Donald Trump can’t help but win for losing. That was the sentiment expressed by “The Daily Show” host Trevor Noah on Thursday night as he and others from the Comedy Central series gathered at PaleyFest: Made in NY for a yakfest about his first year at the helm of the show.
Noah likened the Republican president nominee’s post-election plan to that of a breakout personality from a reality-competition TV show who doesn’t win the big prize but still capitalizes on their newfound notoriety. Noah asserted that he believes Trump from the start has had a different goal than actually moving into the White House.
“Sometimes not winning is the thing that makes you win,” Noah said. “We’re going to spend the next four years watching Trump TV.”
Noah didn’t mince words about his view of Trump’s impact on the level of discourse and decorum: “He’s bringing us all down with him. We’re all living in his world in his world now, as much as we try not to.”
“Daily Show” exec producer Steve Bodow noted the tremendous influence that the wildly unpredictable presidential race has had on all of late-night TV, and certainly on the “Daily Show” since Noah took over from Jon Stewart in September 2015. The 24/7 deluge of stories about Trump and his Democratic challenger, Hillary Clinton, has been so overwhelming that Noah and his team haven’t yet had the chance to truly put their stamp on the show. (To prove that point, discussion of Trump and the election dominated the hourlong Paleyfest Q&A moderated by Atlantic senior editor Alex Wagner.)
“This show won’t become what it’s going to be until this election is dead and gone,” Bodow said. When the nation returns to “a more normal news cycle,” Bodow said, “then we’re back in a world of picking what is interesting to us.”
Noah, a native of South Africa, acknowledged that his relative inexperience in observing American politics has been a challenge at times — making him dependent on the knowledge of exec producers Bodow, Jen Flanz and Adam Lowitt — but it also offers him “an edge” in bringing perspective to the race. For one, he instinctively understood why Trump’s bombastic approach would appeal to certain voters. Trump, Noah said, has the kind of magnetism often seen in African dictators.
“He possesses the charisma of a car crash,” Noah said. “You don’t like it but you can’t stop looking at it. Most dictators have that trait. They have answers and they are absolute.”
In covering the campaign, “Daily Show” has tried to be an equal-opportunity satirist. But there are times when the facts simply stack up against a candidate, and in those instances they don’t pull punches, whether it be claims from Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders.
“We’re not going to chase a false equivalency,” Noah said. “We’re not going to hide from saying this is a racist, misogynistic person.” Citing the inability to find a balance for Trump’s explosive comments about women on the 2005 hot-mic recording released last week, Noah quipped: “What is the other side of that — p—–s need to be grabbed?”
In settling into his role on “Daily Show,” Noah said he was surprised by the depth of the show’s importance in American culture. “We get fact-checked more than the real news,” he said. Growing up in South Africa, “Daily Show” aired on the same channel as CNN. “I always thought [Stewart] was a guy on the news who didn’t take his job seriously,” Noah joked.
Among other highlights from the session:
- Correspondent Hasan Minhaj talked about his decision to don “white face” to cover the Republican National Convention in Cleveland because of Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric. “I don’t feel guilty wearing that at all,” he said. “Sorry, white people.”
- Correspondent Desi Lydic joked that she started “wearing pant suits” to reflect the sartorial state of play for women in the campaign. On a serious note, she expressed frustration that the focus on the role of women amid Clinton’s historic campaign is on violence and victimhood, rather than achievements. “We should be celebrating what should be such a moment for men and women. Women can’t seem to win,” she said.
- Correspondent Jordan Klepper has attended five Trump rallies during the campaign. He noted that the attitudes of attendees have grown more extreme and anti-media as the campaign winds down. At first, participants were wary of making claims such as calling President Obama a “secret Muslim” but now such talk has become “normalized,” he said. “It’s gotten scary and it’s gotten sad,” Klepper added, citing the “homophobia and slurs thrown out me.”
- Correspondent Ronny Chieng said he felt great support from his colleagues earlier this month when he did a field segment in response to the widely criticized segment of Fox News’ “The O’Reilly Factor” involving interviews with people on the street in New York’s Chinatown district. “Everyone was so angry on my behalf I didn’t have the chance to be angry,” Chieng said.
- Showrunners Bodow, Flanz and Lowitt talked about how much the tempo of their work has changed in the social media-fueled 24/7 news environment. “Daily Show” has no choice but to go live after each presidential debate. “That bone will be picked dry if we wait another night to do that show,” Lowitt said. Flanz observed that the rapid-fire pace of news means that many planned segments never make it to air because they’re bumped or negated by breaking news. However, those pieces usually wind up online, or what Flanz called “the Internet cutting-room floor.”
(Pictured: Jordan Klepper, Hasan Minhaj, Desi Lydic, Ronny Chieng and Trevor Noah)