"Daily Show" guest host talks truth in comedy and what she considers a gift from "the Fox News gods"

Desi Lydic guest hosts The Daily Show Matt Wilson/Comedy Central
Desi Lydic guest hosts The Daily Show Matt Wilson/Comedy Central
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Desi Lydic is perfectly happy to answer to the job description of "fake journalist." In her eight years as a correspondent on "The Daily Show," Lydic has garnered praise for her irresistibly unhinged "Foxsplains" segments, as well as her ability to talk to subjects ranging from Swifities to Florida men. Now with the show back from a lengthy hiatus after the writers strike, Lydic is back to work — including another short-term stint in the host's chair on Nov. 22. "Getting to do it again is just icing on the cake," she told me during a recent "Salon Talks" visit, adding that  "They're going to have to drag me out of there."

Lydic revealed the "well-oiled" process for getting "The Daily Show" on the air, and its commitment to be the realest fake news out there. "It feels quite cathartic to be able to work through some of these awful issues that we're facing together and find some sort of humor in all of it," she said, "and also really try to tell the truth."

During our chat, she also shared her memories of being part of an historic Disney Channel moment, her upcoming movie with Emma Roberts and why she loves playing the nemesis.

You can watch my full "Salon Talks" interview with Lydic here, or read the transcript of our conversation below.

This conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

It's great to see you. Welcome back to “The Daily Show” in general. What did you do with those five months?

I want to call it a hiatus, but we were also fighting for our rights as writers and performers for that whole period of time. It was strange to have that much time off. I've been with the show now for eight years, so I've never had that kind of time away. I have to say, there were moments when I enjoyed not being on top of the news all the time. Mentally, it was nice to have a bit of a break.

There's no such thing as a slow news day anymore, but this was an eventful period in American history that you were not on the air for. Were there moments during those months where you thought, "Oh man, I would really love to talk about this story"?

There were of course the indictments, all of the indictment news. You think, "Now would be a great time to be on air and be able to unpack this and talk about the ridiculousness of all of this."

But for me, the story that I most desperately wanted to be on air for was when a flight passenger had a horrible number two incident all over the airplane. I believe they described it as being “all throughout the airplane.” I just went like, "Come on. Of all days. This would be such a great day to . . .” What an easy story. We know our audience, OK?

So that. Not indictments.

Not indictments. Not women's reproductive rights, no. It was the day that the gentleman had an epic accident on a Delta flight that I thought, "The people need to know this."

How does one even have an accident all over?

This is why I wanted to be able to really do a deep dive in that, because I have so many unanswered questions. I don't know, did he try to make a move and couldn't make it all the way there? Or was it on the way back from the bathroom? I don't know. I'm glad I wasn't on that flight.

You have been sitting in the anchor desk for some really interesting moments. You were in that chair for Tucker Carlson that day.

That was a gift from the political gods, or the Fox News gods, however you want to look at it. Especially after being able to do the Foxsplains segment for so long. That's a very specific way of dissecting the rhetoric and the narratives that come out of Fox News, to embody that sort of energy, but then to be able to sit on the other side of it more like myself and call it out. You have good news days and bad news days, and that was a damn good news day.

Now you're going to be in that chair again. Does it feel different post-strike? Is there a different mentality or sensibility to the show? And now it's been such a long time since Trevor Noah sat in that chair. The show is creating a new identity for itself. How does it feel?

After Trevor left and there was an opportunity for some of us to get to sit in and try it on for size, I of course raised my hand and went, "Put me in, coach." Those opportunities don't always come along, sometimes never, and certainly rarely. So I of course wanted to jump in and just give it a try and see what it was like if they would ever let me.

It's a scary thing to say because I'd never done it before. I didn't know, could I do that? How would that go? Would I enjoy it? I knew that walking into that, I would have all the support in the world from the team. We have the most incredible team of writers and producers and colleagues that I've worked with for eight years. It's a machine, and they are very, very good at what they do. They set us all up for success, but I didn't really know exactly how it would feel to sit there and do it, and it was just so much fun.

I loved every step of the process. I loved the morning meeting and sitting in a room with some of the funniest people in this business and the smartest people in this industry, and cracking jokes, and then the rehearsal process and the rewrite. It all moves so quickly. They're a well-oiled machine there. But every step of the process was just so much fun. This time, getting to do it again is just icing on the cake.

We know there aren't going to be any announcements until the new year, but when you sit down in that chair, is it going to be hard to get up and leave it to somebody else?

I will stay there until they name a host, and then they're going to have to drag me out of there. They will have to just dig in and drag me out.

That's what I was wondering, if it's going to be a "Hands on a Hard Body" situation, like whoever sits in the chair the longest gets to be the host.

That's one way. I think that's a great tactic. I would very seriously consider that. I've already moved in a futon under the desk, so I'm just sleeping there, secretly, every day. Totally drag me out.

It's an election year, and all of these other not-so-funny things are happening in the world right now. You're going to be back out there reporting on these issues. You've talked about some of the confrontations you've experienced. What are you thinking as you go back out there as a performer, but also as a woman, as a vulnerable person walking around in a human body? 

It is a scary time. There's a lot happening all over the world. There's a lot happening in this country. Everything feels so polarized and contentious, and we're also in a world where we're not necessarily dealing with facts, we're dealing with feelings. It is frightening to be thrown into all of that and to be covering it.

I also think anytime that we can digest some of these things with humor and with empathy, that's an important part of the recipe of being able to work through all of this. That's something that our show does really, really well. We aren't just a straight-up news show, we're a comedy show. Our first intent is to entertain and make people laugh, and I personally find that really cathartic. “The Daily Show” has been my therapy for the last eight years, and I also have therapy separately and very much believe in it.

It feels quite cathartic to be able to work through some of these awful issues that we're facing together and find some sort of humor in all of it, and also really try to tell the truth. We are a comedy show, but we try to tell the truth. We try to get it right. We make sure that things are factual. We have incredible professionals whose entire job it is to make sure that we are fact-checking what we're reporting.

I remember first starting at the show, one of the first field pieces I did. When you're a correspondent, you get invited into the edit and you can sit in and watch the pieces get put together. There was one edit that we made for comedy's sake where we let someone's response happen just like a half a second later. We built a slight comedic beat in it, in the first cut of it. I remember the department head came in and he was watching a cut of it, and he goes, "No, no, no, no. That's not the way that that happened. Take that out. That's not what we do." We're a comedy show, but we do try to play by the rules and be truthful.

You did something called “Abroad,” which I loved. I just got back from Iceland. You explored what it is like to be a woman and what gender equity looks like in other places in the world, including Iceland, which once again, is number one for gender equity in the world. What did you learn that other countries do right, that we just don't seem to be able to do in this country? And I want to know, do you think we want it in this country?

Oh, that's a great question. Do we want it in this country? How much time do we have? How long is this segment?

Just throwing you softballs all day long. 

I think a large part of this country doesn't want it, and that is part of the problem. There are a lot of things that we're not quite getting right, but for there to be the support that women need to have, first of all, their reproductive rights, to have a meaningful amount of parental leave.

One thing that we explored in Iceland was that they don't call it maternity leave. It is parental leave, because in a heterosexual relationship, both the man and the woman are taking time off to care for the kids. I think you can advocate for women in leadership positions in government and in the C-suite and all of that, but if men are not also taking part in the care-taking duties, and if women are taking all of that on and shouldering that burden, you're never going to find equity in the workplace. So that was one thing that Iceland is incredibly supportive in.

I think we need a lot more women in leadership positions, in the government, so that these issues, these policies, can be taken on, and that we can be supported. Nothing's going to change until we have more representation.

You have been doing “The Daily Show” for so long. You're so great at being a correspondent, and you clearly have this investment in telling the truth as a semi-journalist.

Fake journalist.

But you're also still an actor. To my family, you are a ground-breaker because you were in the penultimate episode of “Good Luck Charlie,” you were part of the first LGBTQ couple on the Disney Channel. Did you know at the time that it was going to be as big a deal as it was?

I didn't. That was such a special job for me, and it came up kind of at the last minute, and I saw what it was, and I knew at the time that that was the first time that that kind of representation was on Disney. Of course I wanted to be part of that. I did not know that it would take off as much as it did, but knowing that that was so meaningful for so many people is incredible. It was such a gift to be part of that episode.

And you’re still acting. Tell me just a little bit about what “Space Cadet” is.

It's kind of like "Private Benjamin," but at NASA. Emma Roberts plays this character who always dreamed about becoming an astronaut and has made different life choices. She's kind of lost her way in Florida. She's a Florida party girl and decides, "Enough is enough. I want to pursue my dream." So she applies to get into the AsCan program at NASA by lying on her application, and she gets in and then has to keep up the charade. My character is her nemesis once she gets into the training program. So I got to be naughty, real bad.

What's more fun than being a nemesis?

I mean, I know.

Lydic guest hosts "The Daily Show" on Wednesday, Nov. 22 at 11 p.m. ET on Comedy Central.