Citizen.Speak.Amplify

Trevor Noah and four things that won’t fly on The Daily Show

Local comedian Trevor Noah was a surprising pick when it came to replacing late night comedy stalwart Jon Stewart on Comedy Central’s Daily Show this year. Comedy Central continued to back him, even after some of his more questionable jokes surfaced online, and in anticipation of his first show, South Africans have dubbed Tuesday informal Trevor Noah Day. But is Noah the right man for the job? Here are four things that may need some (special) attention.

Noah has been one-dimensional so far
Jon Stewart is not only a comedian; he’s also an actor, producer, director and writer. Noah is a local stand-up comic who’s stumbled into a few acting roles. He may be able to do some accents and drop a few punchlines but it is going to take more than that – and foremost a really strong understanding of social justice – to fill Stewart’s shoes.

His jokes can be offensive
No sooner had be been announced as the new Daily Show host, than people began trawling through is old tweets for anything incriminating – and they found it in tweets that were sexist and anti-semitic. He may have been forgiven for these but a lot of his repertoire continues to rely on accents, impersonations and stereotypes. That simply won’t do on the Daily Show.

He’s out of his depth, politically
In South Africa, President Jacob Zuma and various government ministers provide ample material for comedians like Noah and co. But American politics have a depth and history that Noah might not be able to grasp quickly and well enough to riff off each week. His recent segment with fellow late night host Stephen Colbert got only a few guffaws from the crowd. You have to wonder whether Noah is frantically reading up on US politics or whether he’s decided to leave these intricacies up to his (excellent) correspondents.

He’s been given a poisoned chalice
Noah was far down the list of potential Stewart replacements. Several popular US comics – including Amy Schumer, Amy Poehler and Chris Rock – were offered the role and turned it down. Tonight Noah steps up to the desk that the sharp and witty Stewart had made his own for 16 years, and he’s already been described as being “tone deaf” and unable “to accurately read the outrage winds that push today’s conversation”. He could soar, or he could go down in flames. We’re guessing, it might be the latter.

Trevor Noah’s first show airs in the US on Monday at 11pm EST. You can view it here in SA on Comedy Central (DSTV channel 122) on Tuesday 29 September at 21:00.

– Featured image via @trevornoah on Twitter

 

7 Comments
  1. Big Moh says

    Can you be more negative and pessimistic????

  2. Ana says

    This routine of thanking Jon Stewart is really boring now.

  3. Trivern Ramjettan says

    The main gist of this punchy article is a comparison between Stewart and Noah. You can’t compare an internationalised South African from the South with an American celebrity. The whole point is that Noah can offer something different and unique from his predecessor, not necessarily inscribed by the labels comedian or political commentator. So if you’re going to doubt Noah and offer arguments, do so outside of a reductionist comparison with (the so called standard) Jon Stewart.

    Where the article does insist on evaluating Noah sui generis, I find the author moreover concerned with making Noah out to be an accidental, “lucky” public figure with no real claim to quality entertainment. The author says that Noah’s jokes are one dimensional (because Noah is a mere comedian), of bad taste (antisemitic and sexist), incapable of grasping American politics, and, again comparing the successor to the predecessor, that Noah has impossibly big shoes to fill.

    In quickly addressing these criticisms, I am inclined to believe that the author simply fails to enjoy Noah’s comedy and satirical political /sociological humour. To call Noah one dimensional – in comparison with Stewart – is to ignore that Noah is much younger than Stewart and obviously at an earlier stage in his career development. There is all the reason to assume and hope that Noah also becomes a writer, producer, actor or whatever justifies success in the entertainment industry. The egregious comparison insults Noah and his demonstrated social mobility as it glorifies the stubborn whiteness of American entertainment.

    Bad taste? Again, the author sits sullenly as Noah delivers his material while the rest of us laugh. Noah’s funny and critical. The author simply fails to see this. Jokes carry implicit critique when delivered properly and around issues of mutual relevance. They can be derogatory and offensive, but they can also be cathartic and powerfully insightful. Noah’s material is often race and ethnicity, class and history. Because he hails from the South, he has full license to discuss these issues provided they provoke thought (and skillfully, laughter). The prudish claim that he’s offensive made by the author is only a arrogance that stands in the way of up and coming, critical black entertainers (who also manage to achieve success on conventional grounds).

    Incapable of grasping American politics and fated to fail in attempting to fill Stewart’s “big shoes? Nonsense. The author glorifies the American political system as it insults the South African, assuming that there is “a depth and history” Noah won’t be able to understand. It smacks of the author’s colonised mind and his/her love of Empire and Power while humiliated by his/her own locale. South African politics is just as heady and perhaps more promising than the American (institutionalised) variant. Noah’s experiences as a black South African emerging from apartheid to the exigencies of current political and economic configurations place him in a perfect position to understand issues in other countries. He may not be the quintessential analyst, or have the chance to deliver ground breaking arguments on Americanism, but he’s got all the opportunity and capacity to become that.

    Daily Vox offers us a stupid article, stupidly written. Which is bad enough were it not for the implicit ideas against black mobility, of American kowtowing and self-abrogating humiliation before Power.

    1. Ana says

      Trivern, you raise really important points, albeit your sentiment is marked by a reverence for fantastical fallacy. while Tevor is younger, and might even be smarter, the system will never allow him to make it in quite the same way it did for a white man, like John Stewart. John Stewart spoke for white guilt, rallied the forces of white middle class evil against real, devilish evil, and then went back to the suburbs. who will trevor speak for? and what will he be, besides being a sanitized, hand-picked white puppet.

      1. Trivern Ramjettan says

        Ana,

        “…marked by reverence for fantastical fallacy”? I’m trying to discount and debunk the expectation that because Noah is “un-American”, that he will fail. That because of any reasons based on a comparison with Jon Stewart, being different from him, that he is incapable or unqualified to host the show. I want to give him that chance and not persecute the man before he’s begun. I show no reverence for Noah or toward any fallacious reasoning, except the expectation that Noah can present something unique to American (and global) television. And if he doesn’t do that, then let time reveal this indictment, not our petty, premature criticisms.

        The system always wins? He will never “make it” the same way Jon Stewart did because Noah is now co-opted into white middle class politics and political commentary? I think you need to temper your spuriously radical politics and depressive outlook with a fresh vision of optimism in how ideas change. There are multiple avenues for critique and work against Power, multiple ways for effecting change in peoples’ attitudes and behaviour that do not necessarily mean “co-optation” into the system. Noah can occupy a privileged position, being a news anchor, and influence the audiences’ ideas. Is it always mass struggle and anti-systemic work that brings the System down? Is it always revolutionary vigour that speaks for and forwards the cause of disenfranchised, powerless groups? Noah is no revolutionary, but my point is that he can offer ideational and attitudinal work on the Master’s House, with the Master’s tools. This is the opportunity.

        There is no reason to expect Noah will become a telling critic of Americanism and its excesses, dismantling the House. But why not carry the expectation that he could be in other cultural spaces? Not necessarily as the host of this show but through other potential avenues where his creative voice can be read and felt with more impact? Granted, in a space where he has more control over his content.

        The only “fantastical fallacy” is to assume that (Noah’s proven) ambition that takes someone from the South into the centres of Power in the North is reprehensible, anti-developmental and to be rejected. Like I said, its a spurious radicalism that disallows us from actually applauding the successes of people from the South as if Revolution or Holistic Systemic Change is the only available option.

        It is a self-limiting and depressing point of view that we cannot congratulate our own ambition if its leads to centres of power in the North. We should applaud him for what he can do and what opportunity there is in what he is doing. I agree to watching him closely, we all will, but I really don’t think we should offer premature judgements on his true worth / potential.

  4. Kaloo says

    For clearly the leading authority on international success in the field of comedy must surely be The Daily Vox…

  5. Travis says

    Thank you for this more realistic perspective. Noah has a long way to go to prove himself worthy of that space behind the desk. He hasn’t shown himself to be anywhere near the Jon Stewart level of comedic savvy yet. Overpraising him, just because he’s South African, is silly.

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.