Besides, Noah said his strategy isn’t to promote outrage. There are plenty of other hosts in the space, including several “The Daily Show” alumni, who have cornered that market.
“I’m not selling you anger,” he said. “I am selling you a relationship and a connection. I am selling you a home and a little space that we can share together to process what is happening in our lives. I even say some days on the show, ‘I’m not going to be outraged about this.’ Kellyanne Conway having her feet on the couch [in the Oval Office] … we can have fun with that, but don’t waste your anger on that. Don’t let that be the thing, because you’re going to get tired.”
Now, Noah said his anger is often replaced “by an incredulousness.”
“There are moments where it’s genuine disbelief,” he said. “I know, for all intents and purposes, hypocrisy is dead. Hypocrisy is not the tool it once was. Shame is not something you can use to smother the flame of a hypocrite anymore.”
That has actually made it more of a challenge for the late night comedy shows to satirize the Trump administration. Noah said he finds inspiration from growing up in South Africa with his mother, who used comedy to get through dark times. “In South Africa, we love laughing,” he said. “We had nothing to laugh about for a very long time.”
Alterman said he still remembers one of Noah’s earliest “Daily Show” gags in which the host compared Trump to African dictators, illustrating the unique international perspective that Noah brings to the table.
“Trevor has an understanding of Trump and presidential politics because of his background that makes him a very astute observer,” Alterman said. “He gives his own historical perspective that, I think, gives him an incredible advantage to engage with what’s going on and to comment on it.”
If there was a moment that Noah felt that his “Daily Show” was gelling, it was last summer, as the show went live to cover the Democratic and Republican conventions.
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“That was the first time when we were all out of the building and in a new space together,” Noah said. “Then I had the opportunity to put more of my stamp on the show because the building almost has its memories in the wall, its processes between the doors. Getting out of the studio forced [the staff] to really realize that we were a new show. That’s when I pushed the envelope to try newer things. What’s nice is we came back with a lot of that feeling.”
Not only has Noah grown in the role, but events like the convention episodes have also given more airtime to his stable of correspondents, including Roy Wood, Jr., Jordan Klepper, Desi Lydic, Ronny Chieng, and Hasan Minhaj.
Alterman said he noticed a difference as well. “It felt like Trevor was coming into his own in different ways, both creatively but also having more command of the machine and the process and getting more comfortable with it,” he said. “All of a sudden, consumption of digital content started getting more traction and being passed around more. People were starting to notice Trevor. That set him and the show to really head into the election cycle with some real momentum.”
Post-election, Noah said he also felt a new purpose because of his staff. One writer, for example, told him that, as a woman, she had never felt so vulnerable in America.
“I saw the immediate effects of people fearing the worst, and that struck a chord with me,” he said.
It also gave the team a new focus. “I think there were a lot of people at the show who maybe thought that their journey with the show was over, who thought that once Hillary won they would golf and start different shows,” Noah said. “But Donald Trump definitely changed how people saw the world. Some people see ‘The Daily Show’ as an opportunity to engage in a conversation and continue expressing ideas.”
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That’s not to say that “The Daily Show” can’t try to have some fun with the Trump administration. The show recently announced “The Daily Show Presents: The Donald J. Trump Presidential Twitter Library,” an actual physical pop-up library that will open for a limited time in New York City this June to showcase Trump’s Twitter feed.
Noah warns that he doesn’t want “The Daily Show” to get bogged down by only focusing on Trump, but the new president can be used as a conduit into other subjects. “I’ll use Trump to talk about Sweden because he opens the door. I’ll use Trump to talk about historically black colleges because he opens the door. Every door I see open I will take, and I think it opens up a world where we can talk about everything that isn’t Trump itself.
“It’s all about bringing in new voices,” he said. “Getting into spaces that cover what people really care about, using this opportunity and people’s interest to spotlight and highlight issues that maybe for a long time people didn’t care about. The face behind immigration, the truth behind racism, the issues facing unemployment and education. These are things that maybe some people were a little complacent about and now, with a new face heading the administration, people take everything a little more seriously.”
Notes Noah: “It’s a strange silver lining.”