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“As a comedian I’m always looking to break the logic down,” Daily Show host Trevor Noah said not long into his Vulture Festival conversation with New York Magazine writer-at-large Rembert Browne.
And indeed that logic-based deconstruction of the news is what Noah sees as one of the hallmarks of his version of The Daily Show.
“More and more I realize that’s my purpose. That’s what I’m passionate about,” he said. “There is always the truth, and then there is your truth. … That’s what I’m trying to create on The Daily Show With Trevor Noah: A show where you can come in and go ‘I don’t care which side of this you’re on, let’s try to find the truth.'”
During his hourlong chat with Browne, Noah demonstrated that approach by parsing out the “fake outrage” around Blake Lively’s “Baby Got Back”-inspired Instagram post, explained how U.S. political campaigns are like the WWE, detailed his media diet and revealed how Jon Stewart gave him permission to make The Daily Show his own.
Noah and Browne agreed that the mini scandal that erupted over Lively captioning a picture with a Sir Mix-A-Lot lyric was a perfect example of people making snap judgments online.
“That to me was a classic case of people jumping on a bandwagon of fake outrage and not using the opportunity to look beyond what was said to you in the headline,” Noah said. “People lost their minds. People were like, ‘Oh this is another case of a white person appropriating black culture and using people of color as a punchline.’ Let’s take a step back for a second. Yes there’s appropriation. You can say that many times black people have been seen as a punchline in jokes. I understand these things. In fact, it goes both ways racially. Let’s not forget, this was a pre-existing lyric … In essence what you are saying is that Blake Lively has offended people because she has posted a lyric from a song that is honoring or celebrating the Oakland booty.”
He then proceeded to unpack Lively’s “L.A. face with an Oakland booty” post.
“Does L.A. have beautiful faces? Yes it does. Why, because it’s generally an acting population, people are going out there to make their big break. It is seen as a beautiful-face population,” Noah explained. “Does Oakland have beautiful booties? This is subjective. Because there is a high population of people of color, there’s bound to be more booty-ness happening in that place. [Sir Mix-A-Lot’s] celebrating the thing. His position is pre-defined. He’s discriminating against those who don’t have booties. That song is celebrating the female form, especially people who have larger posteriors. Now you have someone who’s [posted] that lyric [on Instagram] who I can only assume was celebrating her body, which is what we’re supposed to do in society.”
Noah said that the abundance of news online has created an environment where there’s so much information, people don’t have time to think about each development and what it means, something he pointed out Donald Trump had mastered, quickly switching from one outrageous sound bite to another so fast that people quickly forget about what he’s said before. Beyond that, Noah said, the U.S. presidential candidates don’t even mean the fierce insults they’ve lobbed at one another over the course of the campaign.
“I was like a kid that discovered WWE wasn’t real when I went to New Hampshire and I found out candidates from both sides were hanging out with each other after a debate,” he said. “That really threw me, because I had gone in like ‘Oh this is genuine. This is exactly how they are.’ And maybe because in South Africa that’s how it is. When a politician says to another on a stage, ‘You are a liar and a scumbag,’ that’s not how you build friendships. That’s the end of the discussion. You will not see them hanging out having a drink. But in America, I honestly do not understand it. It’s WWE to a certain extent.”
He went on, “That’s where you see that they’re playing a game with the people. It’s entertainment wrapped in a pastry of politics, but the people out there don’t know that it’s as much entertainment as it is. They don’t know how civil these people are with each other, and I think that’s really damaging. Because the people out there are fighting the fight. They’re going out there and choke-slamming each other.”
Noah called his daily media diet “excessive,” saying that he was just trying to consume as much information as possible to understand what the major story of the day is.
“I wake up every day and I’m watching the morning shows — CBS This Morning, Good Morning America, Today — watching as much of it as I can, and then I’m on my phone and I’m looking at The Guardian and then I’m on CNN and I’m seeing what’s happening on the New York Times — even alternative news sources like theSkimm, just seeing what everyone is looking at in their world,” he said. “What I’m always trying to figure out is all of the points of data that intersect like, ‘This really is the biggest story or this is the biggest conversation starter today.’ As opposed to, ‘This is big in that world, this is big in this world,’ so I’m consuming all of that.”
Noah explained that the Daily Show staff is trying to absorb as much news as possible, including a second team that watches “hours of content.”
While much of the Daily Show staff from Stewart’s time as host remains, Stewart himself told Noah that he would have to create his own version of the show.
The new host said Stewart told him, “My show is done. People won’t acknowledge it. People won’t believe it but I know my show is done. You know which way I’m going to go. You know which way I’m going to fall on things … I’m angry and I’m tired; I’m moving on.”
When Noah asked Stewart what The Daily Show is supposed to be then, Stewart told him the show is shaped by the host.
“You are the person that gives it life. You are the person that guides it. You need to make the show what you believe the show needs to be,” Noah said Stewart told him. “When I started the show I felt it needed to be media criticism. I felt that the show needed to be a light guiding us through a very dark tunnel at the time.”
And while during Stewart’s tenure people were getting their information from cable news networks and, according to studies, The Daily Show itself, now there’s so much information already out there online that people aren’t getting their news from the show.
“People are looking to the show in an equal measure for some sort of catharsis, some deconstruction of what’s happening, some comedy and for a sharing of an opinion or a shaping of their opinion,” Noah said of his iteration of the show.
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