Trevor Noah admits he was impressed with reality TV villain-turned-White House advisor-turned new resistance hero Omarosa Manigault-Newman. The one-time “Apprentice” star visited “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” on Tuesday, and came prepared to state her case (and sell a few copies of her D.C. tell-all, of course).
“If anything, Omarosa strikes me as a true Donald Trump protégé, and she seems to excel at the game even more than he does,” Noah told IndieWire a day after the interview aired. “She’s really learned from him. She knows how to mobilize the media. She knows how to keep a story bubbling. I mean, in a microcosm she shows you exactly what Donald Trump did to get into the White House.”
It’s hard to know what’s real these days, when the White House is at the forefront of spinning lies and propaganda. But the switch by Manigault-Newman was straight out of reality TV. “I think we’re in a position where, because we don’t know what reality is … I mean, it’s weird speaking to people where essentially all you have to do is flip your position and somehow the entire conversation changes,” Noah said. “It’s a really interesting administration to deal with and interviews and conversations to have, because it’s not usual that you see such dramatic flips as we’re seeing these days.”
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On “The Daily Show,” Manigault-Newman offered advice on how to stop Trump’s damage: Deprive him of attention, which is the thing he craves the most — and why he constantly picks battles and throws out racist dog whistles. But as Noah notes, it’s a bit too late for that.
“Whenever people talk about starving Trump of his oxygen, I think, like a fire, you can only starve a fire of its oxygen when it’s still a fledgling fire,” he said. “Once it becomes a wildfire, you’re trying to put it out, the oxygen option is now lost to you.”
Noah is now prepping for a busy fall, as this November’s campaigns may be part of the most hotly contested midterm elections in history. “What we’re doing with ‘The Daily Show’ now is slowly building up to telling the story of America’s midterm, because it feels like this is a referendum on the President. This is a really interesting point for people to be at, because it feels like this is going to be a giant fork in the road for America that determines what the next two years, and possibly the next six years, are going be like in the country.”
That all leads to a week of shows that Noah will host in Miami Beach the week before the election. Why Florida? “Right now, there are a few states that tell their story the same way that Florida does,” Noah said. “You have a state at the forefront of issues, because of Parkland and the Stand Your Ground laws. You have immigration issues surrounding not just people coming in from across the border, but also, people who come in now from Puerto Rico and how they affect the perception of the vote. You have a state that is really split when it comes to the age range as well. It’s an interesting breakdown of Latino votes and immigrant votes, and age votes. It speaks to all of these ideas, and it’s always that state that can determine an election.
“One of the biggest reasons to go down there was to find a place where we could speak to so many issues that America faces, but Florida does all of those stories in such an extravagant or wild way that it’s a fun Petri dish to test America’s issues in,” he said.
“The Daily Show” is also expanding its muscle as it celebrates its first Emmy nomination for Outstanding Variety Talk under Noah’s leadership. The show won ten times under previous host Jon Stewart, but hadn’t been nominated since Stewart left in 2015.
“Some of have joined us recently, others have been here from the beginning of my tenure, but we’ve all been on this journey of being questioned, people wondering if we could do it, people wondering if we’re going to crash and burn, and people doubting us, criticizing us,” Noah said. “So, for many of us, it is a beautiful moment, And it’s great that every single person in the building gets to celebrate that, because many people had to support me at a time when supporting me seemed like the most ludicrous decision. Because why would you support this random dude who’s taking over from Jon Stewart, you know?”
Now, in perhaps an even bigger sign of “The Daily Show’s” success under Noah, just like under Stewart, some of his key correspondents have been poached to host their own shows — including Michelle Wolf and Hasan Minhaj at Netflix.
“My heart breaks for every single person I lose, because I become friends with them,” he said. “We work on everything together. I mean, my job, I feel, is to help amplify people’s voices on the show, because it gives the show its dynamism. And then people go on and they make shows for themselves. It’s that bittersweet moment of the bird leaving the nest. Funny enough, you want talent on the show who people are trying to poach essentially.”
Once recent disappointment, alas, was “The Opposition with Jordan Klepper,” Comedy Central’s “Daily Show” companion series that Noah also executive produced. The light parody of conspiracy hosts like Alex Jones failed to resonate with audiences, and Noah believes he knows why.
“I think it’s just a matter of the too soon. Comedy is tragedy plus time, and I think we’re in an interesting place right now where time has not passed from the tragedy most people feel we’re experiencing,” he said. “It doesn’t mean the joke’s not funny, it just means that it’s too soon for people to laugh at what you’re saying. And I think in many ways that’s where the show was, is people who would say, ‘Look, I get what you’re doing. I’m not ready to take an arch of view of what’s happening in the world, because it’s just too real. I have a President in the White House who refuses to denounce Nazis and the Klan. So, I struggle to play along with this premise.’ Which I completely understood.”
Another spinoff has done a lot better: “The Daily Show – Between The Scenes,” which won the Emmy last year for Outstanding Short Form Variety Series. The clips are literally recorded on the fly during commercial breaks as Noah engages his audience in various topics.
“‘Between the Scenes’ spawned from my frustration at the lack of conversation and nuance around so many issues in America right now,” Noah said. “And I only have the time that I have on the show. I still understand that many people watch ‘The Daily Show’ to catch up on the news and to have some sort of opinion and jokes attached to that news. But I came to realize that you don’t always have the time to breathe and to really dissect an idea to have a conversation that breaks down how you truly feel about a complicated issue that you wouldn’t be able to do justice in a show that just has to keep moving.
“And so, ‘Between the Scenes’ really is like a full-on appendage of ”The Daily Show’ that gives context to everything else that I’m doing on the show. I try and really pass these ideas out and break them down with real human beings in my audience.”
Noah said he doesn’t script out those segments, or even knows for sure whether he’ll do one on a certain night. “Sometimes it’ll be things that we couldn’t put in the show that day. Sometimes it’ll be ideas that I’ve been ruminating through with my writers, and sometimes it’s just conversations I have with my friends or I see people having. It’s an intimate moment that we like to share with the audience.”
As for what’s next, Klepper is moving on to a new show for Comedy Central and Noah will start to think about a new companion series. (Although expanding “Daily Show” to an hour has been discussed, he’s not keen on the idea — arguing it’s better to leave viewers wanting more vs. wanting less.)
“There are more late night-style shows than there have ever been now,” Noah said. “So, you don’t want to be in a space where you’re just creating more of the same. In creating something, we’re just trying to think of, what is a companion and what would really give people something that they would want that’s not going to be provided to them?”
Asked what he’s been most proud of this year, Noah points to the “gradual growth of ‘The Daily Show.'”
“It’s a very frustrating journey to be on,” he said. “I always want to improve the way we write jokes, what topics we write jokes on, how we tackle subjects, how we present ideas on the show. And that’s what I’m most proud of, is the fact that we’ve successfully moved an idea forward over time, staying true to the legacy of Jon Stewart, but then creating a new legacy that I think accurately represents who I am and who the new staff is as well. I’m proud that we’re here, we’re Emmy nominated, and ‘The Daily Show With Trevor Noah’ is still going strong.”