SXSW: Trevor Noah Talks Making "Edgier" 'Daily Show' in Trump Era

"We're not afraid to make jokes that sometimes piss people off," said the Comedy Central host at the festival.
Brad Barket/Comedy Central
Trevor Noah

Making The Daily Show in the Donald Trump era is no easy task.

Hot off a plane from South Africa, Trevor Noah opened up about the challenges of hosting the long-running Comedy Central series amid political chaos during a SXSW panel moderated by CNN's Jake Tapper on Saturday.

"What we’ve come to realize is there is no news cycle, there is no schedule, there is no plan," said Noah. "When I had just taken over from Jon [Stewart], the news cycle had a cadence to it. There was a rhythm, so you knew that at a certain time there would be no news so you could create a show. Now, there is a 5:30 p.m. curse, we call it. At 5:30 p.m. somebody is getting indicted, some tweet is coming out, somebody is getting into some scandal, something is going to happen."

Tapper interjected that in the news business, they don’t think of it as a "curse," to which Noah explained that it's particularly difficult for his team because unlike news anchors who just get to tell it like it is, they have to come up with jokes about it. But Noah noted that he and his correspondents, who were also on hand for the panel, have learned to embrace the insanity. "We create the show for the day and we know full well that there’s a good chance at 5 p.m. we’ll have to throw out most of the show and then create something new," he said. "And we’ve gotten good at it."

Gearing up for the 2020 election, Noah is eager for the next chapter in American politics, where the conversation will likely to go beyond Trump. "It is an interesting time in America's history where America will have to decide who it is," he said. "What's going to be interesting for me in 2020 is this new narrative and this new discussion around the democratic party — because for a long time it's just been one storyline: Donald Trump. But now it's going to be: Who are the democrats? What do they stand for? What are their plans?"

Four years into the hosting gig, Noah has had some time to think about what kind of show he really wants to make, especially with the upcoming election to cover. "That's going to be our journey on The Daily Show — figuring out how to inform you on what's actually going on. One of the biggest things that frustrates me in America is that when I watch cable news," he said, pausing to add "no offense" to Tapper, "is that I don't know what's going on." He explained that in South Africa, there's not as much opinion news, so when he came to the States, he was confused by the amount of commentating.

"But what are the facts?" he asked, noting that he wants to know what the candidates plans are and learn specifics. "It shouldn't be about how you eat a corndog; it should be about how to treat Americans who eat too many corndogs with health care." He plans to give viewers the information he himself is seeking. "That's what our journey is going to be now, is accurately giving you the story of what is going on. If you watch The Daily Show, I would like you to be able to go to your voting station knowing what your candidate stands for or against. That's the one I'd like to do is just focus on policy. I think a lot of the time I think it's easy to get caught up in the things that offend people and not the things that affect people." 

Noah plans to cover the 2020 campaign trail aggressively. "We're going to be at the conventions, we're going to be tracking the primaries. We're going to go where ever there's access," he said, noting that Republicans often don't let them in. "But I've enjoyed creating a show over the years that is a little edgier. We're not afraid to make jokes that sometimes piss people off, we're not afraid to say things that rattle the cage a little bit. Because that's what we feel needs to be done. I'm not trying to create a straight-up news show. I watch The Daily Show because it's going to tell you what is happening but also because it's going to help you laugh, because if you're not laughing at what's going on right now, you will go crazy."