Just a day after Comedy Central announced that South African comedian Trevor Noah would replace Jon Stewart on The Daily Show this year, Noah has run into criticism for a number of old tweets that are being labeled as sexist and anti-Semitic. The tweets being called attention to include bad and, in some cases, obviously offensive jokes that Noah has made over the past six years. The type of humor has, in some cases, continued over that timeframe.
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
There were also a number of tweets about women, including:
"Oh yeah the weekend. People are gonna get drunk & think that I'm sexy!" - fat chicks everywhere.— Trevor Noah (@Trevornoah) October 14, 2011
Originally when men proposed they went down on one knee so if the woman said no they were in the perfect uppercut position.— Trevor Noah (@Trevornoah) December 20, 2012
Neither Comedy Central nor Noah have responded to the complaints raised about these jokes. Noah appeared ready to respond on Twitter this morning, tweeting out, "Twitter does not have enough characters to respond to all the characters on Twitter." But the tweet was deleted shortly thereafter. Comedy Central did not respond to a request for comment.
"Twitter does not have enough characters to respond to all the characters on Twitter."
There's been a good amount of backlash toward Noah on Twitter itself, including from some high-profile figures. Comedian Roseanne Barr tweeted at him, "U should cease sexist & anti semitic 'humor' about jewish women & Israel." David Draiman, of the metal band Disturbed, tweeted, "WTF DID YOU SAY @Trevornoah? GOT ANYTHING ELSE SMART TO SAY ABOUT JEWS LITTLE #AntiSemite ?"
While no one is really out there defending these specific jokes, others have, rightly, pointed out that this type of humor is not inconsistent with what you'd hear from other comedians. These are bad jokes based on racist and sexist ideas, but at another time, they might have flopped at a standup night and been forgotten — on Twitter, they've sat around until Noah had a high enough profile to warrant someone combing through them. That doesn't mean they're excusable, but other comedians haven't had to answer for worse.
Trevor Noah's advance team should have known this was coming when he decided to run for President.— Mark Harris (@MarkHarrisNYC) March 31, 2015
The intensity of the backlash may well be because of how important Jon Stewart has made his seat. The Daily Show was nothing before Stewart, but now it's a bastion of satire and political commentary. Stewart may like to brush it off, but there are real reasons that people look to him for news and opinions. Stewart is also quite practiced, having been on the job for a decade and a half, while Noah has largely been living in the standup world. He also isn't as well known in America as he is internationally and will likely have to tailor his comedy and sensibilities for The Daily Show's audience.
Interesting that white comics make offensive jokes and are celebrated or tolerated but Trevor Noah well that's not acceptable.— roxane gay (@rgay) March 31, 2015
Perhaps the real question is why Comedy Central, in 2015, didn't take a look over Noah's Twitter feed for objectionable material. Noah is being held to a very high standard because of who he's succeeding, and that type of humor isn't what people expect from The Daily Show. Of course, that type of humor isn't on The Daily Show — it's on a Twitter feed, where offensive, lazy jokes easily fit within your 140-character limit. People will expect quite a bit more once he's on TV — clearly, they already do — and the one thing that Noah has tweeted is that he'll "continue to make this the best damn news show." Presumably, that'll mean leaving out this type of comedy.
Update 3:09PM ET: Comedy Central has issued a statement asking that Noah not be judged by "a handful of jokes." The statement does not apologize for the remarks, but instead says that Noah is an intentionally provocative comedian who "spares no one." The network also makes it clear that these tweets will not result in it backtracking on his appointment. The full statement is below.