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Why ‘The Daily Show’s’ Trevor Noah wants to make candidates laugh: ‘It is who you are’

Getting politicians like Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders to laugh helps viewers see another side of them, Noah says, and helps him “chip away at the talking points.”

When "The Daily Show" host Trevor Noah stopped by The Times' office for a video interview in late April, 18 Democrats had announced plans to run for president. That field now numbers 20 — and the Iowa caucuses are still nearly 10 months away. "It's just tomorrow," Noah says, smiling. "It's just tomorrow."

Noah has already welcomed senators Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders on "The Daily Show," leading thoughtful and often funny conversations with the candidates. "The Daily Show," along with Stephen Colbert's "The Late Show," has become an essential stop for presidential candidates looking to connect with voters.

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Noah knows this and realizes that politicians arrive at "The Daily Show" armed with talking points. His job, he says, is to steadily chip away at the canned sentiments and get to the human being behind them.

"Every politician is selling themselves, trying to get the job," Noah says. "What I'm trying to do is ask the questions that the 'employer' — a.k.a. the voter — should be asking. I think a lot of politicians focus too much on how much they can remember or how many facts they can regurgitate but not enough on the message. What are they actually saying?"

The South African-born comedian says doing stand-up gigs helps him get out of New York and see more of America and Americans.

Noah took over hosting "The Daily Show" four years ago, relieving (a grateful) Jon Stewart in the run-up to Donald Trump's eventual election. The South African-born comedian says he and his staff have a game plan going into the 2020 election.

"The campaign is not one single story," Noah says. "It's a journey of little stories that get you to the final ending. All I'm doing right now is focusing on what story we're telling our audience every week. What is in the news? How does it apply to you? Which parts offend you and which parts affect you? Because I've realized there's a difference between the two."

In the video conversation, Noah also reflects on taking over for Stewart ("I was plagued by doubt"), how his extensive stand-up touring feeds both "The Daily Show" and his soul and the vital role laughter plays both in processing the news and assessing candidates.

"It reminds us of who we are," Noah says of laughter. "You can't fake anything when you are yourself. Your laugh is ugly, your laugh is snorty, your laugh is crass, your laugh is loud, your laugh is giggly. It is who you are. That's what I love about a laugh. So getting a presidential candidate to laugh in a moment … I feel that it opens them up. You see them come alive."

You can watch the full interview below. And, yes, there's a fair amount of chuckling involved.

The South African-born comedian talks interviewing presidential candidates, meeting Americans, and his show's relationship with the Trump administration.

Twitter: @glennwhipp

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