On CNN Newsroom with Carol Costello, Dr. Jason Johnson of The Root and John Avlon of The Daily Beast discuss Lindsey Graham’s Comedy Central appearance on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah and his backhanded endorsement of Ted Cruz.
When Jon Stewart selected Trevor Noah to replace him on the Daily Show you’d think Lucious Lyon had just handed the reins of Empire over to Andre by the way some reacted. Who is this Trevor Noah? There’s no way he could replace Stewart!
(Of course, for someone like myself who has been a fan of Noah’s work for years, has a Trevor Noah comedy station on Pandora, and shows the documentary about his life “You Laugh But It’s True” to my South African Politics class, these concerns were unfounded.)
Finally, the wait is over and Trevor Noah hosted the most racially and politically radical debut in Late Night TV History.
I’ve provided a live blog of the show. Whether you loved it or hated it, just remember that Jon Stewart didn’t become JON STEWART overnight.
10:55 EST – A preview commercial for the new Daily Show starring Trevor Noah features Noah walking to the new set with Kanye’s “POWER” playing in the background.
It’s a fiercely telling song selection. The chorus of “POWER” is “No one man should have all that power,” which directly speaks to questions about Trevor Noah being placed, in such a position of influence at such a point and how to fend off the ‘haters’, but it’s deeper than that.
“No one man should have all that POWER” is a reference to a white police officer marveling and frightened by Malcolm X managing a spontaneous protest on behalf of Johnson Hinton, an unarmed black man beaten by New York City cops in 1957 (The scene was shown in Spike Lee’s X docu-drama as well).
It reflected the fear of a powerful black man in the face of institutional violence and racism. Nothing happens on television by accident. The promo theme is a serious fist pump and nod to that reference.
11:00 EST – Noah’s first monologue is personal, humorous and explains his origin without going into lengthy exposition.
He matter of factly jokes about growing up without indoor plumbing in the townships of South Africa, jokes that he is like the “Black Step-Dad” taking over now that Jon Stewart has left and that after several other potential hosts were courted, the job nobody wanted ended up in the hands of an African immigrant.
It was a brilliant bit of storytelling addressing gender and race norms, while explaining Noah’s own background and giving a glimpse into his own perspective.
11:03 – First Segment: Noah goes millennial
Despite his popularity it’s important to note that Jon Stewart was almost 50 years old when he left The Daily Show. He was on the older end of Generation X speaking to an audience of young millennials. This isn’t inherently a problem, (obviously his audience loved him) but Noah’s first segment shows he’s squaring speaking to his own late 20’s early 30’s crowd.
He joked about Pope emoji’s, made references to Bernie Sanders and even slipped in a joke about sexting. Not to say that Jon Stewart couldn’t make those jokes, but this was a clear generational jumping off point for the show.
Crusty Boomers and old headed Generation X beware, Noah is not going to hold your hand as he brings along his new audience.
11:05 – Second Segment: Noah Goes political
Trevor Noah runs through a series of jokes about John Boehner leaving office. Still playing the outsider, he laments the Speaker leaving “just as I learned how to properly pronounce your name!”
This segment stands out for two reasons. First it establishes that Trevor Noah is coming at American politics more like early John Oliver than John Stewart. Oliver started off as the bemused outsider, wondering how such a powerful nation could have such a bumbling system of government. He was less angry at American corruption than confused by it.
Noah seems to have the same take–how could the 8th most conservative man in Congress not be conservative enough? But the joke is at his confusion not his disgust (as would be the case with say Stewart or even the world weary Oliver).
This makes sense, how shocked could Trevor Noah be at the outlandish statements of a conservative cable news host when he grew up in Apartheid South Africa?
Second, this segment shows that Trevor Noah retains the cheeky envelope pushing humor of the South African/New Zealand/Australian comedy acts that we aren’t used to in America. He will no doubt be pilloried by some for making a joke about “Everyone at [Club Congress] having AIDS” and a joke about crack killing Whitney Houston.
11:10 – The John Boehner and Jon Stewart meta joke
Noah does a great segment that begins with reporter Jordan Klepper discussing John Boehner’s departure which cleverly morphs into a parallel discussion of Jon Stewart leaving The Daily Show. Soon you can’t tell which John they’re talking about, and whether he’ll be missed or not. Probably the best segment of the show.
11:15 – “Black People Ain’t Going to Mars”
Roy Wood Jr. (an African American man) and a new correspondent on the Daily Show banters with Noah about the discovery of running water on Mars and Noah offers that this opens the red planet up to colonization.
Wood insists “Black People Ain’t Going to Mars.” Eventually he admits that it will only be Beyonce, Oprah and Michael Strahan—because “white people like anything Kelly Ripa likes”—will get to go, but no one else.
Right after this segment (which was so-so) Comedy Central ran an ad for the upcoming movie “The Martian”, a movie ostensibly about the U.S. government spending billions of dollars to save one whitesplaining Matt Damon from being stranded on Mars. I think they just proved Roy’s Point.
11:23 – The Kevin Hart interview
First, Kevin Hart as the first guest on the New Daily Show is another highly layered selection similar to the “POWER” promo. Hart has been a guest on the Daily Show several times but always in promotion of a movie or some new major event. He’s got nothing around the corner at this point, but Trevor Noah treats Hart like the “Star” that he really is. Just assuming that the entire audience views Hart in the same light.
Noah’s first interview question is whether or not Hart “is still a Mitch?” This is a very inside joke only known to fans of Kevin Hart’s television show “The Real Husbands of Hollywood.” The audience seemed audibly confused, clearly not familiar with the term or the joke but Noah continued the interview unfazed. It was Hart who felt the need to explain the joke, Trevor Noah continued on and expected the audience to simply catch up.
The Daily Show’s mostly white, educated and young audience know Kevin Hart from comedy specials or movies, not from a very black show, on a still very black network. Treating Hart like a mainstream star (instead of a black star constantly needing validation) was a fascinating twist, and shows that Noah will not follow the standard rules of acceptance and assimilation in Hollywood.
Further I can’t help but think this quote from Chris Rock’s scathing article about Hollywood racism last Winter may have been rattling around the minds of Noah and his staff when they decided to pick Kevin Hart of all people to start off a new era of the Daily Show.
No one crosses over without a base. But if we’re going to just be honest and count dollars and seats and not look at skin color, Kevin Hart is the biggest comedian in the world. If Kevin Hart is playing 40,000 seats in a night and Jon Stewart is playing 3,000, the fact that Jon Stewart’s 3,000 are white means Kevin has to cross over? That makes no sense. If anybody needs to cross over, it’s the guy who’s selling 3,000 seats.
By starting off with Kevin Hart’s show on BET, as opposed to his movies or comedy specials, Trevor Noah was telling his audience “This man doesn’t need to cross over, YOU do.” It was a strong punctuation mark to what was an otherwise impressive debut.
Trevor Noah comes into this job with more polish than Jon Stewart had 15 years ago, but with a lot more pressure. His comedy, and perspective will evolve and grow as the show moves forward.
As a starting point I think we’ve seen one of the more layered comedy debuts on cable television. Trevor Noah clearly has something to say, about race, comedy, life and America. It may take time for the audience to fully understand his message but given this strong debut they’ll have time to learn.
This article originally appeared online at NBC BLK.
On MSNBC Weekends with Alex Witt, Hiram College professor Jason Johnson and Washington Post reporter Elahe Izadi discuss the controversy surrounding the Twitter feed of comedian Trevor Noah and whether the controversy will prevent him from hosting The Daily Show on Comedy Central.
Given the speed at which modern news operates, it’s a miracle that anybody ever gets to have any fun.
No sooner had Comedy Central announced that biracial South African standup comedian Trevor Noah would be taking over The Daily Show after Jon Stewart than the social media vetting began. First with the ubiquitous “Who is Trevor Noah?” tweets, since he had appeared on the show only three times since signing on in December. Then, on Tuesday, came an explosion of old tweets from Noah’s past, featuring jokes that were deemed sexist, homophobic and anti-Semitic. He’s even facing charges over whether his “black” is the right kind of “black” as critics parse his past jokes about African Americans.
The countdown to Noah’s demise has already begun before he’s even had a chance to start.
But in all of this Sturm und Drang, no one seems to realize why the young comic was picked to begin with. But their ignorance about Noah is the very reason that Viacom and Comedy Central saw the comic as a contender.
First, did Trevor Noah tweet some racist, sexist and anti-Semitic jokes? In the minds of some, yes, he did. Just because Noah will be following the Jewish-born Jon Stewart, who gave tacit approval by already having Noah on the show, doesn’t mean some people aren’t legitimately offended. But that’s not the point, despite what social media activists and some pundits would like.
Long before Stewart announced that he was leaving The Daily Show, Comedy Central and contrarian media observers started looking at the numbers. While The Daily Show has a cyclical viewership (higher during election seasons, lower during lulls), Stewart’s numbers were slowly, but noticeably, drifting down. His average audience aged from 35 to 40 over the last few years, and competition from the Jimmys (Fallon and Kimmel) had started to erode some of his late-night power. Despite Stewart’s influence extending far beyond his actual audience, Comedy Central realized that a replacement couldn’t be more of the same.
In walks Trevor Noah.
The truth is that taking over the desk from Stewart is a sucker’s bet for most entertainers. If you are anything like Stewart, you’re excoriated for not being as good as he is. If you’re an established comic, why would you sully your brand following a legend? (Thus, why Amy Poehler or Tina Fey wouldn’t want the job.) So you have to find someone incredibly talented but without anything to lose, who would be radically different from Stewart and the rest of the late-night slate.
And then there’s that whole demographics thing. Deadline be damned, but clearly Comedy Central looked across the late-night TV landscape and saw nary a black face except on its network. Before Larry Wilmore took over The Colbert Report slot, there had been only a handful of late-night TV shows hosted by African Americans in television history: BET Live; Don’t Sleep! Hosted by T.J. Holmes,on BET; The MoNique Show … also on BET. (Notice the trend?) Without BET’s forays into late night, all you had were two versions of The Arsenio Hall Show and the often lampooned Magic Hour. If Viacom could find a breakthrough talent and bring in an underserved, but highly lucrative minority audience, it would hit the jackpot.
Noah fits all the right categories, along with one other piece that has been overlooked in the stampede of journalistic Columbusing that occurred after the announcement.
The Daily Show, despite the downward creep of its domestic ratings, remains popular in Europe, Africa and parts of Asia. There is literally a Daily Show: Global Edition edited just for foreign audiences with a unique monologue by Stewart every week. Just like in the world of blockbuster films, Viacom and Comedy Central made a bet on the foreign markets shoring up whatever weaknesses exist domestically—and who better to fill that gap than an almost satirically global comedian?
Foreign talk show hosts are hot right now. Graham Norton’s BBC America show is a domestic hit. John Oliver’s HBO series has been renewed, and Craig Ferguson’s surly U.K. shtick was so popular that he was replaced with another Englishman, James Corden, last fall. However, unlike these other foreign hosts, Trevor Noah already has a huge global fan base and multiple, record-breaking comedy specials (including one in the U.S.); has been on the cover of Rolling Stone; and hosted his own talk show on South African television before being hired as a Daily Show contributor in December.
Throw in Noah’s racially ambiguous heritage and Obama-esque backstory, and Comedy Central has a prototype host for the new millennium. Which is why, despite the current controversy, Noah isn’t going anywhere.
Comedy Central knew what it was doing when it picked Noah out of (American) obscurity to host the most popular nonscripted TV show in cable history. It was internationalizing Comedy Central, stealthily diversifying late-night television, and bypassing the complications of finding an American talent who hadn’t been chewed over or passed up 8 million times by every other network. The network knew there would be heat for this selection, but there’s too much at stake to back out on Noah now.
If it abandons him, Comedy Central is essentially abdicating its brand, turning the search to find the next Daily Show host into American Idol, sticking with the safe and dull instead of its edgier fare. So for now we should expect Trevor Noah to take over the hosting job, and if that means his doing a Levi Pettit-type apology surrounded by offended parties this week, then so be it. The larger point is that he was the right pick for our current media environment and Comedy Central’s future. It’ll be months before we know whether Noah pays off.
This article originally appeared online at TheRoot.com.
On Politics Nation with Al Sharpton on MSNBC, Jason Johnson discusses Trevor Noah as the new host of The Daily Show on Comedy Central.