate the story of America,” said an ambitious Noah. “We’ve been inundated with Trump, he’s sucking the life out of the news cycle. While we’ve had this one story line with Trump and whatever action follows, in 2020 we’ve got a new narrative around the Democratic Party. Our journey will be how to accurately inform you with what’s going on, what the candidate stand for or against, what their policies are, and how it will affect your life.”
He adds, “Voters should be informed about not how you eat a corn dog, but how you treat Americans who eat too many corn dogs with healthcare!”
The TDS host takes that “obligation and responsibility” seriously; he has no qualms if a millennial has solely relied on his show before they enter the voting booth, a seeming departure from the ‘it’s just a comedy show’ defense of the Stewart cohort.
Noah can’t help but interject his frustration with cable news (with the caveat Tapper isn’t part of the problem) and it’s over reliance on opinion, not straight facts. He makes it a conscious mission to include more international news on his show. “Growing up in South Africa, we just knew what was happening in the world from the news, I guess I took that for granted,” he said.
In an era where it’s nearly impossible to distinguish political satire from real life, The Daily Show crew certainly have their work cut out for them. “If you’re not laughing at what's happening right now you will go crazy, you will be crying all the time,” said Noah. “We use comedy to cope with it all.”