Black comedians on Bill Cosby: ‘Your hero is evil. It hurts but it’s true.’

Actor Bill Cosby speaks at the National Action Network's 20th annual Keepers of the Dream Awards gala in New York April 6, 2011. (REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)
Actor Bill Cosby speaks at the National Action Network’s 20th annual Keepers of the Dream Awards gala in New York April 6, 2011. (REUTERS/Lucas Jackson)

Originally published on RawStory

Charges against Bill Cosby for aggravated indecent assault, which his legal team tried to have dismissed on Monday, have reignited a debate not just about the comedian’s guilt or innocence but about the role of race and racism. While many former defenders have defected over mounting allegations and revelations from an unsealed deposition, some of the people who continue to champion Cosby are framing it as the latest example of a racist criminal justice system which punishes Black men for doing things that white men get away with. Rapper Waka Flocka tweeted that he think’s the someone is “framing” Cosby, through “an organized lie,” and “propaganda.” He also tweeted that, “Every time a famous minority make it they throw salt in the game.” Rapper The Game took to Instagram, where posted an blank white image with the word Black and commented,

 “I think it’s crazy that Bill Cosby has a mugshot for alleged assaults 11 years ago with no physical evidence or proof besides these womens accounts of what he did to them an entire decade later…. But Darren Wilson, who killed Mike Brown on camera… George Zimmerman, who killed Trayvon Martin… Timothy Loehman, who killed Tamir Rice seconds after arriving on the scene.. on camera, is FREE… Why did it take these women over 10 years to bring this to the light ?- The Game #BlackLivesSplatter

Comedian Eddie Griffin, for example, said, “There is a systematic effort to destroy every black male entertainer’s image…. They want us all to have an asterisk by our name. Kobe, raped a white woman in Colorado. Dr. Cosby, raped 37 bitches and counting. Nobody leaves this business clean.”

Of course several Black comedians like Larry Wilmore and Franchesca Ramsey have condemned Cosby and spoken about the intsection of rape culture and racism. And it was Hannibal Buress, who used his own standup to point out Cosby’s hypocrisy—telling young Black men to pull their pants up, while being a rapist– that propelled the Cosby story into our national dialogue.

 

In order to further explore how Black comedians were navigating this issue, I spoke to Rae Sanni and Tarik Daniels on my radio show. Sanni told us, “There’s a lot of people who bring up Woody Allen or Roman Polanski when you talk about Bill Cosby and say this guy got away with rape,” she said. “That is uninteresting to me because the idea that equality is everybody getting away with rape is silly.” For Sanni, “people like Eddie Griffin, who attribute accusations against Cosby to “an attempt at the destruction of the Black man,  are the kind of people that think that Black liberation doesn’t necessarily include Black women. Because if you think that the way to Black liberation is to allow the abuse of one half of the population, then you don’t believe in Black liberation at all. You actually just want the access to patriarchy that white males have access to.”

Continue Reading…

16 Questions for David Spade, former celebrity, current Obama critic and TMZ political analyst

image of David Spade via Wikipedia
Image of David Spade via Wikipedia

David Spade is in the headlines, which is no small feat for the comedian and thespian, whose latest roles include the voice of  Sparx, a dragonfly in the video game “The Legend of Spyro: A New Beginning” and the nay-saying employee in Capital One commercials. Why is he in the headlines? Because of a new role? Nope. Did he do something funny? Nope. Is he directing? Nope. David Spade is in the news thanks to his insightful socio-economic-political analysis.  And Spade did what all great thinkers do when they must speak truth to power: he took to the Twitters and to the celebrity gossip think tank, or, technically, website, known as TMZ.  On December 14th,  Spade, of Saturday Night Live and less funny funny half of Chris Farley duo films Black Sheep and Tommy Boy former fame tweeted,

Why is Obama on Bear Grills trying to survive in the tundra? Isnt the idea to keep the prez alive? And why is he on a reality show?Wtf ?

Spade was referring to a special edition of the show Running Wild With Bear Grylls, (not “Grills” but I digress) in which President Barack Obama visits Alaska to witness, first hand, the effects of climate change. The President, the host of the show and nearly every news article and press release make the policy implications of the appearance extremely clear, by the way.

But Spade had a chance to offer a more nuanced less 140-character-bound critique of the intersection between media and politics on Sunday when he spoke to the celebrity gossip website TMZ outside of Craig’s, which is apparently, some fancy restaurant in LA:

“I criticized Obama because I thought, you know, a president should have a little more dignity than [pauses to come up with hilarious joke] I mean, I realize that Woodrow Wilson went on ‘Dancing with the Stars’ once, but what president’s doing reality shows? It just sounds weird to me, you know, it’s just too much.

I think that,  you know,[pauses to come up with hilarious joke] Michelle Obama’s on ‘Ellen’ more than I am. I mean, what first lady – it’s just a new world, it’s just I’m not used to it, and they’re out [pauses to remember that word the kids are using today that means dehydrated]… It just seems a bit thirsty to me, that’s all.

I think they’re gonna do fine  but they’re sorta plotting [is thinking so hard that he leaves out preposition ‘for’] after the White House.

Like, he’s on GQ – I’m like, leave that to Bradley Cooper. You don’t need to go – the president, you’re above all of us, you’re above stars, you’re above everything. When he’s trying to get in the mix, like, I want to present at the MTV Awards – all right guy, you got it, relax.

http://cdnapisec.kaltura.com/p/591531/sp/59153100/embedIframeJs/uiconf_id/6740162/partner_id/591531?iframeembed=true&playerId=kaltura_player_1413478522&entry_id=0_hubb49ca

Spade’s commentary was so thought-provoking, I had to share some of my own thoughts and questions.

      1. Are you, David Spade, for whatever reason, under the impression that anyone turns to you when looking for sociological critiques on the intersection of media and politics?
      2. If not, are you, David Spade, for whatever reason, under the impression that what you said had any comedic value?
      3. If not, are you, David Spade, for whatever reason, under the impression that you’re not engaging in embarrassingly transparent behavior which only serves to communicate the extent of your own insecurity?

Continue Reading…

Eric Garner’s mother reflects on justice one year after killer cops walk: ‘I’m gonna keep his name alive’

Video image shows NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo choking Eric Garner in New York City (Screenshot/YouTube)
Video image shows NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo choking Eric Garner in New York City (Screenshot/YouTube)
Originally posted on December 3, 2015, on RawStory

It was exactly one year ago that a grand jury decided not to indict a NYPD officer who was caught on video putting Eric Garner into a chokehold, pulling him backwards and down onto the sidewalk, and pushing his face into the ground despite the fact that Garner stated, “I can’t breath,” eleven times.  Garner was then left on the ground for 7 minutes. Neither Officer Daniel Pantaleo not the other officers nor the EMT performed CPR on the 43-year-old father of 6, who was pronounced dead an hour later. Why had Garner been approached by police in the first place? Because he had committed the crime of selling loose cigarettes.

The senseless and unpunished murder of her son, transformed Gwen Carr,  a long-time MTA train operator, forever. She soon retired from the MTA to become a full-time activist.   I spoke with Mrs. Carr this week on my WBAI radio show, about her life, her son, her family, and her  justice work. Here is some of what she told me.

About the failure to indict:

I definitely did [expect an indictment]. My son’s death was caught on video. Full coverage. And there was no indictment. You mean the grand jury didn’t see any probable cause? Where is the justice in that? Nobody asked them to try the case. Just to look for probably cause. That’s what a grand jury does.

About her channeling her grief into something positive.

What really got me was when I start thinking about well my son is gone now. If I don’t do something about it, I can’t expect anyone else to do anything. So, I’m gonna get out there and I’m gonna keep his name alive. If it’s only me, I’m gonna keep his name alive. And when I found out about how many others that were out there, I said I’m gonna make a promise to be the voice of my son and the voice of the voiceless and the nameless. So, I’m gonna try to keep that promise by speaking out, walking, rallying, doing whatever it takes until my voice is heard, until we get justice.

Justice for me is to hold everyone accountable who was involved in my son’s death that day. Because it was a senseless killing. It did not have to happen. And when they did this to my son they went deep on me. They stole my joy, they killed my spirit and they ripped my heart out. So, I just want to see everyone stand accountable for what they did that day because if there’s a crime there should be accountability whether you wear blue jeans, a blue suit or a blue uniform.

About how to end police violence and murder:

Continue Reading…

 Does Larry David Deserve $5,000 for Kinda, Sorta Calling Donald Trump a Racist?

Comedians and activists weigh in on whether David called attention to Trump’s racism or protected SNL from criticism.

Trump SNL Protest
Demonstrators chant during a protest against Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s hosting Saturday Night Live. (AP Photo / Patrick Sison)
Originally posted November 12, 2015 on The Nation

Here is how it came to be that Larry David kind of sort of called The Donald a racist. When NBC announced that Trump would be hosting Saturday Night Live, several progressive organizations, 50 cultural and intellectual luminaries, and several members of the Hispanic Congressional Caucus condemned the decision. The National Hispanic Media Coalition teamed up with organizations like Moveon.org and the Justice League to organize a protest outside 30 Rock the night of the show. The DeportRacism.com PAC joined in, offering $5,000 to any audience member who would stand up during the show and call Trump a racist. As organizer Santiago Cejudo put it, “We’re hoping the $5,000 will help people on set or in the studio audience find the bravery to speak out loudly and help focus the national conversation on that we need to deport racism, not people.”

Towards the end of Trump’s painfully flat opening monologue, someone yelled out, “You’re a racist!” An obviously unfazed Trump responded to the clearly staged interruption, by asking, “Who the hell is… Oh, I knew this was going to happen.… Who is that?”

At this point a spotlight revealed that it was Larry David, who had appeared as Bernie Sanders in the opening skit. No longer in costume, David said again, “Trump’s a racist.”

“Why would he do that?” Trump asked.

“I heard if I did that, they’d give me $5,000,” said David with his signature combination of disinterest and distaste. Trump had the last word, saying, “As a businessman, I can fully respect that.”

Many in the media have praised David for his yelling, with some even confusing an obviously prepared exchange with a genuine disruption. Variety magazine said, “Larry David provided one of the few real moments of spontaneity in Saturday’s episode.” Complex magazine praised the “legitimate burn by Larry David (a.k.a. The God),” and described it as “fantastic…something of an Easter egg that none of us could have anticipated but were nonetheless praying for.” The Daily Beast described David’s yelling as one of the episode’s “scathing Trump critiques.”

Continue reading “ Does Larry David Deserve $5,000 for Kinda, Sorta Calling Donald Trump a Racist?”

Comedian Judah Friedlander talks about Bernie Sanders, guns, gentrification and other stuff white people like

image via wikipedia
image via wikipedia
Originally posted on RawStory
image of If the Raindrops United via Judahfriedlander.com
image of If the Raindrops United via Judahfriedlander.com

Most people know Judah Friedlander for being a standup comedian and actor. You may have seen him on 30 Rock, or in films like The Wrestler, American Splendor or Wet Hot American Summer. But Friedlander is a bit of a renaissance man who not only makes his own hats but has authored two books including How to Beat Up Anybody: An Instructional and Inspirational Karate Book by the World Champion (2010) and If The Raindrops United, a book of illustrations and cartoons which hit the shelves October 20th. While If The Raindrops United, is undoubtedly hilarious, it’s also, in many ways, a work of political protest, in which Friedlander uses humor and graphic art to deal with serious issues such as gentrification, alienation, and the excesses of capitalism.

Friedlander came on The Katie Halper Show, my weekly radio show on WBAI, to talk to me and my co-host Gabe Pacheco about his new book and politics. Here are his thoughts on some important topics:

The Democratic Debates

“I thought it got off to a bad start with Cheryl crow singing the National Anthem. First of all it was a horrible rendition. But I thought it was such a weird, desperate attempt to make us look like we’re not anti-american. What was that all about?… It seemed like a very staged thing.”

Bernie Sanders

“I just liked how Bernie Sanders pronounced the word blunder like ‘blunda.’  That’s actually kind of a double blunder since you mispronounced blunder.”

Guns

“[Sanders] was talking about how in rural areas gun laws should be different from urban areas. And he’s right. I talk about gun issues in my standup and I perform all over the place. First of all the gun stuff in this country is actually horrendous. But, yes the dynamic of guns in a rural area is completely different from the dynamic in an urban area. But you know, how you deal with it is a whole other issue.”

The Presidential Election and the two party system

I’m very progressive so…I haven’t decided who I’m going to vote for or what party. The last election I think I voted green party. I mean the person didn’t have a chance. But I think the country really has to get out of this two party system.

Gentrification

image of gentrification man via judah friedlander.com
image of gentrification man via judah friedlander.com

image of gentrification man via judah friedlander.com

“I moved to New York in 1987. My dad’s actually from Brooklyn… we would come up when I was a kid and the city was just so impressive and diverse. And for years I hadn’t lived in Manhattan.  I lived way out in queens. A mile past the last stop on the subway in a non-gentrified neighborhood where families had been living for generations. Middle Village, Queens. But when I moved back to Manhattan… the classism in Manhattan and I would say half of Brooklyn at this point was just staggering.

When people say New York they’re usually talking about Manhattan. And when you’re in Manhattan it’s such a weird city because almost everyone is wealthy or ultra wealthy. And that means it’s mostly white… New York has always had wealthy and ultra wealthy but it was never the majority. And when you have a city where the teachers, policemen, firemen, subway workers, mail delivery people, when all the service workers and the blue collar people, when all of them are working in the city but none of them can actually afford to live in the city, that’s not a healthy dynamic at all.  New York is a much less diverse place than it used to be. There’s even a mini-10 page comic book called “gentrification man” in the book and gentrification man is the first super hero for the corporations.”

His Favorite Band

Jeb and the Holograms.

Make sure you listen to the entire interview with Friedlander. Listen for some hilarious parts including:

  • Judah’s realization that it’s his turn to talk.
  • Judah’s fearlessness towards the FBI
  • Judah’s Columbus Day standup.
  • Judah’s concern for the well-being of the people who hate posters.
  • 10-year-old Judah’s political drawings.
  • Judah’s effortless and mellifluous  listing of the entire cast of Red Dawn. 
  • Judah’s sleeping in the corner of the studio on every episode without our even knowing.

You can catch The Katie Halper Show on WBAI at 99.5FM or online at WBAI every Wednesday from 6pm to 7pm. Or you can subscribe to the Katie Halper Show podcast on Itunes (and please rate and review us) or Soundcloud. And make sure to listen on October 28th when we talk to Ta-Nehisi Coates!

8 Most Wildly Creative Responses to Donald Trump Insanity

This includes a Trump butt plug.

Originally posted September 23, 2015 on Alternet

It seems like every politician and countless celebrities have felt compelled to respond to Donald Trump’s absurd and offensive statements about women, immigrants and Mexicans. But Trump may have also unwittingly caused an anti-Trump creative renaissance by inspiring artists to express their outrage through their media of choice. And there is certainly a market for it.

This month, Funny or Die and George Lopez released a video called Mexican Donald Trump, which has already gotten over 850,000 hits on YouTube and FOD alone. And over the past week, Trump piñatas have been created and bashed all over the country.

Here are some the best creative and artistic responses to Trump to date.

1. The parody rap music video. The New York-based Latino comedy troupe Room 28 joined forces with the nonprofit organization Voto Latino Action Network to create a rap video which turns Big Sean’s hit “I Don’t F— With You,” into an anti-Trump anthem called “I Won’t Vote for You.”  In the video, Trump (Jacob Berger) calls his chauffeur, (Jerry Diaz) by the wrong name and orders him to keep his “beady Mexican eyes on the road.” The chauffeur spends the rest of the video explaining, “I won’t vote for you. You keep saying stupid things, I ain’t voting for you. Your running isn’t funny anymore, I ain’t voting for you. There’s millions of Latino voices, Trump you’re through.”

2. The Trump piñata. At a piñata store in the border city of Reynosa, Dalton Avalos Ramirez created a papier-mache piñata of Trump. Ramirez, who displayed his first model in June, explained that the idea was inspired by “the hatred Trump expressed for the Mexican people.” And the feeling seems to be mutual, given that “people want to burn the piñatas, they want to break them.” Various other artists have taken up the craft of the Trump piñata. A quick look at eBay reveals at least 10 different Trump piñatas, ranging in price from from $13.99 to $205. St. Louis celebrated Mexican Independence Day by beating “El Trumpo” over the weekend and Trump piñatas were selling like hotcakes in LA ahead of Wednesday’s GOP debate. And sure enough, a protester showed up outside the Reagan Library with a piñata.

3. The Donald Trump punching bag. For Trump haters with attachment issues, there is a great alternative to the use-once, wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am piñata: the Donald Trump punching bag. As Mexican-born 3D artist Fernando Sosa writes of his creation, “unlike pinatas, this guy collapses for portability and is re-usable unless you puncture him with something sharp.” The punching bags are selling at $59.99.

4. The way-ahead-of-its-time Sesame Street video. Sesame Street has always been at the vanguard of pedagogy and education, so it comes as no surprise that the program was mocking Trump way before it was cool to do so. Back in 2005, the show skewered the real estate tycoon with the character Donald Grump, in an episode called “Grouch Apprentice.” Oscar the Grouch’s “Grump! Grump! Grump!” cheer even foreshadows the cheering crowds that meet the Donald today at his political events. Donald Grump appears from out of a garbage can with bright orange hair and introduces himself as, “’Donald Grump, and I have more trash than any of yous so, na na na na na.” Within less than a minute he cans (pun intended) two characters with his signature, “you’re fired!” line.

5. The Donald Trump circus peanut. Showing his signature empathy, humility and firm grasp on reality, Donald Trump stated, “It’s very hard for them [his female critics] to attack me on looks, because I’m so good-looking.” So, it’s fair to say that Donald would describe himself as looking “good enough to eat.” And he’s not the only one to think that. Brooklyn-based Lauren Garfinkel included Trump in her edible government collection, which she describes as, “a culinary exploration of people and events that shape American politics, and a nod to the old adage, you are what you eat.” Continue reading “8 Most Wildly Creative Responses to Donald Trump Insanity”

 Comedians Debate: Is Amy Schumer’s ‘Trainwreck’ Sexist, or the New Feminism?

The feminist comedian and filmmaker is everywhere—and her fans’ expectations are mounting.

amy_schumer_trainwreck_premiere_ap_img
Amy Schumer attends the world premiere of “Trainwreck” on Tuesday, July 14, 2015. (AP/Invision/Evan Agostini)

Originally posted August 6, 2015 on The Nation

It’s hard to watch TV, go online, or even leave the house without encountering the deceptively cherubic face of comedian and filmmaker Amy Schumer. Sketches from her Comedy Central show, Inside Amy Schumer, are viral sensations; her HBO standup special, directed by Chris Rock, will air in October. She wrote and stars in the critically-acclaimed film Trainwreck, directed by Judd Apatow, which is raking it in at the box office. On Monday night, she appeared as one of Jon Stewart’s final Daily Show guests; earlier that day, Schumer held a press conference to announce her support for a plan championed by her distant cousin, Senator Chuck Schumer, to make it harder for criminals and the mentally ill to obtain guns. This comes on the heels of the July shooting at a Louisiana movie theater during a screening of Trainwreck, in which two women were killed and nine people were injured.

Amy Schumer’s stand-up and sketches tackle issues like birth control, abortion, rape, sexism, and warped female beauty standards with humor and fearlessness, positioning her as a feminist icon. And indeed, some critics and fans have hailed Trainwreck as a clever subversion of the typical romantic comedy plot. But others complain that it reinforces the rom-com narrative more than it challenges it. Schumer has also come in for criticism over her handling of race issues, both in Trainwreck and in her sketches and stand-up.

I talked about Amy Schumer’s comedy and its presentation of gender and race with writers and performers who themselves engage with these themes in a funny and thoughtful way. Laura Swisher is a stand-up comedian who worked as a producer for Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell and now works for The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore. Gabe Pacheco is a stand-up comedian who co-hosts and co-produces Funhouse Comedy, a weekly stand-up comedy show in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and is a co-host on The Katie Halper Show on WBAI. Rae Sanni is a comedian and writer who co-hosts the It’s About Us podcast. Samhita Mukhopadhyay is the author of Outdated: Why Dating Is Ruining Your Love Life. Kate Levin is a writer of fiction and creative non-fiction, and faculty member of the University of Southern California, whose most recent piece, for The Boston Globe, reflects on being a teenage prank call addict.

Katie Halper: Let’s start with the argument that some of Amy Schumer’s jokes are racist. What do you think of that criticism—and Schumer’s response?

Laura Swisher: There are comics whose material I loathe and find offensive, and often times it’s because their material is racist and/or sexist and utterly lacking in craft. But if a comic can make me laugh, or surprise me, I give them a lot more leeway, even if individual jokes might be offensive. I’d put Schumer in the “give her more leeway” category.

Kate Levin: The most salient thing for me when I think about Schumer and race is the response she gave after a Guardian writer called her out for having a blind spot around this subject. In response to criticism of the joke, “I used to date Hispanic guys, but now I prefer consensual,” she replied, “It is a joke and it is funny. I know that because people laugh at it…. Trust me. I am not racist.” I like Schumer—some of the stuff on her show I like a lot—but her response doesn’t hold up to the tiniest bit of scrutiny. She knows what she said wasn’t racist because… it was funny and people laughed at it? People laugh at racist jokes all the time! She knows that. (People also laugh at stuff that isn’t funny all the time, which she knows, too.) So what could land a smart person in such a swamp of illogic? Continue reading “ Comedians Debate: Is Amy Schumer’s ‘Trainwreck’ Sexist, or the New Feminism?”

How Bernie Sanders Won Hillary’s Vote & 13 other Deep Thoughts on the Democratic Debate

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 10.25.54 PM

Originally posted October 13, 2015 on RawStory

If you read one summary of the Democratic Debate, don’t read this one. But if you read a few and want to hear some observations and thoughts, insights and questions, straight from the gut, via the twitter, of Katie Halper you won’t be disappointed.

  • Having GOP debates before is terrible event planning. You put the funnier act last, not first. Dems have no chance.
  • Waiting for the narrator to say, “in a world!”
  • I’m fluent in New York accents and am available for simultaneous translation of
  • Lincoln Chafee is so awkward it’s endearing. He could be a sleeper. Dunno whether to cry or vote for him or both.
  • It’s hard to get excited about a debate when everyone on stage believes in things like vaccines & evolution.
  • “Is anyone else on the stage not a capitalist?” – Music to my ears!
  • “You supported Sandinistas, you said you’re not a capitalist.” Anderson Cooper questioning a candidate? Or me vetting boyfriends?
  • The block of granite known as Lincoln Chafee & the robot inside of Jim Webb’s skin are doing surprisingly well.
  • You know Jim Webb can’t keep the terms “people of color” & “colored people” straight.
  • hearing Bernie Sanders say, “I come from a rural state” in his thick Brooklynese accent is amazeballs.
  • Say “R” where there is no “R”: (idear) Don’t say “R” where there is one: (motha).
  • And that, little children, was how Bernie Sanders won Hillary Clinton’s vote!
  • Did Hillary just humblebrag that she’s made an enemy of a country consisting of over 70 million people?
  • I’m still waiting for to peel off Jim Webb’s skin suit and declare that he’s throwing his hat into the ring.

 Are Colbert’s New Politics Softer, or Just More Subtle?

A political comedian reviews the first of the new Late Show.

Colbert_Late_Show_otu_img
(The Late Show with Stephen Colbert)
Originally posted September 16, 2015 on The Nation

It was a no-brainer that Stephen Colbert as The Late Show host would be less politically edgy or hard hitting than he was on The Colbert Report. After all, The Colbert Report was arguably the most relentlessly, fiercely political, and, dare I say, partisan (in a good way) television show ever. Because Colbert never broke character, nearly every sentence he uttered was a political statement in which he simultaneously mocked right-wing values, or lack thereof, and implicitly advanced his own humanism and progressive political orientation. As Colbert explained in his Late Show debut, “I used to play a narcissistic conservative pundit—now I’m just a narcissist.”

But it’s not just that he’s taken off the character mask. Colbert has gone from cable to a major network. Cable is always less restricting than network television, but on top of that, Comedy Central, a channel dedicated exclusively to, well, comedy, is especially irreverent. Strong political opinions aren’t as tolerated on network television, which is why NBC (the network) has MSNBC (the cable channel) and Fox (the network) has Fox News (the cable channel). (I’m in no way equating MSNBC and Fox News, by the way—Fox News is a lot further from the center and from the facts than its so-called liberal counterpart.)

So, given these limitations, how did Stephen Colbert as political critic fare this past week? As expected, the first week of the show revealed a more politically restrained Colbert, and even some clichéd bipartisan statements and gestures. But given the new context, he managed to keep the show’s politics fairly pointed. And maybe, just maybe, his more bipartisan tone will prove to be a strategic way for him to deliver his more politically daring messages. A girl can dream.

Already, the focus and overall content of Colbert’s Late Show has been far more political than that of other late night network talk shows, including David Letterman’s. Colbert’s guests for the first week included Jeb Bush and Joe Biden, and the guests for the second week include Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. While David Letterman did interview then–Vice President Al Gore during his second week hosting The Late Show in 1993, none of his other early guests were involved in politics. When Jay Leno took over The Tonight Show in 1992, his early guests were Billy Crystal, Emilio Estevez, and Christian Slater. When Jimmy Fallon replaced Leno in 2014, he had Michelle Obama on, and even asked her about the Affordable Care Act, but the rest of the interview steered clear of politics, while Fallon’s other first week guests—Will Smith, Jerry Seinfeld, Bradley Cooper, and Justin Timberlake—all fit the mold left by his predecessor. Continue reading “ Are Colbert’s New Politics Softer, or Just More Subtle?”

 Trevor Noah Says He’s Not a Political Progressive. He’d Be Funnier If He Were.

The new Daily Show host doesn’t have much to say, which leaves him making jokes about tramp stamps and body weight.

trevor_noah_daily_show_cc_img
(The Daily Show with Trevor Noah / Brad Barket)
Originally posted October 9 on the Nation

Unlike Jon Stewart, Trevor Noah doesn’t ground his comedy in a political ideology. This is of course politically disappointing to people who saw Jon Stewart as someone who not only raised awareness but influenced politics and sometimes even policy. But what’s less obvious is that the lack of political perspective makes the show less funny.

Like millions of viewers in the United States and across the globe, I depended upon Jon Stewart, night after night, to excoriate people in high places who had messed with ordinary people during the day. When Comedy Central announced that Trevor Noah would replace Stewart, I knew that the odds of someone doing as good a job were slim. But I defended Noah when he came under attack for a handful of tweets that ranged from offensive to not at all offensive (just critical of Israeli policy), and from unfunny to really, really unfunny. It seemed an unfair point of focus. I was hopeful that his background, so different from Stewart’s, would bring a fresh perspective. And I thought it went without saying that Noah would continue the show’s political focus and insight.

But then a week before the new Daily Show launched, Trevor Noah told a group of reporters whom Comedy Central had invited to the Daily Show studio that he was “not a political progressive,” but “a progressive person.” Noah said,

What makes me a progressive, in my opinion, is the fact that I try to improve myself and by and large improve the world that I’m in—in the smallest way possible. I know that I cannot change the entire world, but I’ve always believed I can at least affect change in my world. So I try and do that. Progression, in my opinion, is often identifying shortcomings—whether it’s views or the things you’re doing in your life, your relationships—and trying to find the places where you improve on those.

The personal is, of course, political, but Noah wasn’t referring to identity politics or advocating an intersectional analysis. He seemed to equate progress with self-improvement. And he sounded like a self-help guru, or a student-government candidate just starting out.

The first weeks of Trevor Noah’s Daily Show have revealed a host whose perspective is unclear. This isn’t just a political problem but a comedic one. Despite being consistently affable and charming, Noah rarely puts forward a personal perspective about politics, or anything. And this lack of perspective makes the humor of his monologues and interviews feel haphazard. The sooner he figures out who he is, what he’s going for as a person and a host, the sooner he will be able to find a voice for conveying his vast comedic gifts.

We had a preview of his bro-ish humor during the backlash to Noah’s tweets last spring. Noah was accused of being a misogynist and, again, not funny, for his tweet from 2011: “ ‘Oh yeah the weekend. People are gonna get drunk & think that I’m sexy!’—fat chicks everywhere.” While he didn’t do or say anything nearly as overtly offensive on the show, there were echoes of bro-ish sexism and body shaming. Noah set up a segment on Lena Dunham’s interview with Hillary Clinton by saying, “Hillary knows how to win the nation. First you have to win the butt-smotherers.” With as much nuance as displayed in the joke, the screen behind Noah showed a partially blurred image of Allison Williams’s character receiving analingus on an episode of Girls.

The joke was pretty sophomoric and slightly slut shaming, in a vague and thoughtless way. Then he showed a clip in which Dunham asked Clinton if she was a feminist, to which Clinton responded, “Yes, absolutely.” When Dunham laughed in glee, Noah paused the footage and said, “I haven’t seen Lena Dunham that excited since HBO made its office clothing-optional.” Really? Lena Dunham’s highly political, feminist, and ground-breaking decision to show a character with a “normal body” naked on TV is reduced to a punchline about how much she likes to be naked.

Noah went for an easy punch line and some body-shaming when he interviewed Chris Christie, too: Recalling the first time he met the governor, Noah says, “You were wearing shorts. I will never…forget it. You look good in shorts.” Christie responds to the implicit fat joke by rolling with it and making fun of his own appearance: “There’s no requirement to lie in your first week on the job.”

Noah did cover John Boehner’s retirement and made a statement about how right-wing Washington has become: “Even John Boehner, the man once ranked the eighth-most-conservative man in Congress, wasn’t right-wing enough.… It’s like crack telling meth that it’s not addictive enough. ‘Yo, man, you got to step your game up, crystal, you make teeth fall out, big deal. I put down Whitney Houston.’” But the joke was timid, at least politically, and the only risky part was the Whitney Houston reference, which got a groan.

The retirement of John Boehner and Jon Stewart, which should have been a short joke, or perhaps a few jokes, was stretched into a meta and self-referential report from correspondent Jordan Klepper, who told Noah, “I get how you feel. Taking over for John—Boehner—is hard.” Noah replied, “Pretty soon everyone will be saying, John please come back.” The Boehner/Boner jokes didn’t have a real perspective, political or otherwise. There was no personality. And so it fell pretty flat.

In contrast, correspondents Roy Wood and Jordan Keppler brought an angle and some character to the show, which made them funnier. It wasn’t earth-shattering (no pun intended), but Roy Wood Jr.’s report on NASA’s discovery of liquid on Mars was the first time I laughed during the debut episode. It was also the first time racism (and not just race) was addressed on the show. When Noah asks Wood what he can tell us about the story, Wood responds, “I can tell you I don’t give a shit.” When an optimistic Noah says, “Doesn’t this raise the possibility that one day people can live on Mars?” Wood responds, “People like who? Me and you? How am I going to get there? Brother can’t catch a cab, you think we can catch a spaceship?… Black people ain’t going to Mars! And that includes you, Trevor.”

The other funniest segment of the show was a joint investigation by white Jordan Keppler and black Roy Wood into police bias. Again, they had strong perspectives, which drove the comedy and the political message. During an interview with former NYPD detective and Fox News contributor Bo Dietl, Keppler says, “This is a tough question to ask Bo, but I gotta ask: Are cops racist?” When Bo responds, “No,” Klepper gets up to leave, saying, “That’s good enough for me.”

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