Commentary

Trevor Noah Says Diverse Staff Helps Expand The Daily Show's 'Mind'

Noah is the first guest of a new series launched this week by Expensify exploring issues of race and diversity in the workforce and culture at large.

Payments app Expensify, in collaboration with ad agency Alto, is out with new video series this week exploring issues of race and diversity in the workforce and culture at large.

The series’ first guest is Trevor Noah, host of Comedy Central’s "The Daily Show". A native of South Africa, Noah experienced firsthand the inequities and racism of the country’s apartheid system of segregation. His parents’ interracial relationship was considered illegal when he was born in 1984. He left for America in 2011.

Apartheid was abolished a relatively short time ago — in 1990 — yet Noah told the show’s hosts (Expensify’s Joanie Wang and Puneet Lath) that issues of race there are discussed more honestly and openly than in the U.S.

“The population is 90% Black, so it’s easier to say we need to have a conversation about what happened.” said Noah. By contrast, he said, the U.S. “has never been forced to do that.” Part of the reason is that “throughout history, Americans have always had the idea that it would come with some sort of racial reckoning. That there would be a night where all of a sudden everybody is punished for their sins when, in fact, it’s really just about closure.”

He likens the lack of a frank and honest dialogue about race to someone who won’t disclose their past medical history to doctors trying to diagnose a current malady. “In order to treat the cause of something, you have to acknowledge what made it that way.”

Known for having one of the most diverse staffs in the entertainment industry, Noah was asked how he approaches hiring talent at "The Daily Show."

“What I’m trying to do is grow the staff so the show’s mind is always being expanded,” he said. Many people hired are different from him and each other, but there is a certain “like-mindedness” that connects them all. “We’re like-minded in that we are trying to do the same things, but we can think of 100 ways to do it. It adds texture to everything you do.”

Interesting life experience is a big plus when considering new hires, said Noah. Different experiences generate unique ideas that  “jammed together can create a new experience for the audience.” A lot of things can be learned on the job,” he said. One of the few prerequisites: being funny. That’s much harder to teach.

What’s never a consideration, he said, is whether the audience is “ready” for whatever audacious approach the show takes on any given night. “People are waiting for it,” he said, because they want the connection. “I know I always appreciate that.”

The complete interview with Noah is here.

The primary goal of the film series is to share insights with Expensify employees to begin the company’s wider diversity conversation. But the Noah interview is also being released publicly with a discussion guide to help facilitate a broader conversation.  

“It’s hard to have nuanced conversations around diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace because they can be difficult and scary,” said Wang, who in addition to co-hosting the series is director of marketing and brand at Expensify. “Our goal was to create an intentional space to discuss issues in a way that was compelling to everyone, whether it is your first conversation or your 100th.”

 

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