‘Daily Show’ Head Writer Solicits Laughs, Serious Questions at Q&A

"The Daily Show" head writer, Zhubin Parang (right), spoke to New York Times culture reporter Sopan Deb at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate in Boston on Nov. 20, 2017. Parang discussed topics ranging from differences between journalism and satire, to the Trump administration. Photo by Sarah Rappaport / BU News Service

By Sarah Rappaport
BU News Service


BOSTON — Zhubin Parang, head writer at Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, drew laughs and serious questions on Monday night in a discussion of how the show and comedy have adapted to a changing media landscape and sometimes chaotic political scene.

The event, moderated by New York Times culture reporter Sopan Deb, was held at the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate and is the latest in the institute’s “Getting to the Point” lecture series.

“The institute really focuses on conversations that offer a different perspective,” said Natalie Boyle, director of communications. “This is a very timely topic.”

Deb, a BU Journalism grad, led Parang through a variety of questions that solicited both serious and comical responses.

“For a team of writers that write a lot of dildo jokes, I guess we’re fairly ethical,” Parang said.

The audience was particularly interested in hearing about potential overlaps between journalism and satire. Parang, who has been with “The Daily Show” for six years, acknowledged that, although President Trump has given comedians a wide range of political material to cover, he does not consider himself a reporter.

“I really value journalists; I think the work they do is irreplaceable,” Parang said. “I want us to just be commentators on the news and I want the actual news to be done by journalists.”

Regarding writing about President Trump’s firing of former Federal Bureau of Investigations Director James Comey, Parang said that comedians have learned to be ready to adapt to developing news at a moment’s notice. He admitted that writing comedic commentary on breaking news was stressful at times.

“Every late night writer has PTSD from that one week,” Parang said.  

Other audience members asked how the South African born Trevor Noah was adapting to the US political climate.

“Trevor is used to this,” Parang said. “The South African president, Jacob Zuma, is basically an African Trump with almost the exact same levels of media bashing.”

Noah, who took over “The Daily Show” after former host Jon Stewart’s acclaimed 16-year reign, has achieved popularity with audiences and earns an average of about 1.5 million viewers on a nightly basis.

Hayden Hamilton, an Emerson College freshman studying comedy, said he was a fan of the show and glad that Parang was able to offer insight on approaching all aspects of comedy.

“I liked it a lot,” Hamilton said. “I’m glad that he was able to talk about more than the Trump-related issues.”

Despite the stress that may come with his job and the frustrations arising from scanning social media in the current political climate, Parang said he was thankful for his career and coworkers.

“I love the process of airing out my horror with the funniest people in the world,” Parang said.

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