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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Here’s the one thing nobody can do as well as Jon Stewart

Jon Stewart mocks House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) on 'The Daily Show' on March 2, 2015. [YouTube]
Jon Stewart mocks House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) on ‘The Daily Show’ on March 2, 2015. [YouTube]
One of the things that makes Jon Stewart so irreplaceable is how much he made himself replaceable. Except for on one issue.

The world is waiting to see how Trevor Noah will do when he replaces Jon Stewart in the news desk chair he occupied for the past 16 years. But the replacement has been a work in progress for Stewart.  From the start,  Stewart showcased correspondents who would go on to create their own shows that shared the same mission: using humor to inform audience about important stories demonstrating hypocrisy, dishonesty, racism, exploitation, bigotry and ignorance of politicians, the media, corporations, and powerful individuals. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart became, and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah will be, just one of a constellation of shows that are guided just as much be a sense of justice and empathy as by a sense of humor.

Stewart has always maintained that his politics are secondary to his comedy, “I’m a comedian first… My comedy is informed by an ideological background… But . . . I’m not an activist. I am a comedian,” he once said. But there are a number of times when he has explicitly dropped his comedic intentions and framing. Most recently, following the Charleston shooting in which a white supremacist killed nine African Americans at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church Church, Stewart was unable or unwilling to bring the funny to his opening monologue:

Maybe if I wasn’t nearing the end of the run or this wasn’t such a common occurrence, maybe I could have pulled out of the spiral, but I didn’t… So I honestly have nothing other than just sadness once again that we have to peer into the abyss of the depraved violence that we do to each other and the nexus of a just gaping racial wound that will not heal, yet we pretend it doesn’t exist… I’m confident, though, that by acknowledging it, by staring into that and seeing it for what it is, we still won’t do jack shit. Yeah. That’s us.

Stewart acknowledged his departure from the comedy monologues which usually start the show, finishing up by saying, “Sorry about no jokes.” He had similarly earnest responses to 9/11 and to the Tucson shooting in 2011, which injured 13 people including Gabby Giffords.

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Throwback Thursday: 13 Times we’re pretty sure Rick Perry was high as a kite on drugs

image via youtube
image via youtube
Originally posted on RawStory

Ah, Ricky Perry. It’s so nice to have him in the race! Perry is probably the most entertaining of all the terrible people fighting for the nomination, though it’s hard to keep track because there are so many and odds are another person will have signed up by the time I’ve published this post.

But here are some moments when Perry’s statements or affect were so off, it was hard to believe he wasn’t on drugs. And, this isn’t just hyperbole. One 2011 speech in particular provoked speculation that the Texas governor was taking pain medication, since he had undergone back surgery. As The San Francisco Chronicle reported, one clip captured on video,

described by some as bizarre and incoherent, shows Perry mugging, joking and playing with the audience as he describes New Hampshire’s motto, “Live Free or Die” as “cool” and appears to collapse in giggles over a gift of maple syrup.

Perry shrugged off the criticism and appeared flummoxed by the attention to the address.

“I’ve probably given 1,000 speeches. There are some that have been probably boring, some that have been animated, some that have been in between,” he said.

Responding to the suggestions by some political observers that the animated Perry may have been on pain medication for his past back surgery, the governor said: “No. I was just giving a speech.”

And he wasn’t drunk either!

“Asked about “The Daily Show” comedian Jon Stewart‘s suggestion that Perry looked like he had been drinking, the governor said, “It wasn’t that either.”

“It’s not that I wouldn’t love to sit down with Jon and have a glass of wine,” he said with a laugh, adding “if he’ll buy.”

I’m sure Jon would be down.

Without further ado, here  is Rick Perry high as a kite on drugs, getting the voting age wrong, thinking Woodrow Wilson was alive ten years ago, and seemingly impersonating an effeminate gay man.

Comedy as criticism: Jon Stewart, Trevor Noah and the issue of Israel

via youtube
via youtube

Who, in the media, will have the courage to call out Israel once Jon Stewart leaves the Daily Show? (On Monday, the date of Stewart’s final show – August 6 – was announced.)

As a secular Jewish woman who has been called self-loathing for both my comedy and writing, I’ve always had a particular appreciation for Jon Stewart’s brave critiques of Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinians and Israeli Arabs. Considering his background as a bi-racial, South African comedian who came of age during apartheid, the incoming host of the Daily Show, Trevor Noah, could bring a refreshing perspective to many political issues, especially the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But I worry that the same kinds of people who try to stifle legitimate debate about Israel with unfounded accusations of anti-Semitism will silence Noah. (I fear the silencing campaign has already started.) The irony, though, is that silencing the discussion around Israel is bad for both Israel and Jews. Continue reading “Comedy as criticism: Jon Stewart, Trevor Noah and the issue of Israel”

The Daily Show takes on sexist attacks on Senator Gillibrand

Masters of Sexism on The Daily Show
It was infuriating and depressingly unsurprising to hear some of the sexist, inappropriate comments male members of Congress have made to Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. As we learned last week, colleagues told the Senator she was pretty even when she was “fat” and urge her not to get “too porky.” But The Daily Show‘s take down of the Senate’s sexism will let you laugh and cry (Watch the full clip here).

Citing the “Don’t get too porky” comment on the one hand, and the “I like my girls chubby” on the other, Jon Stewart quipped “Even when it comes to shitty sexism, the Senate is gridlocked. They can’t get anything done.” He also remarked on the irony of congressmen and senators discussing Gillibrand’s appearance when they themselves “look, on a good day, like a bowl of dried fruit.”

Stewart was especially on-point in his critique of the people criticizing Gillibrand for not naming the men who made the comments. After a clip of conservative CNN contributor Ben Ferguson saying “you’ve got the guts to write about it. Have the guts to name names,” Stewart responds, “The grown-up version of the rich kid from every ’80s movies has a point…. Why wouldn’t the woman making a larger point about the general culture of Washington not turn this into a narrow personal attack on the people she sees at work every day?”

Stewart also shows a clip of Andrea Mitchell, saying that she knows from experience that there are some politicians you don’t want to be alone with in an elevator. He then reflects, “Right. We all have our stories about which person, elected by voters in their state to a six-year term, vested with the powers to advise, consent, and declare war, you would not trust in the three to five seconds it takes to go from two to L.”

The episode also looks at the responses expressed on the Fox News show Outnumbered, which range from “boys will be boys” to the claim that women embrace catcalls as flattering.

The Daily Show certainly won’t run out of material any time soon.

Originally posted on Feministing.

7 Best Jon Stewart Clips on Israel

With his brand of cutting insight, the ‘Daily Show’ host offers his take on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

 Last week, Jon Stewart addressed how hard it is to talk about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict in a sketch called “we need to talk about Israel.” Though he mocked both sides, to a certain extent, the bulk of the sketch went after those who see themselves as “pro-Israel” and see Jon Stewart as a self-loathing Jew.

Now, from what I can tell, having been called a self-loathing Jew myself, the term applies to people who make any criticism whatsoever of the Israeli government. One can easily make the case that more diplomatic solutions, dovish approaches if you will, are more helpful for the state of Israel and Israelis than more military or hawkish ones. That makes some of the self-loathers more “pro-Israel” than the ones who blindly support the government.

Stewart is one of the few public mainstream Jews with the chutzpah to say anything critical of Israel’s policies. And as a Jew, I appreciate the way he’s been doing this ever since he took over the Daily Show. So, without further ado, I present 7 great Daily Show skits on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

 Continue reading and see all the clips at Alternet.org