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The unyielding barrage of news coming out of Washington D.C. has kept late-night programs like “The Daily Show” on their toes and, in many cases, riding a wave of ratings success. But do hosts like Trevor Noah ever crave a breath of creative fresh air?
No, he insists.
“I think the first mistake people make is that they think of it as a Trump story; I don’t,” Noah told CNN in a recent interview. “I think of it as the American story, and Donald Trump is one of the characters in the American story.”
As Noah sees it, President Trump is the “antagonist” (“we don’t know if he’s the villain or the hero”) and a “force in the story.” But he works hard to keep the show’s focus on everything affected by the president, as opposed to the man himself.
“It’s James Comey’s story. It’s the Department of Justice story, with Jeff Sessions. It’s the story of America’s courts – the Supreme Court. It’s the story of an administration,” he said. “It’s the story of the Republicans, who they are and who they will become. It’s the story of the Democrats, the next journey they embark on.”
He put it another way: “If this was ‘Game of Thrones,’ Donald Trump would be the White Walkers.”
“Everyone is going to be dealing with it, but it’s not the story of the White Walkers,” he said. “We want to know what Daenerys is going through, we want to know what’s happening with the Lannisters. We want to know what’s going on with the Starks. That’s the story, and everyone is going to deal with this force that is coming for them.”
Since Trump’s election in November, Noah is one of several late-night hosts who’ve seen their audience grow.
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As of mid-May, “The Daily Show” is up 36% year-over-year in total viewers and up 18% among adults 18-49, according to Comedy Central.
This comes after one of Trump’s harshest late-night critics, Stephen Colbert, saw his “Late Show” win the 2016-17 TV season in total viewers, besting “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.” It’s the first time CBS has won the timeslot in earnest in 22 years. (It also won in 2009-10, but that was when Conan O’Brien briefly took over for Jay Leno on “The Tonight Show.)
Noah admitted “there’s always space to talk about other stories.” With just a half-hour timeslot, “The Daily Show” team has “to find the most pertinent information,” he said. And it’s not always what others are covering.
“There might be a story that everyone is focused on, which may be what we feel needs to be focused on as well, but sometimes it’s going off the beaten path,” he said. “Sometimes it’s going, ‘No, we’re not going to cover that. We’re not going to join in that hysteria.’”
Noah added: “The truth is there are fake stories out there about him, you know? There are often misquotes that people attribute in a negative fashion. He gives you so much real good material, why would you need to do fake stuff?”