Why Trevor Noah Can Succeed On The Daily Show

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I watched Tevor Noah’s comedy special African American on Netflix two nights ago.  I was curious after I saw he was set to take over for Jon Stewart on The Daily Show.  Instead of listening to all of the opinions on the internet I thought I’d just make up my mind for myself.  I suggest you do the same.  However, if you want some kind of opinion, at least based on that special, and his brief stint that I saw on The Daily Show, I think the show will be in good hands.  It’s clear that Noah is ridiculously intelligent.  He also is also able to be harshly critical of political issues in a clear way that points out the absurdity of the issue, while maintaining a smile.  Even when you get the sense his humor is informed by some injustice that makes him angry, he seems able to deliver it in a way that is inclusive.

I was a little unsure of him at the start of his special.  The special starts out with a fish out of water comedy as Noah describes some differences between his home country of South Africa and his adopted home in the United States.  It seemed kind of like Yakov Smirnoff, even if the observations were sharper and more biting.  However, he quickly gained momentum and I got the sense that here is someone that is really able to cut through the bullshit of the world.  At one point in the special he mentioned that he knows four languages and he is learning other ones.  He was also able to imitate almost any accent from any region or country.  He has an ear for language and the absurdity built into the way humans communicate.

He also seemed like a great comedian for this time period.  We are economically and socially more a part of the world than we have ever been, yet so many Americans know nothing of the world, and even rarely understand correctly what they do know.  His insider/outsider status, his mixed race heritage, allows him to translate how different sides view each other.  He seems to both love the US and be terrified of its power at the same time.

I have traveled, by sheer luck, a good deal.  People outside of the US often want the best of our country, but are often terrified by some of our behavior.   And I am talking about friends and allies.  We often don’t understand this, but Noah gets this dynamic dead on.

Whether in his home country, while traveling abroad, or here in the US, Noah gets the absurdity of modern life.  His bit on US airports had me in stitches, because is was so correct in observations about it.  He was able to point out how ridiculous it is that we take our shoes off in airports.  However, if you think he is just US bashing, he is no less critical of other cultures.  He then told a story about a US woman taking off her shoes when entering a Muslim country.  The Muslims began freaking out because they are so afraid of women exposing any part of their bodies.  I’m not doing the piece justice, obviously.  But it was his ability to critique absurdity in the US and at the last moment twist it around, to show that he is well aware that we are not the most insane country on certain issues.

Two of my favorite comedians are Bill Maher and George Carlin.  Maher, even though he treats his right wing guests with respect, is simply too biting in his comedy to ever be listened to by many that don’t share his politics.  Carlin is my all-time favorite comedian, philosopher as much as comedian, but his public persona was one that was someone who was really irritated by what he saw in the world.  I could watch him every night, but I wonder how many could.

Despite his biting comedy, and in standup I much prefer the other two, especially Carlin, Noah again is able to deliver this comedy with a good natured charm.  I imagine him being someone that people would welcome into their home every night, even when he is challenging their worldview.  I think for this reason he is a good choice.  He can speak truth to power in a way that just might knock a few people off of the fence.

If our news media wasn’t so bad I wouldn’t hope for so much from a comedian.  But Stewart has communicated more information than any of the real TV news outlets.  He has big shoes to fill.  I think, though only time will tell, that Noah is up for the job.  But don’t trust me, check him out yourself.

Jon Stewart to Retire

I only just found out about Jon Stewart’s decisions to retire from The Daily Show tonight.  I realize many of you have probably already heard about this.  I don’t need to be the one to tell most of you that we have been lucky to have him on television since 1999.  The Daily Show has been a place we could go to laugh and remain sane in these years of insanity.  Not only is his own contribution tremendous, but without him we would have never had The Colbert Report.  I have only seen one episode of The Nightly Show, but hopefully that and whoever takes Stewart’s spot will keep this kind of truth telling comedy going.

I think the most important thing Stewart is done is helped people decode the bullshit that is cable news.  It’s true that many people before Stewart knew that something in our media wasn’t right, but sometimes it helps to have someone that can adequately verbalize what you feel.  Night after night he was not only able punch through the mask of talking head absurdity, but provide people with the tools to do it themselves.

Why is it that, so often in our society, comedians are the only ones that can get at the truth?  If we had a mainstream news media that was actually doing its job, Stewart wouldn’t have been needed.  However, many of us unfortunately know that he, or someone like him, was needed.   Because he could do what he did through humor, he was able to get away with things that others could not.  One of my favorite quotes, that I have probably used too frequently here is Oscar Wilde’s quote, “If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you.”

Hopefully there will come a time when someone like Stewart isn’t needed, when we can actually trust television media to give us an accurate picture of what is going on in the world.  I don’t think that time will be soon though.  In the meantime, lets be glad that he was able to slip unnoticed through the gates, in this kingdom of madness.

Above is Jon Stewart’s famous Crossfire appearance.  Crossfire was a show on CNN.  It was a typical cable news program where you would have one rightwing pundit and one leftwing pundit debating the issues, without any kind of real insight give.  There also was no weight given to either argument, letting the viewer know if one or both were at all rooted in fact.  Jon Stewart went on and at the time did the unthinkable: He told the truth about why this kind of show was so meaningless.  Crossfire didn’t last much longer.  

Chris Rock Discusses Top Five On The Daily Show

Here is Chris Rock on The Daily Show discussing his new movie Top Five.  My brother and I went to see it the other night and it was excellent.  It was really unique in its particular blend of different genres and emotions in one film.  It was funny, as is to be expected, but it is also poignant and romantic in ways that seemed genuine.  When something happened to the characters emotionally, it felt earned because of the great character development of the film.  Chris Rock himself has said that Woody Allen was an influence.  It felt like an indie drama crossed with a very funny and raunchy comedy.  Again, it was unique and even this description does not really get to the core of it.  The movie not only had me laughing, but also left me thinking ever since I have seen it.

Regional Comedy

http://dish.andrewsullivan.com/2014/04/01/worldly-wit/

An interesting blog from Andrew Sullivan.  Since I have moved from the North East to Texas I have been struck by the different forms of humor that is part of different regions in the country.  To speak of any region having a certain kind of humor is definitely an exaggeration.  However, these exaggerations do provide some insight.  In the North East I feel that humor is much more acerbic.  In central Texas I have found that the humor often relies much more on a kind of scatological wordplay.

I don’t know if I put much faith in the second half of the article.  It is an interesting topic however.  How much difference do people like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert make over the long term, in terms of seeing the absurdity in our culture?  I think one thing comedians like them do is to give a concrete voice to feelings that many of us have had for a long time.  They give form to our abstract thoughts.  Many people have known that the media has been terrible for years.  However, they put things in a context that makes it easier to give specific critiques of what exactly is wrong with the media.  If you can correctly verbalize something you have a better chance of changing something.  I think that right there is worth a lot.

The Worst Writer in the World

If I had a candidate for worst writer in the world I would pick Joel Stein from Time Magazine.  I call his kind of writing comedy without the humor.  His style of writing is a style that is so ubiquitous in this age.  It is full of snarky sentences and simple minded witticisms and lacks any meaning or value.  It is part of the culture that holds nothing sacred and therefore puts everything on the same level.  Every time I see his column I think to myself, how does this guy still have a job?!!!

We live in an age where many times the comedians are the only truth tellers.  Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and Bill Maher use comedy to speak truth to power.  George Carlin and Monty Python did the same thing along with many others.  I am again going to use the Oscar Wilde quote that I love so dearly:  “If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you.”

This is not to say that comedy has to have a serious edge to it.  Comedy is also a great creator of joy.  A movie like Something About Mary or some of the sillier Python sketches just make you laugh because they are goofy.

However there is a brand of comedy that belittles things just to prove how witty the comedians are, and serves no greater function than the comedians own ego.  I saw this kind of comedy arise on shows like VH1’s I Love the 80’s.  On these shows a cast of mostly second rate comedians were hired to go through pop culture memories and literally make fun of everything that could possibly be remembered.  That’s not to say that a show like this lacked any entertainment factor.  In fact it could be kind of addictive.  However, if you stop to think at all about what they are doing it becomes much less likable.

When everything is made fun of, without any kind of purpose behind it, everything becomes the same and nothing has any value.  Most of this comedy is mean spirited, while lacking any kind of point of view, and therefore meaning.  This kind of comedy not only doesn’t shed light on anything, it actually makes it harder to separate the good from the bad.

George Carlin once said that anything could be funny.  He used rape as an example.  “I can prove to you that rape is funny.  Picture Porky Pig raping Elmer Fudd.”

What I think Carlin is doing here, beyond trying to get a laugh, is give people the freedom from fear to talk about a taboo subject.  If you can lighten a dark issue you can bring it out into the open for discussion.

Someone like Joel Stein has no point to get across in his comedy.  Neither is he just having silly fun.  He is only tryin to show how much wittier he is than everyone else, when the truth is he isn’t very witty at all.