For the first time since Trevor Noah took over The Daily Show in 2015, the Comedy Central program has been nominated for an Emmy in the Best Variety Talk Series category. If Noah wins, he’d be the first black talk-show host to take home the trophy in Emmy history. (The last black talk-show host to be nominated was Chris Rock in 2001.)
To look back on The Daily Show’s Emmy-nominated season, Vulture asked Noah to pick his favorite segments from the past year. The three he chose discuss situations that depict what it’s like to be a black person in America today: dealing with the police, the NFL protests, and just waiting inside a coffee shop. While Noah doesn’t see it as his responsibility to challenge the way people view race in America, he says he does “see it as an opportunity and a privilege to be able to engage in these conversations in a way that maybe they haven’t engaged before.”
“I’ve never been able to escape race and its effects in the world that I live in, and I’ve always come to notice or rather find myself intrigued by how race plays such a powerful role in many of the societal discussions that we have,” he said. “It’s just finding a different way to have a conversation that people have already had, but maybe in a way that people will absorb the information, because I think sometimes there’s a block in conversations around race that make people defensive. If they’re white, people feel they’re being accused of racism or they’re being accused of being a party to racism that is happening. And sometimes, when you just reframe a conversation or if you present information in a certain way, I find people are a lot more open to absorbing that information that you’re trying to share with them.”
“Between the Scenes: Philando Castile” (Aired June 20, 2017)
When it came to Philando Castile, especially, I was really torn by how this person did everything that you were told you were supposed to do by the rules — he had the right job, had the right attitude, had the right license. And not that any of the wrongs should be punished, but this was a person who really ticked all of the boxes that people often accuse others of not ticking and yet his fate was the same as many others, unfortunately.
And so, for me, the conversation was trying to explain how dire these instances with police can be for black people and how contradictory the idea of panic in a situation seems. You’ll get people saying, “The policeman feared for his life and, in that moment, he panicked and this and that,” and yet, here you have people in the car and their lives are actually in danger. One of them has been shot, and yet there is still respect and they remember the rules of engagement. It was interesting to me that you could be in a place where one person who has had no training is remembering the training of life, and then another person who’s a trained professional seems to panic.
Sharing your personal experiences sometimes connects human beings to the human side of an argument. What I was trying to explain is I realize that working at the show, genuinely, here are many white people in America who do not know what it’s like to have an encounter with the police. They don’t know what it’s like to be pulled over by the police, and I wasn’t even recounting the story as a victim. I was just sharing the story in the office with people, and then I was surprised to find that they were surprised that I got pulled over as much as I did. I was also surprised because I didn’t know that that was an abnormal thing, if that makes sense. Sharing that with the audience came from a real conversation that we had had in the building, discussing the different perceptions and the different relationships that people have with the police in their communities. Bringing my mom into it, it’s really just tying a story into all of the different people and ideas that have influenced my opinion up to this point in my life.
This is one of the clips that I know resonated with people in a way where I had so many people, predominantly whites, who said to me, “Hey, I didn’t think of it like this before and it stuck with me and thank you so much because it changed how I saw the situation. It changed how I interpreted what was happening.” That’s what my number-one goal is. I don’t need everyone to agree with me in life, but what I think we struggle with is oftentimes the people we’re trying to communicate with don’t hear what we’re trying to say. They hear what they think you’re saying. That happens, whether it’s in politics or in relationships or anything. There’s always the disconnect between the intention of the messenger and the perceived intention by the person the message is delivered to. And so that piece was one of my favorites because it managed to successfully connect with people in a way where they didn’t feel attacked, but they did feel like they had to question the world that they lived in.
“The NFL Takes a Knee in Protest of Trump” and “When Is the Right Time for Black People to Protest?” (Aired September 25, 2017)
That piece came from genuinely probing and questioning the argument that we were having, because it’s apparent that this is not a good faith argument and that President Trump enjoys engaging in culture wars because they do not have a definitive answer. I was troubled by the conversation. I realized oftentimes we don’t ask a question of the person who is opposing us, and sometimes the question is actually the answer. That’s how I got to that question: When is the right time for black people to protest? Because it seems like the right time is “never.” It’s not after a shooting. It’s not during football season. It’s not during an awards show. It’s not during a national holiday. It always seems like it’s not the right time. And then, I realized that instead of saying, “Here’s my point,” the best way was to ask a question. Sometimes when you ask the right question, you find that the person’s inability to answer ends up becoming the answer. And that, for me, was what really stuck out with that piece. We stopped thinking of it as tackling the issue head-on, but rather moving to the side and basically saying to someone who doesn’t agree with us, “Okay, then what is your proposal? What is your solution?” Because it’s an argument had in bad faith, there is no actual solution.
So that’s a different piece than the first one. With Philando Castile, I was genuinely trying to evoke empathy because I’m not trying to fight in that situation. I’m not trying to use Philando Castile to push an agenda. I’m not using him to prove a point or an argument. I really just want people to empathize with the fact that this human being has lost his life and, really, a lot of it is just because of the color of his skin. With the protesting piece, that’s more about me just sharing my opinion. I’m not necessarily trying to change your point of view, but I’m trying to insert my opinion into this discussion and state my position.
“Two Black Men Get Arrested for Doing Nothing at Starbucks” (Aired April 16, 2018)
One thing that you learn growing up in a black community, in a black household, in a black home, wherever you are, you learn that you have to temper your outrage. Otherwise, you’ll spend all your time being perpetually angry and it can be an exhausting life to live. And so I think one thing black people have generally done a great job of is figuring out what madness to laugh at, what things to poke fun at, which moments to become angry at, and when to be serious. And so, because these guys in Starbucks hadn’t been physically hurt and because the story wasn’t a fun story, initially, it was great that we were able to make fun of it and what it had turned into. We got to poke fun at the Starbucks employees and the police and the situation itself, just really showing you how ludicrous the whole thing was. That’s really what we were focusing on, just trying to live in that space where you go, “Look, we deal with serious issues every day, but we don’t give them the same level of gravitas because I don’t think they’re all the same thing. They may all be part of a larger narrative in the world that we live in, but not every single issue is going to make me want to scream at the top of my lungs. I don’t live like that as a human being.”
I like to live in a world where, as my mother always says, I count my blessings. I don’t think it’s realistic nor authentic to live in a space where I act like nothing good is happening, nothing is worth being celebrated, and everything is bad in the world. I don’t believe in that. You know, I can fight for causes that I believe in and I can speak up for issues that I feel need to be spoken up for, but what I can also do is remind people that there are many things to be happy about.
There are many great things that black people can celebrate. There are many things that we can all celebrate, regardless of the color of our skin. That’s the balance that I’m always trying to achieve on the show: tackling serious issues, engaging with ideas that may be uncomfortable, but also reminding people to laugh, reminding people to enjoy themselves, reminding people to still not lose themselves in the chaos that is the Trump presidency.