Trevor Noah, the newly-crowned successor of Jon Stewart on The Daily Show, is being heavily criticized for a series of tweets with sexist and anti-Semitic content. As has been widely reported by a variety of sources (including Deadline), Noah has responded by complaining that his “views are being reduced to a handful of jokes that didn’t land.” And acting in Noah’s defense, Patton Oswalt farted out like 50 missing-the-point tweets that can be summed up by, “you’re just too sensitive, crybaby” (which is, of course, the classic dismissal and defense of an abusive person).
Who knows, maybe those of us who are offended by those tweets do have some level of sensitivity (maybe due to, I don’t know, petty little events like domestic violence and the Holocaust?). But Oswalt and Noah’s supporters have not really thought this through. This controversy is not about comedy. If it were just about comedy, I would have shrugged my shoulders and decided not to watch Trevor Noah’s comedy specials. Comedians say offensive stuff all the time. It’s their right to say it, and it’s my right to avoid it or speak to it.
But we’re not talking about comedy. We’re talking about The Daily Show. And as a successor to Jon Stewart on our much-beloved, leading source of quality satire (kicking up, not down), Trevor Noah falls embarrassingly and offensively short. Jon Stewart said that Noah is a “thoughtful and considerate and funny and smart individual.” However, in his tweets and knee-jerk, defensive non-apology, he’s proved to be none of those things.
Here are a bunch of reasons I won’t be watching Trevor Noah’s version of The Daily Show, despite Jon Stewart’s lukewarm call towards support (“Trevor Noah will earn your trust and respect. Or not”):
Trevor Noah has not apologized. He claims the jokes simply “didn’t land.” No, it’s not that they didn’t land, because they certainly landed. As a matter of fact, they were so thick with meanness, they crashed to the ground in thundering malevolence. These were all jokes about marginalized people: Jokes about fat chicks. Jokes about domestic violence. Jokes about Jewish people, including casually alluding to the Holocaust. What kind of person even thinks of those thoughts, decides they’re hilarious, takes the time to lovingly craft them into 240 characters, and then nod satisfactorily as they hit the “post” button? That’s a lot of steps and a lot of active decision to be offensive. Plus, he knows better. He’s from South Africa. I’m astonished that a South African comedian, born of apartheid, would use his platform to be offensive towards vulnerable groups.
Trevor Noah is not innovative as a comedian. You’re not really acting as a comedian when you make these kinds of jokes. They’re not clever. They’re just mean. And, he’s the kind of person who makes jokes about fat chicks, domestic violence, and Jewish people. Why would we want a guy who makes sexist and anti-Semitic jokes heading up a show that we love for speaking truth to power? Instead, Noah is recycling tired stereotypes and reinforcing dangerous notions in a climate that is already not kind to vulnerable people.
Noah gives the “eyyyyy, these are just jokes, amirite?” defense in his non-apology, and claims that his critics are “reducing his views to a handful” of jokes. Okay, maybe out of every joke he’s ever made, these tweets are a small percentage. But like I said, he’s the kind of person who makes fat chick jokes. Is that what we really want on The Daily Show?
Trevor Noah is not showing he is capable of satire. He is making nasty, Anti-Semitic, and misogynistic cracks. The Daily Show is our bulwark of kicking up. The tradition of satire means to criticize those in power with well-crafted humor, not to derogate vulnerable groups of people with nasty schoolyard cracks and lazy stereotyping. What’s next, Trevor? Are you going to push over a disabled kid at recess?
In slang, someone who is all about aspiring to the norm, even when that norm is harmful, is “basic.” Trevor Noah does not subvert the norms of sexism and anti-Semitism, he upholds them. That’s why Trevor Noah is not the right host for The Daily Show. Not only does he seem to have a congenital meanness, he’s interested in preserving the status quo in his best interest (NO FAT CHICKS), whereas The Daily Show is known for subversion. His mean tweets and non-apology were pretty basic behaviors: you can hear that stuff at a sports bar. Why hire that kind of person to lead a show known for high-level analysis, integrity, and subversion? He did not show that he is thoughtful, considerate, funny, or smart, all qualities needed to be successful as Jon Stewart’s successor. He has failed The Daily Show‘s tradition of subversion.
It’s not that we’re too sensitive. It’s that Trevor Noah has not demonstrated that he is worthy to lead The Daily Show.
Kari Tervo enjoys pop culture as a universal language. Sorry, Esperanto and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department: Bieber wins. She’s not sure if she’s supposed to be writing about herself in the first or third person right now, so she’s going to act like someone does this kind of work for her. Why ruin the mystique?
Kari reviews zines for Pop Culture Beast in her regular column, Blog Zine. She also provides pop culture opinion and analysis about whatever she gets the urge to write about.