Comedian and The Daily Show host Trevor Noah weighs in on Trump, the Democratic debates and his favorite kind of pie
Writer and comedian Trevor Noah has been the host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show since 2015. In 2016, he published the bestselling book Born a Crime, about his childhood experiences growing up in South Africa. He has several standup specials, the most recent of which, Son of Patricia, is available on Netflix. He’ll perform at the Lake Tahoe Outdoor Arena on July 5.
What did you think of the Democratic debates?
It was purely what I think American voters need to be hearing about. Because it helps people figure out who they want to support and why they want to support them, so for me, I thought it was really good. There was some conflict. There was some tension, which is never a bad thing as long as people keep it within the scope of politics.
Who stood out to you?
On the first night, I think Elizabeth Warren did well. I mean, she just has her policies laid out. She knows what she wants to do. [Julián] Castro had a good showing. I still don’t think he’d win, but he had a good showing. I think on the second night, we really saw the powerhouses come out. Bernie [Sanders] was strong as always. [Pete] Buttigieg is fantastic at navigating difficult issues. And then, by far, the biggest breakout of all the debates was Kamala Harris. I think what connected with so many people is that it wasn’t contrived. She really had a moment of authenticity, where she just spoke from the heart and who she was as a person. It’s something that’s rare to see from politicians because a lot of the time they’re so focus-grouped and so practiced that we don’t get to see who they really are and their feelings. So that was a moment, I think, that struck a chord with everybody. I think Joe Biden didn’t come off that great, because, you know, he was very defensive. It seemed like it was a moment where he could have taken just a little bit of a breather and gone with a more humble angle in responding to Kamala who was saying, these polices affected my life, and I come from the world that you were writing laws about. So, we’ll see where it goes from here. But that was the first round of the debates—with 20 people.
It was a lot of people. They had to break it up into two nights, and even then it was difficult to keep track of everyone who was on stage.
Right. But at the same time, I think it’s good for the Democrats, because, unfortunately, America is really addicted to entertainment. And one thing that the Republican debates [in 2016] gave people was entertainment value, and when there’s entertainment, people tune in. And when people tune in, they’re more aware of what’s happening. So, in a weird way, having the 20 [candidates] and having the two nights is actually better, because now you have two nights to talk about policies, two nights to focus on Democrats and their ideas.
I watched the debates on Hulu, and on the Hulu page, it said, like, “season one, episode one” like it was a TV show. It is treated as entertainment. I think you’re in a position where you’re straddling that line, too. You’re commenting on current events on The Daily Show. It’s a comedy show, but so many people find out their news through you. Do you feel pressure to inform people?
No. I only feel pressure to put on a good show. For me, I only want to talk about those things. I don’t spend time with my friends or in my personal life talking much about nothingness. I’m not a big tabloid person. I’m not someone who spends my time talking about random stuff. I like to talk politics. I like to talk issues. I like to talk about what’s happening in the world. If anything, The Daily Show is an extension of the world that I exist in. So, the only pressure I have is to put on a good show. How do I engage with an audience? How do I keep people entertained? How do I make people laugh? And how do I try to spark the same thoughts and moments that I think trigger all good conversation? And that’s all I’m trying to do on the show. … Everything that you do is a product of who you are. And who you are is going to shape what you believe in, and the two intertwine, and they affect each other, I think, equally in different ways. So, for me, I take whatever I need to take into either space, and then I go from there. But everything I do is an extension of who I am. I’m not trying to create a different persona on The Daily Show. I’m presenting a show, so there’s a certain energy and a vibe that I’ll have because I’m working within the limits of the time that I’ve been given and the medium. But when I’m on stage, it’s the same thing. I am who I am, and I perform accordingly. And I always try to make sure that the people who have taken their time or spent their money to come and support me, I give them the best show possible.
So, my kids are fans. I told them I was going to talk to you, so they gave me two questions to ask you. These are from my kids who are 12.
The first question is, “What’s your favorite kind of pie?”
My favorite kind of pie—hands down, apple pie. In fact, when I first moved to America, I gained too much weight because in South Africa, it’s not common that you just find apple pie. So my rule—my cheat thing in life was, if there’s an apple pie on the menu, I always order it. So, in South Africa that meant, like, one in every 20 times that I would eat out there would be apple pie. In America, I quickly learned it meant that at every single meal, I could consume apple pie. So I had to cut down. But that’s still easily my favorite pie.
The second question that the kids asked me to ask you—they’re of the generation where they watch a lot of stuff on YouTube. And I think they think you’re a YouTuber. They see your show in segments. So, my stepdaughter said, “He’s got a lot of really funny videos about Trump, so ask him his personal opinion of Trump.”
That’s interesting. My personal opinion of Trump? I think Donald Trump is a simple yet complicated person. He’s a very smart entertainer who knows how to engage in the right triggers to get people to feel a certain way. I don’t think he’s a very good policymaker. I also think he’s someone who is very good at exploiting people’s hatred toward each other. And he knows how to mobilize that. All politicians have a different tool that they use, and, in many ways, the reason Obama won is that he figured out how to stimulate everybody’s hope and optimism. Donald Trump is very good at stoking people’s fear and divisiveness. So, that’s who he is as a person. And he believes in his cause. He genuinely believes in what he is doing and who he is doing it for. I don’t think he’s a very honest individual. He lies way more than most people I’ve ever come across in politics. But one thing he’s really good at doing is connecting with the emotions of the people who he’s supporting and representing. And I think that’s one thing that many politicians can learn from him—how to hone in on what people are feeling. … The weird thing about Donald Trump is, he’s the most dishonest authentic person you’ll ever meet. … I will always laugh at absurd politicians or people in power—even if those people are doing things that are negatively affecting the world that we live in. It doesn’t discount what’s happening, but for me it’s how I process what’s happening. Because without that laughter, what? I’m just going to exist in a space of panic the entire time? That’s not who I am as a human being. I believe in action. I believe in engagement. And most importantly, I believe in not losing yourself in whatever fight you’re engaged in or whatever cause you’re engaged in. Still, be who you are and maintain the same passion. That’s what I try and do every single day. So, when I process that information, I go, “Hey, man, Donald Trump is going to say a funny thing.” Those funny things that he says that don’t affect anybody, I can laugh at those things or those moments. I also think that sometimes making a person too serious gives them a certain level of gravitas that they don’t deserve. And I think it’s good to point out the moments of complete buffoonery that we see from our leaders. Otherwise, we very quickly slip into a place that many countries are in where everyone looks up to the leader like this complete supreme being, and I don’t think that’s healthy for any democracy. For me, any leader should be open to shots, and the person can take jokes. You can say, “Hey, this is what’s funny about this person, and these are the jokes that we can make about the person.” Because if we can’t do that, then you’re not living in a free society. … With The Daily Show, I love how informed I get to be. I get to be in a job where I every day I’m learning. I’m learning about American policy, I’m learning about what’s happening around the world. I’m learning about issues. I’m learning about people. I’m eternally grateful, because those are things that I may not have been forced to engage in at the level that I am while hosting the show. If anything, I see everything as an opportunity to enjoy myself, and that’s what gives me energy every day.
That’s awesome. Thanks for the time.
Thank you so much. And say what’s up to the kids for me. I appreciate the questions.