“From Progressive Icon to Villain in 24 Hours,” writes Dave Weigel, raising the question of how a guy known to American audiences for nothing more than a handful of “TDS” segments could have become an icon in the span of a few hours yesterday. Is he, perhaps, a comic genius?
No, that’s not it.
Is he promising something groundbreaking for “TDS”? Nope. He’s made a point of reassuring fans that he’s a progressive like Jon Stewart, signaling continuity rather than a bold new direction. The reason he’s an overnight hero is because of his background: He’s biracial and, like John Oliver, was born and raised outside the U.S., which makes him a lefty’s Platonic ideal for the role of reciting America’s sins during the evening group hug on Comedy Central. Go watch some of his old stand-up bits on YouTube and you’ll find that he’s mediocre, well below the caliber of what you’d expect from someone inheriting a show as influential as “The Daily Show.” (According to Bill Simmons, one of the names kicked around to succeed Stewart was Louis CK.) But Vox slobbered all over him regardless; “I hope we can prove to Noah that we deserve him,” said one writer at Salon, reversing the traditional dynamic between entertainer and audience. They want to make sure Noah succeeds, even if he stinks, because they feel it’s important that a man of his background succeeds, and one way to set the tone for that is to elevate him to icon status early. Which, ironically, does make him a fitting choice to replace Stewart. That’s the “clapter” mentality of the show’s audience taken to its logical conclusion: If they’re going to laugh at the jokes, funny or not, for political reasons, why shouldn’t they make the new host a comedy hero for the same reason?
But then they started reading his Twitter archive. And now Noah’s chief asset, his value to the Cause, is in question.
You can find more in that vein at … Vox, which followed yesterday’s rave review for Noah this morning by giving emphatic down twinkles to his corny Twitter jokes about fat women and Jews. (I like MKH’s reaction: “Trevor Noah, born under apartheid in South Africa, better strap in for some serious oppression-splaining from American progressives.”) No one expects him to make jokes like that on “TDS,” mind you. His material will be better, simply because he’s no longer writing most of it, and it’ll be cleaner from a progressive standpoint because that’s what the show’s audience demands. The fact that lefties are pounding on him for what he said in the past, though, long before he was a gleam in Comedy Central’s eye, shows you what sort of role the show occupies in their political imagination. Traditionally, when Stewart was challenged on the political biases of “TDS,” he’d spin it away with some variation of “I’m just a comedian.” Comedians have latitude to make offensive jokes, though; the left’s flagship fake news show, or rather flagship news show, doesn’t. “A Daily Show host should be held to a higher standard than other comedians,” wrote Vox. I wonder if Trevor Noah realized when he took the gig that he wasn’t so much being hired for a job in comedy than being appointed to a political office. Welcome to progressive America, pal.
There are three ways this can go now. One: The left reverses yet again and rallies around Noah on identity politics grounds. Here’s a fun tweet flagged by Sonny Bunch:
Was Noah offensive? Or, per the far left, is the left being offensive by not letting him slide on jokes that mediocre white comics get away with? That debate would be/will be fun. Two: More tacky joke-tweets might be found and the left will hound Comedy Central into dumping him before he shoots his first show. I doubt this’ll get that far, though. They don’t want to force him out — like I said, he’s ideal for the job in some ways — so an apology and a promise to do better will suffice. Besides, if Comedy Central canned him, they’d be stuck with the same “how come white comics get away with this?” headache mentioned above. Best to keep him around, give him six months to prove he’s funnier than he seems, then pull the plug and replace him with Jessica Williams if he can’t. Three: Saint Jon could do a segment about this tonight mocking the liberals who are mad at Noah for his tweets. If he can find it in his sanctified soul to look past fat-chicks riffs, how can a lesser, imperfect progressive hold a grudge? Let he who is without jokes about running over Jewish kids with German cars cast the first stone. I’ll bet that’s what ends up happening. Exit quotation from David Frum:
Daily Show method: entrap & edit targets to look stupid & bigoted. But for @Trevornoah (who edited himself) they’ll urge context & nuance
— David Frum (@davidfrum) March 31, 2015
Update: Comedy channel defends comedian’s right to be a comedian.
— Comedy Central Press (@ComedyCentralPR) March 31, 2015
The right call. As I say, I bet Stewart will put out this fire tonight.