Is The Joke On Us? Trevor Noah And 'The Daily Show'

  • by April 1, 2015
Did Jon Stewart hire Trevor Noah to replace himself as host of “The Daily Show” because they both identify as male persons with two first-names?

That’s as good a question as any to start plumbing this mystery inside an enigma wrapped in a riddle within the general “WTF?” that is the Noah hire.

Of course, it became all the more incomprehensible once the news was announced and journalists started digging into this little-known South African stand-up comic’s digital footprint. The result was an excavation of tweets that go back to as long ago as 2009, (and Twitter years are like dog years.)  And unfortunately, copious amounts of mummified droppings were brought into the light of day.

Sexist? Yup. (To put a finer point of it, Noah seems to be a rabid anti-fatass-ist.) Anti-Semitic? Certainly. Who jokes about running Jews over with German cars? Yikes. Racist? Indubitably, although he cops to learning all he knows about African-Americans from Blaxploitation movies.



Mostly, though, the content of the tweets just seemed hacky, dated, and incredibly lame. Even if the guy has over two million Twitter followers.

It put me in mind of Lena Dunham’s execrable piece last week, posted on the New Yorker site, “Dog or Jewish Boyfriend?,” which elicited similar outrage on the Interwebs.  Borscht-belty, (circa Jackie Mason or Shecky Greene) and stupid, this piece of “comedy” was way beneath the usual standards of Dunham and The New Yorker.

In the cases of both Dunham and Noah, I was hoping that this barrage of hoary old jokes from the young’uns was an attempt at satirizing the stereotypes, rather than perpetuating them. But in each case, the jokes were not quite clever enough to be that meta.

The son of a black South-African mother and a white Swiss-German father, Noah was a sometime soap star in South Africa. And though he’s devastatingly cute (and I am a sucker for a guy who knows many languages and does great accents, as he does), his three appearances on “The Daily Show” actually seemed at odds with the flow of the program.

Thus an outsider, who is an essential blank on these shores except for some really stupid tweets and some problematic appearances on the show, was hired by the brilliant, hugely focused and meticulous Jon Stewart? And for this Comedy Central passed over all female contenders?

I don’t think Stewart wants to burn down the “Daily Show” house; in fact, I would bet he still has a financial stake in it. And though I can’t prove it, I have heard from sources that before Trevor Noah got the spot, the job was offered to Chris Rock, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Amy Schumer. All turned it down.

The offers to the Amys and the Tina deflates the theory that late night is a bastion of Jimmies that will never open its stunted doors to girls with cooties. But perhaps the brass could have worked harder to find a woman -- Aisha Tyler, anyone?

Still, it’s not surprising that none of the established names wanted the job. Perhaps money was an issue. But even bigger, Stewart is a really hard act to follow. And bringing someone else's well-known persona to such an established brand could backfire big-time.

Lots of comics make offensive and lame jokes -- even the now-sainted and dearly departed Joan Rivers. It’s just that when Noah, a complete stranger, attempts to trample the same ground, it’s more annoying. The truth is that some of his stand-up is searingly brilliant. He is a classic outsider, and like Obama (who has a black father and white mother), Noah was never at home anywhere. “I was born a crime,” he says, in talking about his early life in apartheid Soweto, where his father could not be seen with him, and his mother was arrested for being with a white man. She would have to let go of her little boy’s hand on the street if a policeman looked at her. “We weren’t supposed to exist as a family,” he said. “I felt like a bag of weed.”

That’s a pretty profound starting place for a comic.

It’s disappointing that Noah won’t be able to cover the upcoming presidential election with the devastating knowingness that Stewart would have brought to the show. But I don’t want to fire the guy before he starts. I’m ready for him to unbury himself.  Perhaps we can learn a lot from being uncomfortable.

20 comments about "Is The Joke On Us? Trevor Noah And 'The Daily Show'".
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  1. Barbara Lippert from, April 1, 2015 at 8:57 p.m.

    The other thing to consider-- though Jon Stewart has been great about replacing himself with John Oliver (and too bad Oliver is already settled at HBO) and also hand picked Colbert and Larry Wilmore, most retiring people have a hard time choosing someone whom they know will outshine them. Wonder if that entered into it, or Stewart just wanted to shake things up?

  2. david marks from self, April 1, 2015 at 9:03 p.m.

    I think Noah has proven himself to be the most unsophisticated unknown in a generation, a man whose jokes seem riddled, if not mired, in boys bathroom jibes. I'm disappointed, to say the least. You know, Barbara, you are brilliant, and very funny....I love this piece.

  3. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, April 1, 2015 at 9:10 p.m.

    Amy Schumer would have been great. Poehler, Fay, Rock only would face risk. Amy used to do Fox's Red Eye a lot and that would be a shock to Comedy Channel.

  4. John Ehrenfeld from The Directors Syndicate, April 1, 2015 at 10:32 p.m.

    A well written article as usual Barbara; typically thought provoking. My thinking on this is evolving. What's going on in the national press is fast becoming a bit too much; a real pile on in my opinion. It seems as if it's almost gleefully tolerable to effectively bully a young comedian before he's even done one single show. What sin did he commit? A handful of tweets four years ago when he was a struggling comedian? This should disqualify him? He does join every single young comedian in history in having told a joke or two that wasn't funny. How can anyone say he's more of an anti-semite than Jon Stewart, Lewis Black or Sacha Baron Cohen? Joan Rivers said this about a very Aryan looking Heidi Klum. “The last time a German looked this hot was when they were pushing Jews into the ovens." Should I not be offended by that? By the standards we see today she should have been ostracized and never worked again. Jon Daily and Comedy Central selected Trevor Noah and he will succeed or fail based on the shows ratings and his likability factor. Jon is a tough act to follow, it's almost impossible. But give the guy a shot.

  5. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, April 1, 2015 at 11:21 p.m.

    He can't be worse than Conan, but Amy Schumer would have been more interesting.

  6. Alix Gordon from Plants, Inc., April 1, 2015 at 11:51 p.m.

    Really great thoughtful piece chock full of interesting backstory Barbara. This poor guy hasn't been given a chance yet. Who wouldn't regret a few choices from their youth. He could end up an exciting choice, someone who can help with some self examination from outside the U.S. bubble. Just hope he's funny.

  7. Jane Farrell from Freelance, April 2, 2015 at 9:21 a.m.

    Really excellent piece, Barbara! Great analysis and great humor (it's been years, maybe decades, since I heard the word "cooties.") I already said this in response to a NY Times article, but here goes: This is crowd-sourced bullying, the same way that Patricia Arquette and Race Together were bullied. Nothing is perfect, no one is perfect. But in the twittererse, which I blame for a lot of this, it is impossible to make a misstep without being tossed to the wolves. Noah has said he has "evolved," and I am willing to give him a listen. People grow, change and make mistakes, sometimes bad ones, along the way. Patricia Arquette's speech was probably insufficiently calibrated, and the Race Together campaign was kind of embarrassing. But they weren't evil. Ditto for Noah. He has said some very offensive things. But here's hoping he can make it work on a wittier level.

  8. Michael Vrh from enabledware, April 2, 2015 at 10:28 a.m.

    It's pretty obvious Barbara that you don't watch the Daily Show on a regular basis or your article would have been more insightful. Do we really have to listen, or read, comments on someone's past Twitter posts and applying that history to the future? Bottom line the Daily Show is really hard work and Jon S. makes it look easy. The others you mention that were supposedly offered the job don't have Daily Show chops. Noah is intelligent and will deliver the satire and critical humorous policing that Fox News needs "Daily."

  9. David Mountain from Marketing and Advertising Direction, April 2, 2015 at 10:29 a.m.

    The elephant in the room: Noah probably costs a tenth of what the bigger names cost, and maybe CC has probably done the analysis to see that the ratings aren't going to change very much no matter who's in the chair. If the writing and segments are as sharp as before, the ship will sail on, and maybe more profitably. If it's not as good as before but nets more money...

  10. Barbara Lippert from, April 2, 2015 at 10:45 a.m.

    Cost is obviously an issue. Noah is way cheaper than any of the known contenders. and to Michael Vrh's point-- I am a super fan of the Daily Show. The writers' bench is deep (although some will probably leave with Jon to do other projects) so some segments will be exactly the same. But apparently Jon was rewriting and editing up to 4:00 show time; also he had more authors and academics on than celebrity interviews, and actually read the books. So Noah is going to need some time to put his own stamp on it, which inevitably will be very different.

  11. Barbara Lippert from, April 2, 2015 at 10:46 a.m.

    But David Mountain-- exactly right.

  12. Linda Moskal from WNPV Radio, April 2, 2015 at 4:56 p.m.

    Thank you, Matt Thornhill! If "aging" is a disease, I am very happy to have caught it! At 65, I'm not ready for the alternative!

  13. Doug Garnett from Protonik, LLC, April 2, 2015 at 5:07 p.m.

    Wow. Strange set of opinions here. As a faithful and long timer viewer, when this announcement was made my response was "yes. That's the right one." The rest of the daily show correspondents right now lack a certain directness. In many ways, the Jon Stewart character is the straight man for their foibles. John Oliver had it but HBO got him. We don't know about Colbert because his was such an act. Trevor Noah's few appearances were outstanding and demonstrated the ability to deliver that directness and maturity Needed to replace Stewart. And his prior comedy? Do we all forget that it's a COMEDY show? He's not being recruited to replace Brian Williams. Please, let's get a grip. Burn it down? Transition is hard in a show like this. We are all personally invested in the characters we love. But when shows get too cautious with this kind of change they fail... And TV is littered with those failures. I, for one, am rooting for Trevor!

  14. Jim English from The Met Museum, April 2, 2015 at 10:18 p.m.

    Hold the phone! Where's the joke about running over Jews -- or anybody else for that matter? Sorry Noah, not real funny.

  15. Walter Pike from PiKE, April 3, 2015 at 12:58 a.m.

    @trevornoah will be brilliant. so he made some unfunny and offensive jokes, years ago when he was trying to work out what funny was for him and not many certainly not copious amounts and the audience he was talking to was different.

    Give the guy a chance. South Africans tend to do well they are happy to take risks and get up fighting if they are knocked down.

    I wish him all the best

  16. Barbara Lippert from, April 3, 2015 at 1:21 a.m.

    Here's the tweet about running over Jews, Jim English:
    "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!"
    11:54 AM - 18 Sep 2009

  17. Bill Weber from Bill Weber Studios, April 3, 2015 at 2:53 a.m.

    I'd like to remind the pitch-fork parade that a lot of comedy is in the performance; you can't/shouldn't judge the humor of a stand-up in a written tweet. When Jon Stewart does his Italian gangster accent, we think it is funny. But if he tweeted the Italiano bits, I'd bet some would find it racist and insulting.

  18. Bruce Dundore from Lazaroff/Dundore, April 3, 2015 at 2:03 p.m.

    They were tweets, folks. Twitter is the evil, not a comedian lashing around to construct an observation on cultural collisions. His outsider view will be as vital as Olivers. Having someone outside our myopic shores offering fresh insight to our stupidities is a very welcome possibility. If your respect Stewart, and I do, I also respect his choices. Just don't try to be funny in 140 characters. If he had said those jokes in performance? Nary a whisper.

  19. Doug Garnett from Protonik, LLC, April 3, 2015 at 2:22 p.m.

    Given that Trevor is half Jewish (or so I understand), we can look at this particular joke in a better light. Have you seen how many jokes Jon Stewart makes about jewish things? Yikes...

  20. Jim English from The Met Museum, April 4, 2015 at 1:57 p.m.

    Yes, yes, a better light indeed. Not a bad joke at all. Thank you, Doug Garnett. Thank you, Barbara.

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