On Monday, South African comedian Trevor Noah was appointed as the heir apparent to Jon Stewart as anchor of The Daily Show. On Tuesday, The Internet discovered that Noah has, over the course of his six years on Twitter, written some bad jokes. Here’s a sample:
Messi gets the ball and the real players try foul him, but Messi doesn't go down easy, just like jewish chicks. #ElClasico— Trevor Noah (@Trevornoah) January 25, 2012
"Oh yeah the weekend. People are gonna get drunk & think that I'm sexy!" - fat chicks everywhere.— Trevor Noah (@Trevornoah) October 14, 2011
And a more recent example:
Looking at how successful all the Kardashian women are, I don't blame Bruce Jenner at all.— Trevor Noah (@Trevornoah) February 5, 2015
Noah is being accused of being anti-Semitic, transphobic, racist, sexist, indulging in fat-shaming, and if you spend enough time combing through the highlights of his Twitter feed, he manages to offend just about everyone. Lainey asked me yesterday about this and I said, “My stance is going to be staunchly pro-Noah.” Here’s why:
Every comedian—EVERY COMEDIAN—has said some dumb sh*t at one time or another. You cannot do comedy without face-planting. Can you imagine comedians like Richard Pryor, Sam Kinnison, or Bill Hicks coming up today with every nebulous idea recorded, uploaded, and commented upon before it’s fully fleshed out? It would be impossible. When Jon Stewart came up there was no social media or Youtube. The only clips from his stand-up days on the web are the fully formed, polished and prepared for late night appearances or his 1996 HBO special. When he told a tasteless joke and it didn’t land, he did so in clubs where the potential outrage was limited to the few dozen people in attendance. It never went any further and he was allowed to process and learn from it and move on, get better.
I, too, benefitted from that pre-social media atmosphere. When I started in stand-up one of my first bits was titled “LA gold digger” in my notebook. It was the same hacky jokes everyone tells about plastic surgery and Los Angeles, and the punchline was a woman who can’t feel her lips because of injections trying to give a blow job. It was TERRIBLE. I cringe just thinking about it. But if I just did that bit at a club last weekend and someone posted it to Youtube? I guaran-damn-tee a lot of you would be emailing Lainey, calling for my head. But I won’t be haunted by that awful, ill-advised bit for the rest of my life. I got to grow up, learn better—DO better—and evolve my comedy without the misfires and mistakes being time-stamped and archived forever.
Today’s comics just accept that they will, inevitably, be the target of backlash. Patton Oswalt is one of the smartest, savviest comics working and last year he took a “Twitter hiatus” after experiments in humorous trolling resulted in so much outrage and backlash it drove him off social media for three months—and he’s considered a comedy god! What chance does an up-and-coming unknown have, when (bad) jokes that are years old are held out with no context and the sole expectation of generating upsetness? Oswalt perfectly summed it up in a tweet-storm last night—“Jokes should always entertain. EVERY SINGLE PERSON WHO HEARS THEM.” (You can read the whole thing here.)
Noah’s tweets are tasteless. They’re bad jokes, and that’s what I accuse him of: Bad comedy. But you don’t just wake up one day and have sixty minutes of A material. It has to come from somewhere, and what I see on Noah’s Twitter feed is a bunch of hacky jokes that don’t go anywhere, and indeed, they don’t show up in his performed comedy (his 2013 appearance at London’s Apollo Theater is a good measure of what his act is actually like). A good joke can take time to build and the process is frequently ugly. You go through a lot of garbage to get to your A material, and I defend any comic’s right to pursue their comedy, even if it means they eat it from time to time, as all comedians inevitably do.
Trevor Noah has to live with his bad bits spread across the internet. They’ll never go away. We either pillory him for being a comic with his fair share of tasteless dumb jokes, or we let him take his seat on The Daily Show and see what happens. He says his tweets are not a “true reflection of his character”. Okay, Trevor—prove it.
Noah twitter response:
To reduce my views to a handful of jokes that didn’t land is not a true reflection of my character, nor my evolution as a comedian.— Trevor Noah (@Trevornoah) March 31, 2015