The virtual ink was barely dry on the tweet announcing Trevor Noah as Jon Stewart’s replacement in the Daily Show anchor chair before his Stewart-ship of the show came to an almost certain end. Noah is in deep internet doo-doo over a raft of posts excavated from his Twitter feed that range from sexist to transphobic to anti-Semitic, and while I agree that these were obvious attempts at “edge,” I don’t share my colleagues’ optimism that he will survive this flap.
On Tuesday, Comedy Central issued a statement with the kiss-of-death vote of confidence (emphasis mine):
“Like many comedians, Trevor Noah pushes boundaries; he is provocative and spares no one, himself included. To judge him or his comedy based on a handful of jokes is unfair. Trevor is a talented comedian with a bright future at Comedy Central.”
Yeah, just not at The Daily Show.
Noah’s initial response to the controversy, quickly deleted, surely won’t help:
Pretty quick tweet & delete from Trevor Noah pic.twitter.com/L2Yr8Dab74
— Anna Brand (@thebrandedgirl) March 31, 2015
Here are some of the tweets that are torching Noah’s career right now:
"Oh yeah the weekend. People are gonna get drunk & think that I'm sexy!" – fat chicks everywhere.
— Trevor Noah (@Trevornoah) October 14, 2011
This one would be easy enough to get out of. All he’d have to do is explain that he’s concerned about the girls’ health.
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
This one is a misogyny/anti-Semitism combo platter that would be tough to live down, but it was a long time ago, and comics get a lot of leeway in the name of edginess. An apology and a promise to watchreal football might have sufficed.
Almost bumped a Jewish kid crossing the road. He didn't look b4 crossing but I still would hav felt so bad in my german car!
— Trevor Noah (@Trevornoah) September 18, 2009
This joke was mainly a vehicle for a punchline about his car, but adds to a cumulative sense of mockery about Jews, and a trivial attitude toward the Holocaust. Not an easy sale, but maybe Jon Stewart could finesse him out of it. Ironically, the one that will probably do him in will be the one with the most innocuous motivation:
Behind every successful Rap Billionaire is a double as rich Jewish man. #BeatsByDreidel
— Trevor Noah (@Trevornoah) May 12, 2014
It reads as the most nakedly anti-Semitic of all the tweets, but any comic would immediately recognize that he was reverse-engineering that setup from the punchline “Beats By Dreidel,” which actually is really funny.
In fact, it’s the funniest thing about any of these tweets, and that’s the real problem. Even his most recent controversial tweet suffers from something deadlier than offensiveness:
Looking at how successful all the Kardashian women are, I don't blame Bruce Jenner at all.
— Trevor Noah (@Trevornoah) February 5, 2015
That was in February, and even if you’re inclined to chalk the hatefulness up to “edge,” what the hell is the joke there? In fact, what’s funny about any of these (besides the “dreidel” punch, I’ll give him that)? And mocking the Kardashians and Bruce Jenner in 2015? That’s more hack than a tuberculosis ward. Gallagher is shaking his head.
Of course, you can be a good host without being a great Twitterer, and you don’t even have to be a great comic (Jon Stewart wasn’t), but even Noah’s bits on the show were not well-received (watch them here), at least not by the studio audience. He’s a self-conscious, awkward performer on the show, which could improve, but which is a deadly combination with his smugness and utter lack of self-effacement. You can get away with a lot, probably even most of what Trevor Noah tweeted, if you are either really, really funny, or really likable.
If this controversy sinks Trevor Noah’s Daily Show career, fans of the show should rejoice. Noah was a terrible choice, especially given the fact that they passed over the much funnier, more senior, and more likable Jessica Williams. Hopefully, this is an opportunity to fix that mistake.
Update: This is not going to get ‘er done:
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