When Trevor Noah isn’t hosting Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” he often travels to parts of the country less associated with the production of a late-night television program. Those journeys, he says, often have a big effect on the production of his show.
Like Bill Maher and Jay Leno before him, Noah uses his off time to deliver stand-up to different audiences around the United States – and believes the effort helps build an audience of viewers for “Daily” who might not otherwise think to watch it. “I’m getting into people’s lives so they can come in to ‘The Daily Show’ fold. I just go out to places,” he says in a recent interview. The trips can shape the behind-the-scenes conversations at “Daily.” Staffers might want to make a joke about people in Ohio, Noah says, and his encounters there might prompt something more nuanced. “Hold on, I’ve been to Ohio. I know people in Ohio. I don’t have a homogenized view of Texas, “he says. “You start to see people as more than just a monolithic being.”
Noah’s work on behalf of the program spotlights the growing challenge faced by any of TV’s growing number of comedy hosts. Johnny Carson never had to work so hard to promote NBC’s “Tonight” when he hosted it because he faced so little competition (until Arsenio Hall came around). In 2018, however, Comedy Central’s landmark “Daily Show” must vie for fans with the typical broadcast rivals as well as a growing number of comedy options on Netflix and Hulu. What’s more, today’s fans may watch all of their late-night antics at other times of the day, thanks to the availability of passed-along clips in places like Twitter and YouTube.
Like other shows of its kind, “Daily” can’t ignore the ongoing dialogue around President Trump, Noah says, but he’s mindful of other topics for discussion.
“Trump is in many ways the storm that is afflicting America, and so when a storm is upon you, you report on the effects of the storm,” he says. “But I’ve come to the reality that there are other things happening simultaneously. So what we try to do is create a balance between updating people on the actions of the President, which he is whether people want to accept it or not, and also cover stories that we feel are entertaining and informative at the same time. One recent segment had correspondent Desi Lydic exploring how to sneak over the U.S. border into Canada.
The show’s producers are keeping an eye on other trends as well, Noah notes. “I think Democrats are in a good and bad position in America. They are reacting to Trump and that reaction goes well until people have to choose between them and Trump. We want to know what their plan is beyond opposition,” Noah explains. “What is their plan beyond opposition? That’s an area where you are waiting to see another storyline develop.”
Not everything about the program seems so weighty. Regular viewers will know that Noah has developed quite a repertoire of character voices that he trots out at multiple times during the show. The host does President Trump, sure, but also a Valley Girl and a Nigerian Prince. Viewers must hear at least five different characters during any single broadcast.
Noah says the voices just kind of come to him. He isn’t working on impressions for hours behind the scenes. “I guess we all have different tools as performers and for myself, mimicry has always been a tool that I’ve enjoyed employing,” he explains. “They are characters in a story and over time, you get to know them.”
He expects “Daily Show” to ramp up as the 2018 midterm elections approach. “When the stakes are raised, that’s when the show has a little bit more opportunity – and, I guess, a responsibility. I know a lot of people are waiting this show and are using it as some sort of primary news source,” he says. “That’s the space we want to go into more and more now.”