Search
  • Ruth Walker

Backstage pass to the Daily Show


Trevor Noah backstage with Lupita Nyong'o. Photograph: Sean Gallagher

It was recently revealed that Trevor Noah was paying the salaries of 25 furloughed staff out of his own pocket. Good guy points for the man who calls Hell's Kitchen not just his workplace but his home.


In an interview with Variety, a source said: “These are the people who have been on the show with Trevor from day one and help him put on the show. Trevor is personally covering their salaries until the production business opens again. He respects his crew tremendously and feels it’s only right that they get through this together.”


Since production ceased at the 11th Ave studios, Noah has been producing The Daily Social Distancing Show from his home in Stella Tower, on W50th St - 9th/10th Ave. And it's proved so successful – the episode featuring an interview with Anthony Fauci had 43 million views – Comedy Central has increased the run time to 45 minutes.


And, while we're waiting for normal service to resume, let's revisit that time we went behind the scenes, with set photographer Sean Gallagher ...

It’s impossible not to smile at Sean Gallagher’s behind-the-scenes photographs of The Daily Show, there’s so much infectious joy (and more than the occasional sight of Lewis Black flipping the bird).


The guests he’s photographed over his more than two years behind the lens include Hillary Clinton, Anthony Bourdain, David Blaine, Ricky Gervais, and Tiffany Haddish. But even more intimate are the images of the cast, crew (and #dailyshowdogs) who make the show such a late-night TV phenomenon.


“One great thing about The Daily Show is that you literally never know who you’ll get to see. Sometimes it’s politicians, others it’s actors or musicians or authors. One of my personal favorites is Neil deGrasse Tyson, the astrophysicist. 


“Honestly, the whole thing has been pretty incredible. I pinch myself almost every night when I walk out on to the floor and the audience is going absolutely crazy. If I had to pick, Trevor’s first show stands out, as does Jon’s last, being on the road. And the night Trump was elected was, of course, a big one.”


That night, the show broadcast live, and will do so again on November 6, the night of the midterm elections, with an episode titled Democalypse 2018: Let’s Try This Again, America.

“Most nights, I think all the late shows can get away with taping in the late afternoons, even in Trump’s insane hyper news cycle. But on election nights, it’s great to be able to provide up-to-the-minute material. Not to mention, the dynamic around the building is pretty great. Everyone is clustered around TVs everywhere, it’s very quiet while they’re working on trying to distill what’s happening into a coherent narrative for a good show.


“Live TV is always exciting,” he adds. “I’d say viewers could expect an amped-up version of what they see most nights. But one never knows … especially now with Trump."


But why does the show even have a set photographer in the first place?


“I’m there to take still shots of the show, generally for press and social media,” explains Sean. “Even in the age of video on Twitter/Instagram/news sites, still images are ubiquitous. 

“You can find my images everywhere: on the show’s social media feeds, on the feeds of guests and correspondents, on the press site, on news stories about the show or Trevor.


“In a larger sense, I also think of myself as working to illustrate the ‘story of the show’ – what life behind the scenes at The Daily Show is actually like. The production staff has been kind enough to give me fairly free rein – I’m able to photograph pretty much anything I’d like. This is a unique, interesting little world, and I think of it as my job to capture that.”


He’d been with the show for about seven years already, working in various backstage roles, while selling his own photographic prints as a sideline. “I’ve never been shy about talking about it around the show, and some of my images are hung around the building,” he says. “Then, when Trevor took over, we had a new focus on social media and what was possible online. The Expansion Team – our social media gurus – were looking to have a photo of the guest with Trevor every night, and were shooting it with a phone. Phone cameras are fantastic these days, but it takes work to make it look like it wasn’t shot with one. I started talking to a few people about having an actual camera for those pics, and while they were at it, a photographer too.


“Since then, it’s grown a lot in scope, which has made it more fun and interesting, as well as challenging.”


The intention isn’t so much to shoot portraits as it is to capture candid moments in the show. So Sean tries to fade into the background and interact with his subjects as little as possible. “The awareness of the presence of the camera in the room changes what goes on in front of it, which defeats my purpose – to grab genuine moments. Everything about what you see on television is ‘produced’ – the faces, the clothes, the angles, the time down to the last second. But we’re all human, and there’s tons of realness amidst all that.


“That being said, these are still my coworkers and I see them every day, so it’s tough to keep a real distance. I have a folder of people making faces at me or giving me the finger, which I also love.”




Away from the TV cameras and the politics, and the green room, his other work couldn’t be more different: highly detailed shots of feathers and bones, and beautiful boxes of the tools that have been passed down through his family of stagehands, their wooden handles worn smooth by years of handling.


“My father built birdhouses and we had a yard full of them, as well as feeders, when I was growing up, so I’ve always been fascinated with birds. Photographing feathers was initially situational; I needed something small to shoot in my little apartment when I had down time. On a larger scale, most of the objects I photograph – whether they’re feathers or my family’s tools – are meditations on things we’d otherwise overlook in the rush of everyday life. We pass feathers constantly and never think about them – in the city they’re generally from pigeons, so the impression is they’re dirty and full of bugs. But if I take an inch-long feather, light it nicely, photograph it, blow it up four feet tall and hang it on a wall, suddenly it’s a little universe, with its own order and chaos. You see all kinds of incredible details to wonder at. It takes you out of yourself and simultaneously centers you.”


Trevor Noah in the make-up chair. Photograph: Sean Gallagher

A version of this interview previously appeared in the November 2018 issue of W42ST magazine. Stay in touch with W42ST and be first to read stories like this when you subscribe to our daily newsletter at w42st.com


© 2020 BY KOB Publishing LLC

info@w42st.com   |   340 West 42nd Street #2256, New York, NY 10108

  • Black Instagram Icon
  • Twitter Basic Black
  • Facebook Basic Black