‘Daily Show’ Heir Trevor Noah’s Tweets Spark CriticismGerrit De Vynck and Christopher Palmeri
The incoming host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” has drawn criticism for some of his jokes before he’s even taken over the job.
Less than a day after being announced as Jon Stewart’s replacement on the Viacom Inc.-owned program, South African comedian Trevor Noah is being called anti-Semitic and sexist for some of his posts on Twitter.
The tweets, targeting women, Jews and Israel, have triggered an outcry from people who mined Noah’s social-media posts to find out more about the 31-year-old, biracial comedian who is little known in the U.S.
“Behind every successful Rap Billionaire is a double as rich Jewish man,” Noah posted on his Twitter account in May 2014. “‘Oh yeah the weekend. People are gonna get drunk & think that I’m sexy!’ - fat chicks everywhere,” he wrote in an October 2011 tweet.
Noah is still on board to be host of the “The Daily Show,” said Steve Albani, a spokesman for New York-based Comedy Central.
“Like many comedians, Trevor Noah pushes boundaries; he is provocative and spares no one, himself included,” Comedy Central said in an e-mailed statement. “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.”
Noah’s appointment on Monday was largely heralded as a departure from the norm of late-night TV, traditionally dominated by white men. That perception is quickly getting overtaken by the Twitter uproar, and another observation by some that could be even more damning -- that the posts lack humor.
“This is a huge problem for Trevor Noah precisely because he has been presented as the new face of comedy who can help American comedy overcome its long history of exclusion,” said Dustin Kidd, associate professor in the sociology department at Temple University in Philadelphia. “The tweets are really disturbing and they reflect an old model of comedy that emphasized making jokes about those who are rendered powerless in society.”
Noah can overcome the controversy with a “smart and sincere” statement about what he has learned as a young adult, and how much he wants to be part of “transforming comedy in the interest of transforming society,” Kidd said.
The Anti-Defamation League, which fights anti-Semitism, said in a statement that it wished Noah success, while urging him to ensure “The Daily Show” “remains funny and irreverent without trafficking in bigoted jokes at the expense of Jews.”
Noah, the son of a black South African mother and white European father, is known for humor that riffs off South Africa’s complex racial and political issues. He started doing stand-up nine years ago after working as a TV host and soap-opera actor. He has tweeted almost 9,000 times since joining the service in June 2009, and has more than 2 million followers.
During appearances on “The Daily Show,” Noah has taken shots at Americans’ ignorance of world affairs and their one-dimensional view of Africa. He works to provide his audiences with new perspectives, Noah said in an interview with the show’s producer posted to its website.
“I’m not an expert in America,” Noah said. “I like that because I come in with a perspective where I know your world, yet I’m not a part of it.”
Stewart hasn’t said when he will leave “The Daily Show.” Time may help Noah move beyond his past comments, said Robert Thompson, professor of TV at Syracuse University in New York.
“The one thing that he has in his favor is he’s not taking over right away,” Thompson said. “This has time to marinate and go away.”