Trevor Noah Told Us Why We Have To Rely On Comedians For News These Days

by John Haltiwanger
Comedy Central

Trevor Noah had big shoes to fill replacing Jon Stewart as host of "The Daily Show." But he's done a fantastic job thus far.

Born and raised in South Africa, Noah brings a fresh and worldly perspective to the show's satirical take on American politics and news.

As we get further into 2016, it's clear this is going to be a big year for Noah -- particularly with coverage of the US presidential election.

On Tuesday, Noah spoke with Elite Daily about a wide array of topics: his initial perceptions of America, the insanity of the US presidential election, Obama's presidency, Millennials and the perils of being connected to technology 24/7.

But above all, he really put things into perspective when he spoke about what it means to be a comedian who delivers the news.

Typically, Noah is the one putting people on the spot. But when we hopped on a morning phone call with the busy TV host, it quickly became clear how intelligent, articulate and thoughtful he can be when the tables are turned.

While he didn't sugarcoat the fact American politics are exceptionally dysfunctional, Noah was adamant there are many reasons to remain optimistic.

Here's what he had to say.

Q: You came to the US in 2010. What was your perception of America when you arrived and how much has it changed?

A: Well, I think when I first came to America I thought it was just a single-dimension country.

I didn’t realize how intricate and how different every single state, and sometimes even cities within states, are. I didn’t know how different the sensibilities were from one city to the next.

When I got here, I thought, “I pretty much know America,” but after a few years here I realized there’s a lot of this place I know nothing about.

Q: Has your view of the US changed since you started hosting "The Daily Show"?

A: If there’s one thing I’ve realized, it’s how polarized the country is.

It’s almost ironic it’s named the United States of America because it seems to be very divided.

Q: You do great impressions of Ben Carson. Last night, you told Seth Meyers he's your favorite presidential candidate... can you expand on that?

A: For me, he’s just the most entertaining. I felt like he was a guy who was thrust into the race but didn’t really know what it was going to be about.

He’s a very smart guy who I don’t think was meant to be a politician, or even intended to be one.

He has a simplicity around him that I really enjoy, he’s got a very entertaining personality as well and is just fun to watch.

Q: Do you ever feel like the US presidential election is one big joke?

A: I don’t think it’s one big joke, but I do think there are a lot of jokes in the one big event. The fanfare around the election is so insane.

It runs so long, which I enjoy because it’s part of my job. But it’s really insane.

You don’t see this anywhere else in the world -- where the elections almost run halfway through the president’s term. Two years before the next president there’s already talk about the next president, which is an insane amount of time.

But I guess America is really good at doing that. Whether it’s the Super Bowl, or whatever is, American entertainment is really good at building an event up. And I think the presidential election is nothing new from that.

Q: Are you looking forward to the State of the Union tonight? Should we expect anything big from President Obama?

A: I think this is one State of the Union where you won’t expect anything big.

It’s Barack Obama’s final State of the Union.

I think this is where he wraps up his presidency in terms of how well he’s done.

I think he’s one of the top performing presidents, in terms of his achievements. So he’s going to rightfully talk about the things he’s gotten right: unemployment and the economy.

I don’t expect any surprises in this one. I think what I’m more looking forward to is seeing how his speech is broken down by his opponents afterwards. That’s always the really entertaining part.

Q: Your monologue about gun violence and the critical reaction to President Obama crying about Sandy Hook was really powerful and one of the best moments on "The Daily Show" since you took over.

Would you say the US has a unique problem with gun violence?

A: I don’t think it’s unique in regard to America. I will tell you America is unique in that it’s a first world country having these problems.

There are third world countries having gun violence issues. But for a developed nation, with the standing America has, it’s insane for the country to be going through gun violence as if it's a third world or developing nation.

When it comes to the policies on gun control and gun violence, I’m still one of those people looking at both sides and trying to understand it.

I come from a place where there’s a lot of gun violence, but it’s from illegal guns and they’re fighting to curb that.

Nowhere else in the world are guns part of the constitution. Nowhere else in the world is it written into law that everyone has a right to own a weapon and the interpretation of that is applied accordingly.

For myself, my issue [with the criticism of President Obama] wasn’t around gun control, but that we must not forgot we are human beings.

For me it was about kicking a man while he was down, and on a human level we can all be better than that.

Q: You started hosting "The Daily Show" at a time of heightened racial tensions in the US. As a South African born during apartheid, do you feel this gives you a unique perspective on what's going on here?

A: In South Africa we’re still dealing with our racial past, present and future. It really is an interesting conversation that I don’t think will ever end, but will constantly evolve.

I do believe I come from a unique position in that my country has a very similar history to America and I do feel I understand a lot of what’s happening.

Q: We've reached a point where people completely distrust politicians and the mainstream media. Comedians have become trusted and respected social commentators. But people like Jon Stewart and John Oliver have insisted they’re just comedians, not journalists.

Do you ever see yourself as more than just a comedian?

A: No, I don’t think I see myself as more than a comedian, but I do think the phrase ["more than just a comedian"], to a certain extent, belittles comedy.

I think comedy is, in essence, doing what it’s supposed to do. It sparks conversation around everything. Comedy, for the most part, comes from the truth.

I look at some of the things Louis C.K. has done. He comes across as self-deprecating, and very relaxed and out of it. But the truth is he’s one of the foremost social and political commentators that I’ve come across.

No matter who the comedian is, whether it’s Richard Pryor, Dave Chappelle, Louis C.K., Jon Stewart or John Oliver, that’s exactly what comedians are supposed to be doing.

Not everyone has to tackle current issues, per se. It’s like medicine; you can choose your field of expertise. But the truth of the matter is, we are comedians and this is what we do.

When people go, “Oh, but these comedians are in the news and people are looking to you,” I think that’s less an indication of comedy becoming more like news, but rather news becoming more comedy.

The lines are blurred between entertainment and news, so people no longer look to the news… because news, for the most part, is more opinion than news.

Q: Technically, you’re a Millennial. I’m not sure if you view yourself this way, but a lot of people in our generation are feeling quite discouraged about the state of America.

What would you say to young people about the future -- is there hope for their country?

A: I think there’s always hope, as long as there’s discussion, as long as there’s democracy -- there’s always hope.

The one thing people don’t realize is they themselves are the force of change.

It’s interesting that people feel helpless because they see themselves as one individual, with no power whatsoever. But if enough individuals get together it becomes a movement. We’ve seen it with everything from Occupy Wall Street to Black Lives Matter.

What I always say to people is, “It’s getting better every day.” That’s what people don’t realize. All of these things are getting better every day.

We only look at how it is now and say it’s bad, but the bar is being moved, it is being raised. Slowly but surely things are getting better, we just have to keep on pushing.

You can’t say there’s no hope, because I don’t believe that’s the truth.

I think now, maybe part of it is the fact Millennials have access to more information than any other generation. Back in the day, if you didn’t read the newspaper, and you weren’t watching the 7 o’clock news, there were many things you didn’t know about -- you didn’t know about a small riot that took place or a police shooting that took place.

But now, in this age of information, everybody knows everything. Your friends are sharing stories on Facebook, someone is retweeting it, so all of the sudden you almost can’t even escape the knowledge.

Maybe that’s what people are feeling, is the weight of that information.