The Daily Show has transcended the label of ‘comedy news program.’ At this point, it’s an institution – significant for its political commentary and news-but-not-really-news format that’s become one of the more influential political voices in the country.
It is probably most famous for launching the careers of Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell and Ed Helms as supporting cast members known as correspondents. In more recent years they haven’t tried to replace the star power that previous casts had, but have instead added a range of perspectives to make the show more accessible and honest to a wider audience than almost anything else on TV.
The latest additions to the cast are Indian-American comedian Hasan Minhaj and South African comedian Trevor Noah.
Noah’s standup special – Trevor Noah: African American – is currently on Netflix and is one of the more provocative pieces of work in today’s comedy scene. Noah was born to a white father and black mother in apartheid South Africa. He talks about when he would walk down the street with his mother, she couldn’t hold his hand and his father couldn’t even be seen in public with Trevor or his mother.
With American race relations at a tense juncture, the idea of including a firsthand witness to one of the more reprehensible racial policies of modern times seems completely logical.
The Daily Show has made a habit of expanding their reach when the news requires it do so. Of the six current correspondents (Minhaj and Noah won’t make their debuts until November) only one – newest member Jordan Klepper – is an American born, white male, and that’s even poked fun at with his title of “Senior Caucasian Correspondent.”
The other five active members of the show are Canadian-born husband and wife team Samantha Bee and Jason Jones, “Senior Latino Correspondent” Al Madrigal, “Senior Middle East Correspondent,” practicing Muslim and English born Aasif Mandvi, plus 25-year-old African-American woman and “Senior Youth Correspondent” Jessica Williams.
There isn’t a Colbert-level star among the current lineup; rather, it’s full of perspectives that can’t be found in most other places on television. America is undeniably a wonderful place to live and in the grand scheme of things, its problems aren’t as significant as some others throughout the world. But at the same time, America isn’t an angelic paradise that is perpetually on the right side of history either.
The narrative that has become too common in modern news is whatever ideology you choose to subscribe to can do no wrong and the opposition is inherently wrong. What The Daily Show is doing provides a valuable service of presenting an outsider’s view of an issue. Like anything else, if you’re too close to something you can’t see the entire picture.
When British comedian John Oliver aired his now famous three-part series comparing Australian and American gun control, people were forced to see beyond their sight for a moment and realize other people around the world don’t live the way we do…and sometimes it’s for the better. Had that been a born and bred American railing on gun control policy, it would have been an easily dismissible piece of “liberal bias.” But because it came from someone who has been elsewhere and sees America as a bit of a stranger, credibility is automatically increased.
It also isn’t a mystery that The Daily Show leans left politically. Jon Stewart is unabashedly liberal and most of the writing is geared toward undermining some sort of conservative policy or pundit. But this is where TDS’s diversity provides a sense of legitimacy. Rather than a whitewashed panel discussing immigration, racial, or gender issues, The Daily Show is able to defer to actual immigrants or minorities to gain an intimate perspective rather than a glossed-over generalization.
The Daily Show has never and should never replace legitimate news. But it has reeled in stories that seem very distant and made them hit close to home by focusing on people rather than policy. While the ideological debate continues in America, that strategy is something that shouldn’t be forgotten.
We aren’t talking about statistics, but actual human beings that are affected – something this fake news show has done far better than actual news programs.