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.