JUDY WOODRUFF: Now we go from fake news on social streams to the TV screen, humor, politics, and the life of a perpetual outsider.
Jeffrey Brown talks with the host of the late-night “Daily Show,” Trevor Noah, whose new memoir has just been published.
JEFFREY BROWN: It was the morning after the morning after, and, along with the rest of us, the producers and writers of “The Daily Show” were grappling with the recent earthquake in American politics.
There were serious exchanges about the role of protest.
TREVOR NOAH, “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah”: If it were Trump people who were in the streets doing the same thing, burning effigies of Hillary Clinton, it’s like, come on, guys, really, in America, in democracy?
JEFFREY BROWN: There were jokes and laughter.
MAN: One guy had this huge sign that was like, “I’m Just Sad.” I was like, that’s really what it all is.
JEFFREY BROWN: Leading the discussion was the program’s host, Trevor Noah.
TREVOR NOAH: That’s where, as a South African, we share the same value in terms of, the whole point of democracy is that we don’t fight about the decision.
It’s a scary time, but I think we have to be careful to not brand either side in any discussion as a monolith. It’s a lot more nuanced than it seems. And a lot of the time, as people, we’re not good at dealing with nuance. It’s easier to say black and white, right and wrong.
JEFFREY BROWN: Out with the old, and in with the new.
TREVOR NOAH: Do you realize there are so many things we don’t know? We don’t even know what the J. in Donald J. Trump stands for.
TREVOR NOAH: A lot of people don’t know this, but it actually stands for Jesus. Yes.
JEFFREY BROWN: And the 32-year-old Noah is still the new guy here, taking over last year as the surprise pick…
TREVOR NOAH: I am a terrible employee.
JEFFREY BROWN: … to replace Jon Stewart, who after 16 years at the helm was a national cultural figure.
TREVOR NOAH: I was surprised with everyone else.
JEFFREY BROWN: Yes.
TREVOR NOAH: It’s not like I wasn’t surprised. I was also like, wow, who is that guy? That is insane. Who is that guy? Only an idiot would take the job after Jon Stewart, but, luckily, I was that idiot.
JEFFREY BROWN: It hasn’t been the easiest transition. The late-night field has become more crowded, and “The Daily Show” numbers have fallen. But with the help of a staff of more than 100, Noah has brought a very particular perspective, one he thinks may be especially useful now.
TREVOR NOAH: I come from a world where I have always practiced empathizing and putting myself in somebody else’s mind, which is very difficult to do.
But I truly believe that most people are doing what they believe is right from their point of view. When you think of it from another person’s point of view and you think of them being right from their point of view, it then gives you a greater insight into not only why they think the way they do, but maybe how to speak to them or even how to argue against those points.
JEFFREY BROWN: Trevor Noah was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, in the last years of apartheid, a time when a child like himself, son of a black South African woman and a white Swiss father, was, literally, as the title of his new memoir puts it, born a crime.
TREVOR NOAH: I existed in a space where there was no one like me most of my life. I never met a child who had parents who were different races.
I grew up either in a black environment, or I got to visit a white environment.
JEFFREY BROWN: Noah was raised by his mother, who was jailed several times for breaking apartheid era laws, and he spent much of his earliest life indoors, to hide him from a government that could take him away and imprison her.
TREVOR NOAH: I lived as an outsider, but, at the same time, one of the biggest benefits is, you never see yourself as being the most important thing, because the world is never yours. So, what you have to do is, you have to find your place in other people’s worlds.
JEFFREY BROWN: And how do you do that? You use this word chameleon, right?
TREVOR NOAH: Yes.
JEFFREY BROWN: That’s how you adapted.
TREVOR NOAH: That’s what you do, and you do that by listening, you know?
Essentially, that’s what a chameleon is doing, for all intents and purposes. It’s listening to its environment and adapting accordingly. If the chameleon’s not aware of the color of the leaf that it’s on, then how will it know what color to turn to?
JEFFREY BROWN: In the book, Noah tells of his mother having to act as though she was the black maid to her light-skinned child, and of his father running away from him as if they were not related.
Did you realize what was happening at the time?
TREVOR NOAH: No, I didn’t. And, thankfully, I didn’t.
My parents were really good at insulating me from the reality of the world that I was in. My dad, to me, wasn’t running away from me. He was just running with me. My mom was playing. My dad was playing. I was playing.
JEFFREY BROWN: But there was a point where you realized that that wasn’t play.
TREVOR NOAH: Yes. But, I mean, by the time I did, the country was changing so much.
And I’m lucky in that — and I never take that away. I never discount the fact that I was extremely lucky, because, when I started to come of age, when I was 6 years old, the laws of apartheid were officially abolished. When I was 10 years old, we had our first democratic election.
That was the greatest gift for me, is that I got to live on all sides. Some who have only lived through the pain, even when the country changed, could only feel the pain. Some who exist beyond that don’t feel a connection to a previous world.
JEFFREY BROWN: He would become a major star in his homeland as a stand-up comedian and hosting his own late-night show.
He began making guest appearances on American shows.
JON STEWART, Host, “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart”: Trevor!
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
JEFFREY BROWN: And, in 2014, joined “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” as a contributor.
Humor, he says, was and is a way to process the world.
TREVOR NOAH: No matter how poor you are, no matter how much pain you’re in, laughter is something you always have. It’s the anesthetic of the mind, I feel, because, no matter what you’re going through, if you laugh just for a moment, there’s a moment of respite.
JEFFREY BROWN: What now? Jokes, for sure.
TREVOR NOAH: Instead, we got someone who walks around the White House like a toddler at a space museum. What’s this? What’s this?
JEFFREY BROWN: But Noah told me he’d quickly realized the demand from “The Daily Show” audience for more than that. And while he speaks of trying to see all sides of a picture, he’s also now drawing a harsh analogy to his homeland.
TREVOR NOAH: Remember, when I first started hosting “The Daily Show,” I said Donald Trump reminds me of an African dictator. And we had the evidence to back it up.
MAN: I’m the one who has got the money.
DONALD TRUMP (R), President-Elect: I made a tremendous amount of money.
MAN: My people have great praise for me.
DONALD TRUMP: People love me. Everybody loves me.
TREVOR NOAH: The world I come from is a world of people who grab power off the backs of those who are disenfranchised or feel like they have been left behind and under-educated.
I have come from a world where the person who is uneducated or the person who is unqualified can become the leader who takes everything. I come from a world where they use hateful rhetoric to try and rise up the masses and get them behind them. I come from that world. And that world doesn’t make sense here, and yet now it does.
Welcome to “The Daily Show.” I am Trevor Noah!
JEFFREY BROWN: From Comedy Central in New York City, I’m Jeffrey Brown for the “PBS NewsHour.”