Every Sunday, we pick a new episode of the week. It could be good. It could be bad. It will always be interesting. You can read the archives here. The episode of the week for November 27 through December 3, 2016, is the November 29 episode of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.
Daily Show host Trevor Noah, like many of his fellow late night hosts, has seemed unsure of how to treat the ongoing fallout from Donald Trump’s election victory.
Since having to grit his teeth through a live election night show as it became clearer and clearer what the result was going to be, Noah’s been working through his shock on a nightly basis. His earnest face swings from bewildered to grimly amused in seconds, his jaw often left hanging by whatever new horror Trump’s latest Cabinet pick or histrionic tweet might portend.
While Daily Show alums John Oliver and Samantha Bee dug deep into their anger to find traction, Noah kept more of a stunned distance, sizing up the world before him with a bewildered tilt of the head.
But three weeks after Trump’s win, Noah has started to move on to the “what next?” stage of grief. Opening his November 29 show with another exasperated sigh, he offered a solution for those wanting to reason with Trump, whom Noah insists conducts himself like a temperamental kid.
“You don’t argue with the toddler if you want to win,” Noah said. “Just keep asking the toddler to elaborate, because logic is the downfall of every toddler. Well,” he stopped himself, with a wry smile, “that, and shoelaces.”
Noah got to try out his own suggestion the very next night, when Blaze commentator Tomi Lahren joined The Daily Show to debate him on everything from Trump’s election to Obamacare to Black Lives Matter. His patient, firm interviewing hinged on that “just keep asking the toddler to elaborate” logic — and it made for one of Noah’s best segments to date.
Tomi Lahren is Trevor Noah’s inverse
Throughout the entire interview — the full 26 minutes of which you can watch on Comedy Central’s website — Noah and Lahren didn’t agree on a single thing.
Lahren is a 24-year-old from South Dakota who produces wildly popular Blaze videos that hinge on dismissing what she sees as “liberal snowflake” whining through a forceful, Rush Limbaugh–esque delivery. As Noah himself pointed out in September (see the above video), her “Final Thoughts” get millions upon millions of views. Even if the Daily Show audience might not be familiar with her, Lahren has her own audience that is all too eager to commiserate with her searing rancor.
But when she sat down at the Daily Show desk and Noah asked her why she’s “so angry,” she quickly brushed off that characterization. “I’m actually not that angry,” she replied. “There’s just things that need to be said.” Then, after Noah pushed back, she shrugged. “Sometimes people just need to be called on their shit.”
From there, the interview was off and running.
Lahren — who dressed up as a sexy Border Patrol agent this past Halloween — expressed excitement about the idea that “outsider” Trump could upend everything we know about American politics and “shake out the cobwebs” of Washington. She said she considers Trump to be thoughtful and levelheaded. She defended her assertion that Black Lives Matter has similarities to the Ku Klux Klan because of the rare instances in which protests have splintered off into looting.
All the while, Noah furrowed his brow at Lahren like he was concentrating on translating her words into a language he could understand — and in a sense, he was.
Inviting Tomi Lahren onto The Daily Show was a deliberate attempt to burst and merge two bubbles, even if just for a minute
If post-election analysis is to be believed, there are currently two distinct categories of bubble in the United States: that of the dissatisfied “flyover state” conservative who feels overlooked, and that of “coastal elite” liberals who prize inclusivity above all else.
The reality, of course, is so much more complicated than that. People on all sides of every issue have their own grievances, considerations, desires, and fears. But there’s still a very real gulf between those who vehemently believe in what Donald Trump was selling on the campaign trail and those who felt the same for Hillary Clinton and/or Bernie Sanders.
There is, in other words, a world of difference in what people absorb from shows like Trevor Noah’s versus Tomi Lahren’s.
Naturally, the conversation between the two was tense. When Lahren insisted that she doesn’t “see color,” Noah — a biracial South African man — visibly winced. When the Daily Show audience got restless and rained boos down on the stage, Lahren kept her hands clasped just as tight as her jaw. Neither host was under any illusions that they were going to find much common ground, nor that they would convince the other of their views.
But as Noah steered the interview, it was clear that trying to sway Lahren was never his intent, or vice versa. Inviting her on was a way to show his viewers exactly the kind of rhetoric and thinking that didn’t just dominate the election, but won it.
Noah interviewed Lahren less to argue with her views than to reveal them. It’s one of the smartest interviews he’s done in ages.
The Daily Show is no stranger to inviting people on that it might not agree with or has even mocked in the past. Under Jon Stewart, these interviews inevitably took an urgent turn, with Stewart pleading as the steadily raising voice of reason.
Noah badly wanted to find some semblance of reason within Lahren’s blanket aggression toward all things liberal, but he went about it in the exact same way he proposed some should approach Trump. Yes, he expressed his opinions and challenged her on views he found confusing at best and offensive at worst. But he also just kept asking for clarity, for more information on why, exactly, Lahren thinks the way she does.
The 26-minute interview is wide-ranging, but the standout moment came when Noah challenged Lahren’s views on Black Lives Matter as a hateful group in conjunction with San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the national anthem. (One of Lahren’s most popular videos features her acknowledging Kaepernick’s form of protest as a First Amendment right while asserting her own right to “shred” him for doing it.)
“What is the right way, I’ve always wanted to know,” Noah said carefully, “for a black person to get attention in America?”
Lahren never gave him a straight answer. But he kept coming back to this point, asking her over and over again until it became clear as she just kept asking after Kaepernick and Black Lives Matters’ motivations that she doesn’t quite have a response to his question, after all.
Noah didn’t slam this point home so much as he cajoled it out of her, drawing Lahren further out until she talked her way into the dead end he suspected was there all along. The interview wasn’t, as some said of Noah’s performance afterward, an evisceration. It was a thoughtful invasion, a methodical exploration behind enemy lines.
As far as tactics go, “just keep asking the toddler to elaborate” might be Noah’s best yet.