Trevor Noah Has a Lot to Say
The Daily Show host grew up as a poor, mixed-race South African kid going to three churches every Sunday. So he has a sui generis view of America — especially on race, politics, and religion — and he’s not afraid to speak his mind.
Below is a transcript of the episode, modified for your reading pleasure. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, see the links at the bottom of this post. And you’ll find credits for the music in the episode noted within the transcript.
[MUSIC: Baba Brinkman, “Spread It” (from The Rap Guide to Religion)]
Stephen DUBNER: I am curious, in this, the era of podcasting, how does it feel to just be doing a TV show? Does it depress you knowing that you’re the wave of the past?
Trevor NOAH: It doesn’t depress me at all. If it wasn’t for the visual element of the telly that we are doing, then I would never get to dress up. Right now, your listeners don’t realize that we’re both sitting here pants-less having this conversation.
[MUSIC: Jack Miele, “Take it Downtown”]
Trevor Noah, host of The Daily Show, is a seriously funny and a seriously smart man. He also brings to his job a sui generis view of America – our politics, our customs, our obsessions.
NOAH (clip from African American): It’s all about statistics. Have you seen sports in America? Non-stop. You know everything. You know everything. And then you switch over to your business channels and your economy and you’re like, ‘What’s happening in the economy this year, Bob?’ ‘Well, nobody knows.’
Noah grew up as a mixed-race kid in South Africa during the final years of apartheid. When he holds a mirror up to America for us to see, it’s almost as if it’s a two-way mirror: yes, he’s an outsider, dwelling on the differences, but he often zeroes in on the similarities.
NOAH (Clip from The Daily Show): The people with the longest history of getting (bleeped) over in America are the ones who are getting (bleeped) over. Like this is the conversation. The conversation seems to go: “The pipeline is completely safe.” “And it’s like, well then, why didn’t you build it under the white people’s houses?” “Well, because it might leak.” “So it’s not safe, it’s just safe enough for the native Americans.” “No it’s not a race thing, it’s that if the pipe leaks there’s fewer of them than of us.” “And why are there fewer of them?”
Noah has been in the States for five years now. A major highlight: interviewing President Obama:
NOAH (Clip from The Daily Show): Yeah, I’d like to apologize first of all. I know you waited a long time for this and you wanted to make it happen. I’m sorry..
President OBAMA: You guys wouldn’t book us. I kept on calling.
And Noah was one of the few people who talk for a living who didn’t discount the possibility of Donald Trump becoming president. Nor did he explain Trump’s election in the usual fashion.
NOAH (Clip from The Daily Show): When you look at the election results, the color red doesn’t necessarily mean white power. It can also mean there are people who wanted the world to pay attention to them.
Today on Freakonomics Radio: Trevor Noah on politics, race, religion, and his excellent new memoir, Born a Crime.
NOAH: I was the first person in my family who was allowed to go to a white school or a school that was considered white.
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DUBNER I would think that comedians around the world are going to be very pissed off at you because rather than just writing up a book of all your comedy stuff, which is what they usually do, you went and actually wrote a real book, which raises the bar.
NOAH: Oh, wow. Thank you. Most people would see it as a book about me growing up in apartheid, it’s not really that. Apartheid was merely the container that my life existed within. If anything, it’s a story of myself and my mom. It’s a crazy journey that we lived through together.
[MUSIC: Josh Hill, “Deep Breath” (from Jawdrop)]
Trevor Noah was born in South Africa in 1984. His mother was black and African; his father, white and European. This meant Noah was, technically, Born a Crime, the title of his book. The rules of apartheid dictated that neither his mother nor father could publicly acknowledge this mixed-race boy as their son. His mother, if asked, would pretend she was his babysitter; his father literally ran away from him on the street if he started shouting “Daddy, Daddy!” Noah grew up primarily with his mother and her family in the black township of Soweto. He was very poor but also much loved, much encouraged, and he was good at many things – language, sports, making people laugh, and taking the temperature of a room.
DUBNER: You write as a kid that you really became a chameleon linguistically but in other ways too, and that you used that to your advantage. You wrote that the way to bridge the gap between different people was their language and so on. So is chameleon essentially always a good thing?
NOAH: Yeah. I think so. Fundamentally, a chameleon may change its color, but it’s still a chameleon. That’s really what a chameleon is doing. A chameleon is, for me, doing two things. It is blending into its environment to protect itself, but also so as to not disturb the environment and to create a panic.
DUBNER: Now what if someone said, “Well, that means you’re not being your authentic self.” Is that a concern?
NOAH: It doesn’t concern me at all. What you’re saying is my authentic self is one thing. Why does that need to be? So could you not see the same person as being — think of a parent. A parent is a provider but at the same time they are a protector. A parent is someone who provides love but also discipline. You get what I’m saying? You can be many things at the same time whilst authentically being yourself.
DUBNER: So, your mom is remarkable. She obviously taught you a lot, and you learned a lot from her, and you learned a lot on your own as well. She talked about one of her greatest hopes was that you wouldn’t have to pay what she called the black tax. That you’d have to work harder than a white person just to get back to zero, and that generationally that can even compound on itself. Talk to me for a minute about that concept of the black tax there in South Africa versus here now.
NOAH: If you think of it like this — you know a lot of the time when you hear people having conversations about white privilege, male privilege and so on, I think sometimes what gets lost is with the word “privilege” comes the connotation of having a good time. You know, people go, “What privilege? I may be a white man but I’m poor. I may be a white man but I’m suffering.” And that is completely true. And sometimes I go, “Maybe in the labeling, it’s almost like it could have gone the other way and it’s like, is it a black disadvantage? Or is it a female disadvantage?” Because we cannot deny that there are certain handicaps that come with these certain labels you know that exist. If you look at the effects of what you’ve lived through in your life, you cannot deny that they compound. You cannot deny that they grow over time. So people who say things like, “Get over it, slavery’s done” or “Get over it, apartheid is over,” then I go, “You cannot get over it because it ending is merely the beginning of your journey.” And so, you think of it like this—in my family, I was the first person in my family who was allowed to go to a white school or a school that was considered white. My grandparents were not taught the things that other people’s grandparents were taught if they were white in the country. And so now, even if we’re not talking about financial inheritance, we’re talking about now educational inheritance. My grandfather and grandmother couldn’t bequeath to me an education that they would have learned because they didn’t get it. My mother, self-taught for many things. She was lucky in that she encountered a missionary and that’s where she learned things that the government wasn’t teaching to many black people. So there you see someone equalizing or get her back to zero, which is where everyone should be able to start from.
DUBNER: Right. But she was also—look, to be frank, your mother was singularly, maybe not singularly—extraordinarily driven—
NOAH: Oh yeah, definitely.
DUBNER: For her own life, she wanted to have a child—
NOAH: Yes. Definitely.
DUBNER: —even if there wasn’t a marriage and that child was you. And then the extent to which she made sure to literally invest in you, take you to places that cost nothing, expose you to things that cost nothing, expose you to languages and help teach you languages. So you know—
NOAH: But that’s, that’s an example of my mother working extra hard to make sure that I was at least the zero level that a child who was not black would be at. That’s what I’m saying. She was trying to make sure that I wasn’t in a place where I would now have to pay back in essence for things I didn’t have access to beforehand.
DUBNER: So that’s fantastic for you, fantastic for her, and she’s obviously to be applauded for that. But on the other hand, because she is such an outlier, you have to think about, well, when the system itself doesn’t provide for that opportunity —
DUBNER: —for everybody, what do you do? I’m just curious. I do think that you think about our society, including race, very differently.
NOAH: I think it’s because I’ve been lucky enough to live all over the world. So South Africa birthed me, South Africa raised me, but then I spent a lot of time living elsewhere. I’ve gotten to spend cumulatively a year living in the U.K. I’ve got to spend six months in Australia, I got to spend now five years living in the U.S. I’ve gotten to spend so much time living in different places, even experiencing what it means to be black in different places. And so, with that comes a different way of processing information. With that comes a different way of trying to understand what we’re dealing with in the world. Whether it comes through like you say these systems that oppress people and these ideas that are designed to hold people back.
NOAH (Clip from Lost In Translation): This is the strangest thing. They ask all these weird questions, questions that have nothing to do with the man being shot who is unarmed. They come on and they go, “Also noted, is Walter Scott owed $16,000 in child support.” To the cop?
DUBNER: So you were very, very religious as a child.
DUBNER: Then as a Christian, as a Roman Catholic, but then your mom converted to Judaism. What’s your religious situation now?
NOAH: I’m spiritual. I think what constantly throws me with religion is the taint of man, I find.
DUBNER: Humankind, you mean? Or maleness?
NOAH: That as well, because a lot of religion is framed around patriarchy. You know, it’s men using this mythical thing to oppress other people and women. You know, most religions aren’t very progressive in terms of women’s rights.
DUBNER: Although they are reflective of the eras in which they were formed, of course.
NOAH: Oh yeah, yeah definitely, but what I’m saying is there’s just not even one religion where it’s just, no no, men need to cover up more, and men are the ones who are dirty, and men are the ones — do you get what I’m saying?
DUBNER: Maybe you should start one. Maybe this Daily Show thing is just a way station on the route to starting — what would you call your religion?
NOAH: What would I call my religion? The Church of the Truth. That’s what I would call it.
DUBNER: Shooting small.
NOAH: Catchy name, right? Where do you go? I go to the Church of the Truth.
DUBNER: Do you still pray?
NOAH: I do.
DUBNER: What do you pray for? I realize that’s an intimate question. You don’t have to answer.
NOAH: I see prayer as a way of meditation. When I look across religions, I find the common thread. And I go, so, if you look at a person who’s meditating, that’s no different to what a lot of people who worship under Islam are doing five times a day. They’re taking time out of their day and getting into a zone. That’s really what prayer is for me. It’s taking a moment to be mindful, thinking about your world, thinking about your day, visualizing, thinking about a future, thinking about the past.
DUBNER: Is there a deity involved?
NOAH: Not necessarily Not necessarily.. I think, again, that’s where man has attached himself to the god, you know? I think if there is a god, it’s something we cannot understand. It is far beyond our comprehension of what we would think. We make it like it’s just basically a big version of Santa Claus, who decides who gets gifts and who doesn’t.
DUBNER: I was going to ask you who God prays for. So there’s a tradition in Judaism — do you know anything about Midrash? Midrashim?
DUBNER: So Midrashim are these informal but revered Jewish teachings by the sages, right? There’s one Midrash about what God prays for, which I thought was a fascinating idea, just because it flips it. And the question is asked, “What does God pray for?” and the answer is, “He prays that His mercy be greater than His anger.”
DUBNER: Which I found to be very compelling because the Bible is full of an angry god that people struggle with, and the Midrashic argument is that well, if you want to anthropomorphize God, which maybe is not a good idea—but if you do, and you see him being so pissed off all the time—that the way to think about it is that He is like a parent to these kids who are being a pain in the ass …
NOAH: That makes sense.
DUBNER: Kinda like you, like your mom felt about you.
NOAH: That’s exactly how I was, yeah.
DUBNER: And that when people who are meant to watch other people strike out at them, it’s not about being angry at them, it’s about being scared for them. And so he wanted his mercy to be always greater than his anger.
NOAH: That’s fascinating. That’s a fascinating thought. I don’t think I ever think about it that deeply. I try, and then I always get caught up in personifying a god too much.
DUBNER: And that feels counterproductive?
NOAH: Well I go this is what I think I would be if I were a god, which is I think what everyone does. That’s what everyone’s doing.
DUBNER: Really? You do? You think that’s what everyone does? Really?
NOAH: Everyone’s basically going, “I think God would do this, and I think God would do…” It’s like no, no, no, what you’re seeing is, “I think I would do this if I were a god.” That is what you’re really saying.
DUBNER: So what would you do if you were a god? Whether you have your own religion—Church of the Truth or—
NOAH: I don’t know if I’d give people free will.
DUBNER: Oh, really?
NOAH: That’s why I don’t think I’d be a good god.
DUBNER: That’s a big one to take right off the table.
NOAH: Yeah. Why would you give people the will to hurt you? That makes no sense to me. And that’s why I say God must be beyond everything we conceive, if there is a god. Because I wouldn’t let you choose to do the thing that would hurt me. Why would I want that?
DUBNER: You sound like someone who grew up under a very repressive dictator, a very repressive government, I have to say.
NOAH: It sounds like you’re talking about apartheid, but I’m talking about my mom. Yes I did. Very, very oppressive regime. That is my mother.
[MUSIC: Baba Brinkman, “Stand Up” (from The Rap Guide to Climate Chaos)]
Coming up after the break: Trevor Noah does Donald Trump …
NOAH: These people, they wanted change. That’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to make America great again.
And he explains why he’s not interested in being as angry as his predecessor, Jon Stewart.
NOAH: You’re trying to win. Your anger doesn’t help you win. Half of the time, it sends you into a blind rage.
That’s coming up, on Freakonomics Radio.
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MUSIC: J-Hype, “Isley”]
Trevor Noah, “born a crime” in South Africa, has achieved personal success beyond what he could have conceived. It was standup comedy that made it happen:
NOAH (from stand up clip): Why do you guys censor your hip hop on hip hop radio stations? I understand when I listen to KISS and they play a hip-hop song and they censor it, I’m like ok, maybe some people don’t like it. But then on the hip hop station, they censor hip hop. Why would you do that? It’s a hip hop station. Surely everyone listening to the hip hop station knows what hip hop is all about. Is there somebody listening to hip hop who doesn’t like the cussing particularly? Who are the people who made these laws? Who is that person who says, you know what, you know what, I can’t handle the cussing. I just can’t handle it. Please cut it out. But keep the misogyny. Keep that in. Keep that in. Because these hos ain’t loyal.
DUBNER: America has a lot of conversations lately about diversity and what that means. There are some people who argue, and I tend to agree with them, that often people talk about diversity in terms of the most observable characteristics.
DUBNER: Skin color is very observable, gender, etc. etc.. And that those characteristics may actually be emblematic of something that’s not all that substantial, whereas the less observable characteristics, inside of a person, which may be much more significant — how people think religiously, politically, how they think about the military, on and on—those are, because they’re not observable, we kind of don’t count them in terms of diversity. So what you may end up with in the kind of modern American form of diversity is a bunch of people who may look fairly different, but think exactly alike. As opposed to a bunch of people who have different thoughts and may or may not look alike. I’m curious whether you think what I just stated is true in your experience and if so, what you think is a better way to think about it.
NOAH: Well I think it’s complicated and none of us have figured it out. What I will say is this — within that world, the one thing you’re negating is the fact that what you feel or think about the world is not mutually exclusive from what the world thinks or feels about you. So if you have a room…let’s say you have a room of only purple people. They may all have different religions, they may all have different beliefs about the economy and the military and so on—but the one thing they all have in common is they’re all purple. And so it stands to reason that they’ve all shared similar experiences in and around being purple. So the way the world reacts to them is as purple people. And so, although it may not be perfect, when you have a room of different colors, what happens is each of those colors has interacted with the world in a different way because unfortunately that’s what the world is like now. So there’s an element of that. What you’re saying is completely true. There is no fix-all, I think. But you cannot deny that that is something that also informs you and changes who you are.
DUBNER: I very much see your point and I agree with your point. I guess the bigger challenge is when you say it’s hard to fix that or it’s hard to change it, again, the scholars that I’m thinking of would say well that is true, but the first thing you have to do is realize that the human brain makes decisions all the time based on shortcuts that are kind of bad ways of thinking, you know?
NOAH: That makes sense.
DUBNER: And that wouldn’t it be great if rather than saying “I’m going to group these people alike because they’re all purple or white or black” or whatever, I’m going to actually try to figure out some kind of litmus test of my own to think are these good people or are these honest people or are these trustworthy people?
NOAH: You are right in saying that there are many different measures. But when there are issues that are aimed at people — when you’ve got voter ID laws, let’s say, that are aimed specifically, as the 4th Circuit of Appeals said, at specific people who are marked by the color of their skin, why not get a person of that color to give you the feeling or the opinion behind it? And I think that’s where diversity plays in because, I think of it as a competitive advantage. I don’t think of it as a moral thing, in fact. I go, diversity is great for your competition. It makes you better. It makes you think. That’s what makes America great. I don’t think it’s any mistake that America has so much innovation. Because you’re living in a society that’s not homogeneous. You’re living in a society that has so many different influences. So you have a Russian coming in to create Google but from America. Because his mind comes from a Russian place but then he is basically infected with the goodness that is in America in terms of just different ideas. You know and that’s what it is. In terms of diversities, you bring your experiences, I bring mine, we may combine those two things to come up with something that you alone, I alone, could not have come up with.
DUBNER: So let me ask you this. It’s been said by eggheads whom I admire that one of the best ingredients in a healthy civilization is social trust and social capital. And that in America it’s been quite on decline since the 1960s or so, as it has been in Britain. I’m just curious, you look at this country, if I tell you the fact that our social trust is relatively much lower than it used to be and you’ve come in as an outsider, Tocquevillian, in some ways, how would you think about repairing, uplifting social trust? Keeping in mind – sorry, I left out one thing, keeping in mind that one of the biggest barriers to social trust is diversity. So diversity, which is great for economies and great for the spirit, many would argue and so on, it turns out that people tend to get less trusting when there are more people around them who don’t look like them or go to the same church or whatnot.
NOAH: That is fascinating.
DUBNER: What would you, I hate to put such a burden on you, but if you could change things—
NOAH: That’s a tough one. The first thing I would have to look at then is, is there social trust in areas of America where there’s less diversity? That’s the first thing I would have to look at.
DUBNER: The short answer is yes.
NOAH: So there is?
DUBNER: But social trust in and of itself isn’t so great. It can exist in a place, but that group could be hostile to everyone else. Ideally, you want social trust and diversity. What the scholars say is you look at the institutions that do a good job of creating that between people who are different. Universities, sports team. You boxed. Did you play team sports, though? Yeah.
NOAH: I did, I did. Is it maybe because in those institutions you feel like you have a common goal and a common purpose? And maybe essentially the people in this country don’t feel like they have a common goal and a common purpose.
DUBNER: So if that were the case, and let’s just say it is, and you could help define the common goal or purpose of America for the next five or 10 years, what would it be?
NOAH: This is the thing, I think it’s more a question. Over the next four years, America’s going to have to answer the question, and that is, “Who is America?” Is America the land of the free and the home of the brave? Is America that shining tower on a hill? Or is America the capitalistic, take-as-much-as-possible, burn-as-much-fuel-as-possible, plunder where necessary in the world and oppress the weaker? Is that America? Or is America a little bit of both? And I think that is closer to where — once you get that answer….Because oftentimes you see in the conversations that are had between people, that is still something that people don’t agree on, is what America actually is.
DUBNER: But you said something earlier about America that I think most people would agree with, is the diversity is what makes us different, is what makes us innovative, right?
NOAH: Yes. And what makes it more difficult.
DUBNER: Well, true. Absolutely. But part of diversity means what they call heterogeneous preferences, right? People prefer different things. So, what if America remains divided, the way we call it that, a lot of different people having a lot of different preferences, but finding a way to unite under a common goal. In other words, the long-term goal, the definition of what America is.
NOAH: Yeah, I will put it like this, on a smaller level. Think of a music festival. Everyone can go to a music festival and have a really great time. All the people are there together because they share a common goal and that is to enjoy and appreciate music. Now some people will go to the hip-hop stage, some people will go to the rock stage, others will go to the indie/alternative stage. Some will go to all three.
DUBNER: What about the podcast stage?
NOAH: It’s a music festival. You’re killing me here. But the point is, everybody at least has agreed that they are in this for music. They want to appreciate music. That’s why I say the larger thing still becomes within that world. Yeah, you all want everything that is different, but what is that one common goal that you are striving for? You know and so, I feel like, to a certain extent, maybe countries where they’re good at doing that—you know, like Japan has a culture in and around that. Germany has a culture—I mean they had it a bit too much. A little bit of uber alles.
DUBNER: That’s a bit of an understatement, yeah.
NOAH: The point is everyone was aimed in the same direction, and I think that’s where you start to realize how that can move you forward.
[MUSIC: Teddy Presberg, “Free Love” (from Blueprint of Soul)]
In 2015, Noah was chosen by Comedy Central to replace Jon Stewart when he stepped down as host of The Daily Show.
DUBNER: Do you like your job now?
NOAH: Yeah, I love my job. It’s challenging. It’s extremely difficult.
DUBNER: I’m told that you were a little surprised by just how exhaustive and exhausting it is running the show editorially.
NOAH: Yeah. I will tell you this. Jon Stewart does not — he gets amazing credit, but one piece of credit and I tell him all the time, is I go, “You are a genius. You are a genius and you are one of the hardest-working people I’ve ever come across, because this thing is a monster to move.” It is a mountain because it’s one thing to make jokes every day, it’s another thing to be in a world where you’re making jokes, you’re also trying to do research, you’re trying to forge a point of view, you’re trying to be truthful whilst at the same time getting across a feeling and connecting with an audience. There are many things happening at the same time, often times I go, “Man i wish we could just makes jokes about nothing today, and it’s like ‘no.’”
DUBNER: Your appointment as host was surprising to just about everyone, including you. We know that Jon Stewart’s first choice was John Oliver, to get him back, and that didn’t work out. Did you feel in any way slightly less grateful that you weren’t the first choice?
NOAH: Why? Most of us are not the first choice in our lives. Most of the people who are married are married to someone because it’s not their first choice.
DUBNER: Is that true?
NOAH: That is life.
DUBNER: You know that for a fact?
NOAH: I know that for a fact.
DUBNER: Give me the data on that.
NOAH: I’m willing to put money down. Think about it like this. If Will Smith didn’t turn down The Matrix, Keanu Reeves would have never made it. I always think that that’s what life is. It is somebody who turns something down and then you get to pick it up and go, “Let me try this.” I would have gone with John Oliver. I love John Oliver. To this day, John Oliver is one of the reasons that I was like, “I would like to do this show”. John Oliver was one of the people I looked up to. Because before him, I had never seen a non-American doing anything like that. And it took him a good 10 years to get good at doing that. So I aspire to be as good as John Oliver. No, no, that’s something I’m never slighted by because if that was the case, you’d never be grateful for anything in life.
DUBNER: And circumstances being what they are, you’ve done well on the show and the ratings have improved. That said, it’s easy for people to compare you at the beginning of your hitch, here, with Jon Stewart at the end, which is not a fair comparison, but the way time works, it’s a natural thing to do. So talk for a minute about that. What pressures you’re feeling, if any, from the network to improve ratings.
NOAH: I’ve been very lucky in that the network has always been supportive of us. And most importantly, because you must remember, we never lost ratings. We just never had the ratings of 16-year Jon Stewart. Which, in essence, would be an insult to Jon Stewart, I always think. I go, “Can you imagine if you come in from nowhere, nobody knows you, and the ratings are exactly the same?”
DUBNER: “Oh, it must have just been the time slot. It wasn’t you at all, Jon.”
NOAH: Then you go, “oh, Jon didn’t mean anything?” I would hope that Jon leaving would change the ratings. I would hope that would then give me an opportunity to build up to something myself. To see some growth. To see what a base is and to go, “OK, I can work up from here.”
DUBNER: So let me just go back a little bit to you taking over for Jon and you being a very different person, a very different thinker, and so on.You presented and, I think, talked a little bit about the fact that you’re not as angry a person, or don’t play that person so much. I’m just curious whether the election of Trump has changed your kind of internal mandate for how to manage or dial up, perhaps, the anger.
NOAH: Not necessarily. And I’ll tell you why. This is the thing people make a mistake with. They try to make it an either/or. They go, “Oh, you’re not as angry as Jon and you say you’re not as angry.” But if you listen to what Jon said was, he said, “I have become too angry, I have become tired of being angry, I can no longer do this. I understand that you want a comedy show, but I do not possess that.” And he said to me, “The show needs a host that still has that energy and still has the ability to find the comedy and use it as a tool to cut through everything that is presented to them.” My anger happens in bursts, but I do not exist only as an angry person. And maybe it’s because of the world I grew up in, where anger and strategy had to be balanced. In South Africa, we had many struggle leaders who were angry, but you had to learn when to let that anger come out. These are the things that I’ve learned from some of the greatest leaders, just reading their autobiographies and their stories. I also learned this when I used to box. I didn’t box professionally, but as a boxer you have to learn to calm down. You’re trying to win. Your anger doesn’t help you win. There are moments when you can use it to fuel what you’re trying to do, but half of the time, it sends you into a blind rage.
DUBNER: Do you think President Obama could have used a little more anger, or do you think he played things generally well? Obviously he was frustrated and he expressed his frustrations very eloquently for eight years, but he didn’t pound on tables and so on.
NOAH: I think hindsight is 20/20. I think everyone will know how Obama should have done it because it was never done before, and we won’t have an example until maybe another black president does it again.
DUBNER: You interviewed President Obama in the White House shortly before he left office. So for a guy who grew up very poor in South Africa that was obviously a very unlikely outcome that you’d end up in the White House. How do you process that?
NOAH: Wow. I can only be grateful. I sat with my friends afterwards, and we just talked about it. One of my friends, Trayvon, who used to be a writer on The Daily Show, him and I were just chatting and he was like, “Do you understand how insane this is? You are the host of The Daily Show, he is the President, but you are both mixed-race people who are both half-African, you grew up under apartheid, he is now the president. The fact that you guys met—do you know how unlikely … .just in terms of odds and numbers—”
DUBNER: Even meeting anywhere, much less at the White House.
NOAH: At the White House, you interviewing him. I mean, it was …
DUBNER: And him telling you that you’re the good-looking one, by the way.
President OBAMA (from The Daily Show): You know, I will say that I resent how young and good-looking you are, because, I used to think of myself in those terms, and it’s been downhill for quite some time.
NOAH: Look, you know, I think it’s moments like that that I try to cherish as much as possible.
DUBNER: Let’s say I’m Donald Trump. You land me on your show. First question for me?
NOAH: First question for you. Let me think. Landed you on the show. You’ve come in as president. Are you president now, probably?
DUBNER: Let’s say I’m president. Say it’s January 23, on my very third day, I come to you, Trevor Noah, because I’ve heard that you are a really interesting thinker, a straight shooter, and that you look at things differently as do I.
NOAH: I would probably say, “You really knew how to tap into almost everybody’s anger and feelings of being left behind, and sometimes even of hatred, how did you do that without getting swept up in it? Because you don’t believe most of those things.”
DUBNER: Now, what makes you think, though, that I wouldn’t hear the beginning of that and say, “You did well at tapping into the anger,” wouldn’t my response naturally be then, “Well, that’s an accusation. It wasn’t anger—”
NOAH: Donald Trump doesn’t think like that.
DUBNER: No, he doesn’t?
NOAH: You’re going too deep now. No.
DUBNER: What would my reply be then? Now you have to be Trump and I have to be you for a moment.
NOAH: What would Trump say to that? He would probably say, “I traveled around the country, met a lot of people, fantastic people, tremendous people, tremendous people, a lot of angry people, I heard what they said. These people, they wanted change. That’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to make America great again. We’re going to make America great again.”
DUBNER: What do you think of Trump?
NOAH: I think Donald Trump is playing a character in a reality show, and he doesn’t take it as seriously as everyone else does. That’s what I genuinely think.
DUBNER: Therefore, the outcome will be poor? Or therefore the outcome will be, it’s hard to say because we haven’t seen it before?
NOAH: It’s hard to say because we’ve never seen it. I’ve never seen this before. Normally the show ends when the person wins the prize. Now, you know, it’s the beginning of the journey.
[MUSIC: Beckah Shae, “It’s Well” (from Mighty)]
In case you’re still undecided on Trevor Noah, and want to know more about where he stands on the pressing issues of the day – well, consider his views on … this podcast.
NOAH: I’ve studied this for a very long time and I’ve come to the conclusion that people who refuse to listen to Freakonomics Radio are unfortunately doomed to be labeled as idiots. Now this is something we can all change, but it’s all up to you.
So congratulations, dear listener. You’ve proven you’re not an idiot. Why don’t you help your friends and family escape idiocy too, by telling them to listen, and do the other nice things to support our show. You can subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can write a review or leave a rating. And, of course, check out our next episode. If Trevor Noah is an example of the American Dream writ small, what about the big picture? We speak with the award-winning economist Raj Chetty about the state of the American Dream.
CHETTY: You’re twice as likely to realize the American Dream if you’re growing up in Canada rather than the U.S.
That’s next time, on Freakonomics Radio.
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CREDITS: Freakonomics Radio is produced by WNYC Studios and Dubner Productions. Today’s episode was produced by Shelley Lewis. Our staff also includes Christopher Werth, Merritt Jacob,Greg Rosalsky, Stephanie Tam, Eliza Lambert, Alison Hockenberry, Emma Morgenstern, Harry Huggins, and Brian Gutierrez. You can subscribe to this podcast on iTunes or wherever else you get your podcasts. You can also find us on Twitter and Facebook. Thanks for listening.
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Here’s where you can learn more about the people and ideas in this episode:
- Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, Trevor Noah (2016)