When I saw the headlines about The Daily Show’s new lead anchor and his offensive tweets, I just assumed this was the natural backlash that has become so unfortunately popular in the age of Twitter and the Internet. Someone finds success and you must hate on them. Immediately.
But then I read the articles, in order to form an educated opinion, and was gravely disappointed by what I read. Not by the offensive nature of Trevor Noah’s tweets, but by how deeply unfunny they were, unrelated to race, LGBT issues, or feminism. Did some frat dude write these? Surely, not a well-respected South African comedian with the strong international presence. I couldn’t help but think: This is the guy who’s taking over for Jon Stewart?
Taboo humor can be done. Comedy Central’s Roast of Justin Bieber is proof of this, as no topic—or figure—was safe from being poked fun at during the show that aired on March 30. Jokes about abortion, African Americans, pedophiles, lesbians, and older women were all on the table, and the only negative headline resulting from this show was a joke about Paul Walker getting cut. Maybe this was because of the nature of the Roast, where it’s a no-holds-barred, two-hour, anything-goes-fest for the network. It’s the Christmas of comedy, where comedians don’t have to worry about being censored because the more offensive, the better.
None of Trevor Noah’s tweets were anything as offensive as what Martha Stewart said to Ludacris during the Roast (“You have three kids with three different women. May I suggest pulling out some time and finishing on some highly absorbent Martha Stewart bed linens?”). And if anything, Martha Stewart has gained some mad street cred since her appearance. She’s not losing fans, but gaining them. So is the real issue with Trevor Noah’s tweets not that they’re offensive but that they’re offensively unfunny?
Let’s face it. Noah has some HUGE shoes to fill, especially since he’s young (Stewart was in his late 30s when he took over for Craig Kilborn) and has only made a handful of appearances on the show he’s going to take over. Comedians like Stephen Colbert and Larry Wilmore went through a much more vigorous vetting process before moving on to their bigger projects. What makes Noah so special?
That’s probably the brunt of the hate on Noah’s tweets. The world collectively going, This all you got? Yet, we must remember that Jon Stewart has become Jon Stewart because of a hilarious supporting team of writers, not just because of his singular self. If Twitter were around when Jon Stewart was just starting out, surely he would have had some shitty jokes as well (after all, he openly admits to his shitty acting in movies like The Faculty and Playing by Heart). We follow social media accounts like @stephenathome based on the idea that Stephen Colbert is tweeting these directly, when really, like most celebrity accounts, tweets are calculated and probably consist of a lot of team workshopping before anyone clicks “send” or more aptly “schedule.”
Comedians are not without their controversies on Twitter. Figures like Jenny Johnson and Gilbert Gottfried have been accused of crossing the line with their jokes, and they rebounded because that’s what comedy is about: breaking boundaries and then retreating. But with Noah, the Twitter attackers were out to dig up these jokes from the get-go, especially since most of the controversial tweets were from two or three years ago, when perhaps Noah was still finding his voice.
Before Trevor Noah’s Twittergate, I just assumed Comedy Central knew something we all didn’t know yet about this rising star. And I suspect there’s a strong chance they still do, otherwise they wouldn’t give this guy TV’s second most beloved gig behind The Tonight Show. But we must all remember that every comedian makes mistakes. It’s only now that there’s a timeline the public can refer to and pinpoint these missteps.
What’s sad is that he deleted one of his funniest, and most appropriate, tweets following this “scandal”: “Twitter does not have enough characters to respond to all of the characters on Twitter.” If he sticks to honesty like this, he’ll be an asset to The Daily Show. But if I were him, I’d stay off the medium for a while and wait until he has a team of writers to bounce ideas off of.