Like a farmer welcoming rainclouds, Trevor Noah has turned something most of us would prefer to do without – the unending tumult pouring from Washington, D.C. – into a building block for something essential: humor.
It is a resource that appears to be especially welcome at this moment of astonishing political turmoil. Last week was The Daily Show with Trevor Noah’s most watched ever, with 1.045 million total viewers, a 36 percent increase over the same week last year. The achievement nudges the program closer to recording eight consecutive months of year-over-year growth among total viewers.
Noah may have had a little help driving ratings. “Noah’s ratings run this week is most likely due in no small part to the problems plaguing Trump,” wrote Variety’s Joe Otterson, referring to the president’s dismissal of the FBI director, ongoing investigations into Russian influence in the presidential election, and other issues.
Indeed, as the pace of news has accelerated under the new administration, The Daily Show has adapted. “Things have definitely sped up,” head writer Zhubin Parang told Vulture’s Jen Chaney in February. “We used to be able to predict what the show would be the afternoon before the day, and now we just can’t ever assume that the show we have planned at 7 p.m. the night before is going to be anything like the show that’s ultimately going to air the next day.”
What Noah and team do ultimately air is unfailingly an incisive examination of the day’s headlines. When news broke early last week, for example, that President Trump disclosed classified information to high-ranking Russian officials on a White House visit, Noah was ready:
“This sounds like a story that we would invent, right?” an astonished Noah asked his audience. “Trump invites the Russians into the Oval Office, and then, in his meeting, starts bragging, ‘I get great intel. I have people brief me on great intel every day.’” Watch the full take below:
The day after that, the Justice Department appointed a special counsel – former FBI chief Robert Mueller – to investigate allegations that Trump campaign aides had colluded with Russia to influence last fall’s presidential election.
But part of The Daily Show’s appeal is its wide-ranging focus. “Thursday night, Noah took some time to redirect his attention beyond our borders and provide a sobering, if mildly comforting, reminder: The rest of the world is a mess, too,” David Canfield wrote in Slate.
It turns out that Noah, who grew up in Apartheid-era South Africa, is wired for this sort of tense political time. “I never considered myself a very political person,” Noah told The Guardian in November. “Then when I traveled, I realized, ‘Oh no, I am extremely political.’ It’s just that in my country, the base level is so politicized that we don’t think it is. And when you go to the U.S., a lot of people are just like, ‘Meh – I don’t really follow politics.’ The way it is right now in America, Donald Trump is pop culture, and everyone is talking about supreme courts and cabinet positions. But that’s how South Africa has almost always been. You couldn’t not be. We were born political.”
As the administration settles into Washington and the wild headlines patter onward with metronomic regularity, Noah’s Daily Show provides a reliable waystation where viewers can process and interpret the mad goings-on – and laugh in the process.
In an interview with TV Guide’s Liz Raftery in January, Parang, the show’s head writer, summarized this sentiment nicely. “I think if anything, this terror and confusion and uncertainty makes jokes even more necessary, and I think confronting this uncertainty and fear with mockery and satire is a great way to handle it.”
With Noah piloting his ever-more-popular flagship, Comedy Central is growing out the late-night universe around him. Daily Show correspondent Jordan Klepper will get his own show that will follow Noah’s this fall, while Australian comic Jim Jeffries will host a weekly late-night show this summer. The President Show, starring Trump impersonator Anthony Atamanuik, has been favorably reviewed since debuting last month.