Daily Show host Trevor Noah’s really into “One Dance” by Drake. He’s a big ol’ Kanye fan. And most importantly, the man really does know how to work an in-person crowd.
The young, newish host of “The Daily Show” filmed the Comedy Central program from the Annenberg Theater on Penn’s campus this week during the Democratic National Convention, in front of a considerably larger crowd than usual.
The 32-year-old hasn’t been without criticism since he took over for longtime Daily Show host Jon Stewart back in September. His old tweets were ripped apart after Comedy Central announced he would succeed Stewart, the show caught flak recently for an offensive tweet about abortion and the show’s viewership has tanked nearly 40 percent since he took over at the desk.
But there’s nothing better for a political comedy show’s ratings than what can only be described as a ridiculous presidential election. What we saw in person inside Penn’s Annenberg Center Live was a host who’s clearly become more comfortable on stage and one whose jokes landed better and harder in person than they do when you’re watching them on TV.
Tonight at 11 p.m., Noah will start off by telling the crowd that history was made Tuesday night at the Democratic National Convention when Hillary Clinton was officially nominated as the party’s pick for president. He’ll cut to correspondent Desi Lydic — who was 20 feet away in front of a very well-done green screen that made it appear she was at the Wells Fargo Center. And then he’ll lay into Donald Trump for his press conference earlier today about what’s been reported as Russia hacking into DNC servers.
You’ll watch that all if you’re a true “Daily Show” fan. But this is what you miss when you don’t see it from behind the scenes:
1. There’s a post-game
Forget what happens during the show. The real Trevor Noah? The truly passionately political Trevor Noah? That’s who we saw after the show.
We don’t know if he lets loose to crowds in New York when he’s typically filming. But here in Philadelphia, just as soon as the show wrapped up and Noah was still twitching with energy, he grabbed the microphone and addressed the crowd directly about what he sees as a ridiculous presidential election. “This shouldn’t even be a contest,” he said, saying of Trump that it’s “scary” when “people are so partisan they support a person who masquerades as a member of their party.”
But he elaborated more, lamenting that conservatives frequently tell him his show is too pro-Hillary Clinton.
“I don’t support Hillary Clinton,” he said. “I support common sense.”
He then talked about Bernie Sanders’ run for the White House — to spotty cheers in the crowd — and had what some of our group saw as a “vote your conscience moment.” He challenged the crowd to read Clinton’s platform before Bernie Sanders garnered mass support nationwide.
“Bernie Sanders,” he said, “shook this shit up really good.”
2. You get extra jokes in person — and they’re for a global audience
Did you know there’s a global version of “The Daily Show”? As in, a longer version that’s broadcast in more than 160 countries? There is — and Noah films two or three additional jokes for the opening and closing of those shows that are for a global audience. So instead of opening with the Democratic National Convention for tonight’s global viewers, he opened with Turkey.
He told of how the situation in Turkey continues to “get crazier,” as reports have surfaced that more than 50,000 people suspected of being involved in the coup were detained by government officials. And by the way, the Democratic party “here in America” had its emails hacked.
“Back off, Russia,” he said. “Interfering in other country’s elections is America’s job.”
3. Noah keeps the energy up, and he moves quickly
Breaks during “The Daily Show” taping didn’t last anywhere near as long as real commercial breaks. Once filming began, it was a sprint to the end of the show. There aren’t “takes” like one might expect in a pre-recorded show.
And when there were short breaks to adjust the camera positions during what would be commercials, Noah was literally dancing to Drake songs that were playing over the loudspeaker. He clearly fed off the high-powered, college-level energy in the Annenberg Center Live auditorium, which holds well over 300 people. Noah’s studio in New York holds right around 200.
That energy started off when he took the stage and held a Q&A with the audience. He told one man that his “personal hero” is his mother. He said to another person that his favorite interview was with Will Smith (or maybe he was pandering to the Philly crowd, who can really know). And, FWIW, he’s team Kanye… but says Taylor Swift is still a badass.
4. This stuff takes forever
Maybe it was because it’s the Democratic National Convention. Maybe it’s because they were filming in an unfamiliar location, or maybe it’s because Noah’s guest — Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York — has been, well, a little busy with other things this week. But the group we attended the show with joked that maybe it’s called The Daily Show because it literally takes a day to film.
Attendees were required to be at the Annenberg Center Live at 4 p.m. for what was billed as a 6 p.m. taping. That’s already a long time to wait around. But it took even longer. After we were seated (to a strange soundtrack that included the super-predictable Elton John song “Philadelphia Freedom,” a version of Marvin Gaye’s “Sexual Healing” performed on drums and horns… and the Lumineers), a woman named Justine came onto the stage at about 6 p.m. and gave a rundown of what the evening would be like while cracking a couple jokes. There’d be a warm-up guy named Angelo. We should all turn our phones off. We should all go to the bathroom before the show starts. No photography is allowed.
There was one direction, though, that stuck out:
“If anyone has brought a gift for Trevor, we have to know where it comes from. He can’t be carrying all this weird voodoo shit on stage,” she said, adding: “If it’s like a pencil-sketched drawing of him, we’re good.”
A full 50 minutes later, Angelo popped out and had us practice standing up and cheering for Noah while he picked out random people from the audience and picked on them — though he was quite funny. He told one guy that it was time to propose to his girlfriend he’d been with for five years. He found another couple that had apparently met because a mutual friend said they were both very boring. And he told us what Cleveland was like:
“We were in Cleveland last week with the Trump shitshow,” he said. “His speech was like a week. It’s like, what the fuck are you talking about, you squinty orange bastard?”
It was 7:17 p.m. when Noah came out. We were antsy. We were pretty annoyed. But it was OK, because…
5. Trevor Noah is way funnier in person
Look, I’m a dedicated and religious Jon Stewart fan. I firmly believe the show went downhill when Noah took over. He didn’t have the same delivery as Stewart did and he certainly didn’t have the interviewing skills. But guys, Trevor Noah can work a crowd.
His jokes landed better in person. I found myself laughing harder than I have at “The Daily Show” in months. We were nearly doubled over when he was recapping Trump’s press conference about the hack of the DNC’s emails from earlier in the day, when he seemed to encourage Russia to continue hacking to locate the 30,000 missing emails from Hillary Clinton’s private server.
He hit Trump on his comments about defending NATO countries, saying that “you always have to be prepared to walk.”
“The fact that you can interchange a Trump quote with a drunk bus driver,” Noah said, “makes me afraid.” But the largest crowd reaction wasn’t a laugh — it was a low sense of fear that came at the end of the show when Trump’s photo was juxtaposed next to Vladamir Putin, Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong-Un. Noah called the three dictators “his role models.”
“Once they get in power, they stay in power,” Noah said. “I hope you enjoy your vote. On days like this, you realize this could be the very last vote you ever get.”