Written by Chelsea Petersen
Two weeks ago, Trevor Noah was announced as the new host of the Daily Show, as a replacement for celebrated long-standing host, Jon Stewart. While South Africans everywhere were filled with pride at his success, millions of Americans reeled in confusion, and social media feeds were overrun by one question, “who is Trevor Noah?”. Now that his identity has been established, his suitability as a replacement has faced some serious criticism.
As is customary when faced with an unknown entity in modern society, Trevor’s social media accounts were thoroughly perused by info-hungry fans of the Daily Show. Dredged up from the forgotten depths of the Twittersphere was an array of Tweets that were promptly labelled as ignorant, sexist, and anti-Semitic by offended fans. Many self-importantly declared they would no longer be watching the show following Jon Stewart’s departure. The discovery of Trevor’s old tweets nearly broke the internet, as people either rushed to defend or condemn his use of poor jokes, and his new role on the Daily Show. Truthfully, they weren’t particularly good of tasteful jokes, but they in no way reflect his character or his competency is hosting the show. So let’s get that out of the way first.
The Jerusalem Post published an article a few days ago, by well-known Rabbi, Shmuley Boteach, who was offended by Trevor’s supposed endorsement of anti-Semitic stereotypes and poor jokes that were not grounded in fact. He went on to say that the tweets weren’t reflective of a man “in the same class of knowledge as Jon Stewart”. It seems Boteach is represetative of the greater American audience and may be reading too much into satirical jokes by saying they reflect the beliefs of the joker rather than society. It's a common comedic practice to use stereotypes as satire to push boundaries and provoke a reaction. Certainly this was the case when the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists consistently published offensive and stereotypical anti-Semitic comics in the name of satire. No, the massacre was not warranted, but people were offended, and their complaints were ignored. The world still marched in support of free speech, or, the right to offend. The string of distasteful tweets is not the problem here.
Both Comedy Central and Jon Stewart himself have defended Trevor in the midst of the media storm, and rightly so. If anything might hold him back from reaching Jon Stewart’s success, however, it is rather his unfamiliarity with American politics. Yes, it’s clear from his appearances on the Daily Show that Trevor brings a strong, and much needed international outlook to the show, but is that enough for American viewers? It may have a prime spot on a leading comedy channel, but fans don’t just tune in for some comic relief. For many viewers, the Daily Show is an alternative to traditional broadcasting channels. It has, in all likelihood, more real news, questions, and opinions than most dedicated news channels, and Jon Stewart is undeniably good at delivering it.
Anyone who has watched a Trevor Noah show knows how integrated politics has become is his comedy, but he has yet to enter the world of American politics. Highly influential among a younger audience, the Daily Show is very political and, while not a news show, its content very news orientated. Domestic politics is the shows foundation, and Trevor’s position as an outsider has the potential to lose the show part of its loyal fan base. Adding to his outsider status is his lack of experience, which Jon Stewart had already accumulated when the Daily Show began. His age also makes him younger than many of the viewers, a factor that won’t allow him to command the same authority as Stewart, who wielded it expertly, dishing out hard opinions on current news through humour and satire. With the odds against him, Trevor has a lot to prove to make the Daily Show the success that Jon Stewart maintained for so long.