My thoughts about Trevor Noah
Okay, I should mention the controversy regarding his anti-Semitic jokes. While I do agree jokes don’t always represent a person’s true character, those Jewish jokes are particularly hard for me to handle.
My problem with them is not because they were crude, but because they were not expressed in any appropriate contexts; I have no problem if they are done while playing Cards Against Humanity or the joker mockingly portrays an anti-Semite. So, even though I don’t think Noah is an anti-Semite, I also cannot defend his jokes. I am also not surprised Comedy Central defended him. But, he did have an unlikely defender.
The chairperson of South African Jewish Board Of Deputies.
I can’t say if other South African Jews shared her sentiment. But, she did defend him by saying it was his style of humour and he was just being playful. The fact that a Jewish individual who led a Jewish organisation defended crude Jewish jokes seems mind-boggling to me.
This case convinces me that while there is nothing inherently wrong about getting offended by jokes, we should never do so on the behalf of others; our feelings are ours. Let the actual targets of the jokes decide whether they are offended or not.
The criticism against his past jokes is valid. But, there are other criticism that, to this day, I still find stupid.
First and foremost, some fans of the old Daily Show find Noah not funny. Obviously, not finding someone funny is not a bad thing; humour is subjective after all. But, instead of trying to be actual critics by pointing out the actual flaws in his humour, many prefer to use the ‘my-taste-is-better-than-yours’ argument.
Well, those particular people also have this way of discrediting Noah: just point out that he does not write his own materials! Of course, the method is stupid in so many ways. Not only it inherently does not prove his unfunniness, it shows how they know nothing about him and the entertainment industry.
Trevor Noah is not just a random South African dude Jon Stewart randomly picked. Before The Daily Show, not only he already had an established career, TDS was not even the first American show he had appeared on; prior to his ‘tenure’, he already had years of experience creating his own jokes. When he becomes the host, he is indeed assisted by a team of writers. But, he still writes his own jokes, nonetheless.
Those detractors also don’t realise virtually every scripted entertainment TV show in the US has a team of writers. So, if they really believe what they are saying, that means they believe every late night TV host in the country, including the beloved Jon fucking Stewart, is a talentless hack. Do they seriously think those TV hosts can long monologues almost daily… just by themselves? They are not Gods, they are human beings. If they try to do that, I am sure they would rage quit in less than a month.
If anything, I believe Noah performs much better without the writers. His scripted TDS performances often feel stilted and fail to encompass his trademark intercultural dynamism. The scripts fail to embody his personality. For me, his best performances are his solo stand-ups and his Between-the-scenes videos.
In the latter, not only he has proven himself as skillful in making jokes on the spot, he is able to engage with members of the audience and answer their impromptu questions intelligently and articulately. As much as I love Jon Stewart, I think Noah beats him in those departments.
Now about Noah being a foreigner…
His critics believe his status as a foreigner supposedly can make him emotionally detached from issues affecting Americans. On the surface, the concern seems valid; it is indeed very hard to get passionate about the plights of places you were not born and raised in.
Hard, but not impossible.
Just like Americans who have become invested in other countries’ problems (to the point of being proud interventionists), non-Americans like myself are also preoccupied by America’s internal issues. While the sympathy can be misguided or provoked by gross misinformation, its ability to transcend borders has been proven from time to time.
Americans should also be aware of their status as the world power (never mind Beijing catching up quickly). Like it or not, the world stage constantly focuses its many spotlights on America’s best… and worst. Like it or not, the world knows more about America than America knows about the world. If America can destroy other countries by installing dictators that serve its own national interests, foreigners have the right to join its domestic conversations.
I also believe Noah’s status as a foreigner can be a plus point. Many citizens all over the world, not just Americans, feel invaded when foreigners trespass the conversations. The feeling of being intruded is understandable. But, if we want the conversations to move forward and possibly reaching substantial solutions, we must be perceptive. We must lend our ears to dissenting yet reasonable voices.
And, like it or not, they include ones of well-informed foreigners.
If their words anger us, we should ask ourselves: are we angered by their falsehood or are we angered by their truthfulness? That depends on what kind of citizens we are. If we are ones who believe in our countries’ so-called flawless and inherently moral foundations, then it is obviously the latter.
Speaking for myself, I am strongly benefited by the consideration of foreign perspectives. They gave me lenses that I never knew existed, let alone I could utilise. Thanks to them, I learned something negative and positive about my home country that I had never realised before: while Indonesia is way more tolerant of bigotry than the US is, its embrace of diversity (when occurs) is also more sincere and less likely to be inflicted by feelgood tokenism.
And, if they are willing to listen, Americans can also learn a lot from well-informed foreigners like Trevor Noah.
In one Between-the-scene video, he noticed how South African police officers were more likely to see themselves as citizens with higher civic responsibilities than their American counterparts, who tended to see their badges as tickets to infinite amount of unaccountability.
In another Between-the-scenes video where he got a scathing letter from the French ambassador (who had so much time on his hand, it seemed) for declaring Africa the winner of the world cup, he observed how the US gives rooms to hyphenated identities while France only tolerates ones entirely derived from the la Métropole.
(I also have to add that France looks down on its own regional accents and is very eager to bring its own regional languages, which are not intelligible to French, to extinction; if anything, France seems to derive its identity almost entirely on the Parisian one. Correct me if I am wrong).
His words functioned as reminders to his American audience. They must remember that the police’s job is to protect us, NOT to oppress us. They must acknowledge that inclusiveness, NOT enforced homogeneity, is what makes America admirable on the world stage, it is what makes America great in the first place.
Okay, one may argue hiring him in order to add foreign perspectives is unnecessary; they could have chosen Canadians Jason Jones and Samantha Bee and Brit John Oliver as they also have the ability to add some. But, their backgrounds would not make much difference.
While Canada is an Anglo-Franco country, both Jones and Bee are Anglo-Canadians and they are very much almost indistinguishable from their cousins down south. Oliver is from the UK, which is another Anglo-western country that has been maintaining a strong alliance with the US for many years and sharing similar stances regarding international affairs.
Compared them to South Africa, a country which heritage is not only influenced by the diverse Bantu cultures, but also British, Dutch and Asian ones. Not to mention Noah is a biracial man who grew up under Apartheid and, apart from English, is able to speak Afrikaans -the descendant of Dutch-, German -the native tongue of his Swiss father-, and five Bantu languages.
If either Jones, Bee or Oliver was promoted instead, the shift in the show’s angle would not be as global. It would still be America-centric.
Almost every time I encounter criticism of him, the so-called critics love to make a big deal out of his nationality and act like their taste of humour is objectively the best in the universe. Almost every time, the criticism is far from actually constructive.
I consider myself a fan of his… and yet, I am able to bring myself to criticise him. I have a distaste for his past, edgy jokes and I think him labelling Antifa as ‘vegan ISIS’ shows how he still falls for false equivalences; I am open to being exposed to more of his flaws. But, the ‘haters’ did a horrible job of critiquing him.
If anything, they make me love him even more. If they never pointed out about him having a team of writers behind his back, I would never realised how good of a showman he is. If they never made a big deal out his nationality, I would never see it as an advantage his colleagues lack.
Okay, I make it sounds like all of his critics are just haters; I have no doubt reasonable ones who can provide constructive criticism also exist. But, somehow, the ones I encountered online were indeed just mere haters. If I explore more internet trenches, I am sure I would actually find good reasons to dislike him as a comedian, reasons why he is a horrible successor of The Daily Show.
Hours after I finished the previous paragraph, I just realised I did have encountered a good critique regarding the appointment of Trevor Noah, in which he is compared with Bassem Youssef. Some people may call the comparison unfair. But, I have to acknowledge it has some validity to it.
While Noah’s humour was already laced with cultural commentaries prior to TDS, I would not call him a political comedian; Bassem Youssef, on the other hand, started his entertainment career as one and he had to flee his homeland because of it. Unlike Noah, who was mostly a stand-up comedian, Youssef had made two political comedy shows when he was still in Egypt. While both have cited Jon Stewart as an influence, the latter would have a much easier time being his successor.
Oh, and Youssef is also a foreigner. He would also be able to bring a much more global outlook to TDS.
I do think Noah does a great job hosting. But, I also understand why some people think Youssef is a better choice.
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