I’ve written a lot about Stephen Colbert and how much I appreciate someone with such a strong yet progressive Christian faith, reaching the audience he does. I listened to an interview with Trevor Noah of The Daily Show recently, and I find myself equally appreciative to have his voice in our cultural conversation.
Noah grew up in Mandela-era South Africa–and he grew up “very very poor” in Soweto. His background gives him a very different perspective, and it’s a welcome one. (If you haven’t seen his bit about how Donald Trump is an African president, check it out now.)
Noah has talked about how bizarre it is to be as dirt poor as he was, now navigating fame and fortune. Here’s one exchange between Noah and Linda Holmes, the interviewer:
I was going to the Emmys and someone suggested I get a stylist. I inquired as to how much a stylist cost. And I was told anywhere between 5 and 25 thousand dollars.
Per individual event?
No, I thought it was to buy the person as well! But it’s not. This is what people are paying! I couldn’t bring myself to do it. In fact I said I would rather take the money, buy one outfit myself, take a chance on that red carpet, have it out with the fashion police, and then take the rest of the money and give it to charity… and at least I know every time I’m on the worst dressed list, there’s a bunch of kids cheering, because they know they got the money I would have spent looking good.
He also addressed head-on the good intentions of people who say, “I want diversity in hiring—this position is open to absolutely anyone,” but then do nothing to ensure that people of color or women even hear about the position. We rely on our own networks to find people, Noah says—it’s an understandable impulse, but when our networks are comprised of people who look and think like we do, it doesn’t get the job done. For example, when The Daily Show put out a call for correspondents, they plugged into the network of agents and managers, and got something like 1,000 applicants… four of whom were black people. He thought “Well, maybe black people don’t like the Daily Show.” Then he was in a comedy club and met up with a table full of black comics, one of whom said, “Hey, if you need anybody for The Daily Show, I’d like to try for it.” Turns out none of the people around the table had heard about the casting call because none of them had agents or managers. Diversity is work, Noah concluded, but it’s worthwhile work… and if you put out a call to your usual networks and do nothing else, you haven’t done the work.
Jon Stewart often saw himself as the court jester for the media. They were his target, and he was at his best when battling their excesses and biases. Trevor may end up being the court jester for the privileged. Which could be very interesting to watch—especially if he can do it with a smile and a laugh. I’m interested to see where the show ends up.