Taking over The Daily Show from Jon Stewart was never going to be an easy task for anyone, but Trevor Noah has ended up in a true baptism by fire, thanks to the pure chaos of the 2016 presidential election. As nonstop as the election might be, Noah corrected New York Magazine writer-at-large Rembert Browne, who moderated the Q&A, when he described it as “a circus” during their “State of the Union” interview at Vulture Festival on Sunday.
“A circus is planned,” Noah said. “The circus is a well-oiled machine. People in the circus must be offended when they hear these comparisons.”
Even so, Noah has started to find his footing as the host of a new kind of Daily Show, one made for a world of minute-by-minute news cycles and interconnected global perspectives. Over the course of the panel, Noah and Browne discussed the ins and outs of modern media, surprising interviews, and, of course, Donald Trump.
Here are five highlights:
1. On being an “outsider”
One thing that immediately differentiates Noah from his legendary predecessor is their different countries of origin. Unlike Stewart, Noah is an immigrant to America, having originally made his name as a standup comedian in his home country of South Africa. This gives him something more of an “outsider” perspective on American media and politics, but as Noah pointed out, he’s far from alone in that.
“I am a representative of many people that have done the same thing that I have. They’ve gone to another country, namely the U.S., and they’ve started a new life,” Noah explained. “I’m the people that Donald Trump wishes to build a wall for. I am part of the people that may be banned, the visas that may be blocked. A large part of the U.S. is represented by that. You’re an outsider until you’re not. I’ve always believed we’re sharing the same feelings, going through the same things.”
2. How Donald Trump mastered the modern news cycle
American media has changed a lot since Jon Stewart started his tenure on The Daily Show. Back then, a lot of people got their news primarily from cable channels, if not The Daily Show itself. Now, everything’s a live feed or a stream of constant news. According to Noah, this transition has sacrificed quality of processing time for quantity of information, and it is this media environment, Noah thinks, that has allowed Donald Trump to thrive as a presidential candidate.
“He has mastered the art of moving us on to the next news cycle,” Noah said. “He goes, ‘Ted Cruz’s dad assassinated Kennedy,’ and you’re going, ‘What?’ And then he’s like, ‘And I will not release my tax returns.’ Okay, wait, what? Now we’ve forgotten the assassination and are like, ‘What do you mean you won’t release your tax returns?’ He goes, ‘Yeah, talk to John Miller about this.’ Who’s John Miller? Wait, you fake your own interviews? And now you’ve forgotten the tax returns. So we’re on that thing, and then he turns around and goes, ‘Chris Christie, stop eating Oreos.’ Wait, did you just do that? And while he’s doing that he’s like, ‘Yeah, we’ll have a trade war with China, what’s the worst that could happen?’ We haven’t even gotten over the assassination!”
3. Breaking down “Baby Got Back”
As their discussion turned to the speed of the modern, second-by-second news cycle and the way people on the internet always seem mad about something, Noah and Browne touched on Blake Lively’s controversial recent Instagram, which quoted the Sir Mix-a-Lot lyric “L.A. face with an Oakland booty” and prompted cries of cultural appropriation. In his attempt to break down why this controversy was so nonsensical, Noah launched into an in-depth analysis of the original song, “Baby Got Back.”
“Let’s take a step back. I love doing this with these arguments online,” Noah said. “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. Now, does Oakland have beautiful booties? This is subjective, but because it’s a population with more people of color, there is bound to be more booty-ness happening. Now, he’s celebrating the thing — ‘I don’t want none unless you got buns.’ His position is pre-defined. So that song, then, is a positive song celebrating the female form, specifically, women who have larger posteriors. So now you’ve got someone who has tweeted this lyric, who I can only assume at that moment was celebrating her body, and that’s what we’re taught to do in society. You have now taken that away and saying that’s a negative thing. Why are you angry? You’re angry because you read a headline.”
4. How a religious background prepared Noah for The Daily Show
After much discussion of unhealthy trends in modern media, Browne asked Noah if he saw it as his duty to counteract some of these trends. Noah said he did, and that he learned it from growing up in a religious household.
“I grew up in a very religious household, and my mom and I would have huge arguments about religion,” Noah said. “But one of the reasons I was really lucky was my mom was always willing to hear my arguments against religion, which is not always the case with very religious people. She would allow me to challenge her views if I could come with a very logical argument. Then she’d reply with one, and we’d go back and forth. She taught me to apply my mind to a problem, not just say it’s wrong or it’s right.”
5. The best advice Jon Stewart gave him
One of the main themes of the discussion was how much politics and media have changed since the height of Jon Stewart’s tenure on The Daily Show. Noah said he is still trying to figure out the show’s role in this brave new world, spurred by advice Stewart gave him before leaving.
“That’s probably the best advice Jon Stewart gave me,” Noah said. “He said, ‘My show is done. People won’t acknowledge it, but I know my show is done. You know which way I’m gonna go, you know where I’m gonna fall on this, you know how I’m gonna do it. My show is done. I’m angry, and I’m tired, and I’m moving on.’ So I said to him, ‘What is The Daily Show supposed to be?’ And he said, ‘There is no such thing as The Daily Show. 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.'”
When Stewart took over The Daily Show, he felt it needed to be media criticism that fought back against the models of CNN and Fox News. For Noah, though, The Daily Show needs to be something else: a platform for figuring out the logic behind arguments amidst an ever-more-furious news cycle, in an era where more people watch the show on Facebook the morning after than live on Comedy Central.
“People are no longer getting their news from the show,” Noah said. “People are looking to the show, in equal measure, for some catharsis, some interpretation, some deconstruction of what’s happening, some fact-checking and myth-busting. They’re looking to it for comedy, and they’re also looking to it for a shaping of their opinion. That’s what people are saying. ‘Oh, I didn’t think of it like that.’ Or, ‘Now I see it in a different way.’ That’s what the show needs to work towards.”
The Daily Show with Trevor Noah airs weeknights at 11 p.m. ET on Comedy Central.