Why Trevor Noah Can Succeed On The Daily Show


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.

Give Us Three Minutes and We’ll Give You the World

The original version of Robocop hilariously satirizes TV news and television commercials.  Sure, a movie made in the 80’s is bound to get a couple things wrong, but overall it captures the shallowness of modern culture excellently.  Years on our culture still too often feels like an 80’s action movie.

One of the general plot points in the science fiction movie Robocop is that a military industrial corporation is trying to take over the police force of Detroit.  Knowing now how are police have often been militarized, thanks in part to the military industrial complex, a good deal of this movie is still more relevant than one would hope it would be.  

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.  

Journalist Sentenced to Die For Insulting Muhammad

Journalist Sentenced to Death for Insulting the Prophet Muhammad

As much as I lament the current state of U.S. politics and culture, I am always aware that compared to a great deal of the world, that we have it quite good here.  In a West African country called Mauritania, a country I have never even heard of before and that sounds like a fictional country in a Arnold Schwarzenegger movie (Val Verde!), a journalist is being sentenced to death for “insulting” the Prophet Muhammad, although last time I checked it was impossible to insult someone that wasn’t alive to be insulted.  I hope the sentence is not the end result.  I looked for a petition online or something, but I couldn’t find one.  This is religious insanity at its pinnacle.

It’s a shame that in other countries journalists often have to risk their lives to tell the truth, where here journalists regularly censure themselves by choice.  Although, one should always note the difference between a journalist and a Ken or Barbie doll reading a teleprompter.

Police Militarization in the Media and in Pop Art



The above link is an article from Huffington Post where Police are actually engaging with the protestors in St. Louis instead of using force against them.  This is what police should be doing.  I have have been especially hard on Police through this blog because of the increasing militarization and excess use of force that we have seen throughout the country.  Not just in Missouri, but as an overall trend.  However, there are some officers in a St. Louis suburb that are engaging with protestors int he right way and they should be commended.  

Our police officers should be a part of our communities and not something terrifying that stands outside and apart from communities.  They have a hard job, I’ve never denied that.  However, they are supposed to protect and serve citizens, which is a mission that seems lost on a more and more consistent basis across the country, due largely to the increase in SWAT teams and the movement of equipment from our war zones to our police departments.  

Yesterday I watched the new Robocop.  It can’t compete with the classic version from the 1980’s that was actually a pretty smart satire in the form of a sensationally violent 80’s action movie.  The new movie has many faults, mostly in the action scenes that are bloodless and cartoon like.  However, the movie is not completely stupid and not without its merits.  One of the things that movie does get right is the idea of a corporation moving military equipment from foreign war zones to our cities and communities.  This is something that is actually being done in reality and the movie uses science fiction to heighten what is being done in reality.  (The movie also deals, although slightly superficially, with the ideas concerning our increasing use of drones, our manipulation of the media by corporations, the way our corporations are stateless actors that think outside of what is good for the nation state, and our unjust occupation of foreign countries.  However, even if some of these things are being dealt with on somewhat of a superficial level, it is great to see a big money tent-pole movie that actually have these ideas included in it.)   

I am glad to see our mainstream media focusing more on this problem in light of what has happened in Missouri, although of course I wish the root cause of it had never happened.  I am also glad to see some police officers realizing their true mission and acting as part of the community.  Third, I was happy to see a piece of pop art that dealt with these subjects.  Hopefully there will be continued awareness brought to these issues through the media and entertainment.  

It’s a Queer World

It’s a queer world, God knows, but the best we have to be going on with. – Brendan Behan

If you read the headlines enough they become like a tickertape of the absurd.  I go to Huffington Post once or twice a day as it is usually a good place to see what the country is talking about.  I don’t really read many of their articles, there are way better places to get in depth knowledge, but it’s a good place to get the pulse of what is going on.  Just today they had a morning headline about how the Iraq War architects were being brought back into the fold by the media as if they had any credibility left.  They should be in shackles for all the poor men and women they sent to their deaths, not on TV voicing their opinions.  Then tonight I see the headline is that our country is going to execute three convicts within 24 hours starting tonight.  It’s like that scene in David Lynch’s Wild at Heart where the characters of Sailor and Lula ride through the desert flipping through the radio.  Every station features news darker and more degrading than the last, until they finally can’t stand it and decide to crank heavy metal music.

However, there are reasons to be hopeful.  President Obama finally made the speech that he needed to on climate change.  It obviously remains to be scene what he can actually accomplish, but it was a strong speech that no other President has dared to make.  It also looks that despite the media giving some voice to the insane warmongers who got us into Iraq, that there is also some genuine pushback to stay out of the Middle East for once.  I am no Thomas Friedman fan, but in the Sunday Times he mentioned that the two countries that are doing best in the Middle East, Tunisia and Kurdistan, are also the countries that we have largely stayed out of.  Hopefully some of those in power understand this.  

I just recently started a part time job canvassing for a political organization.  I thought it would be a good way to make a little extra cash and do something positive in my community on days I don’t have shows.  Going door to door I have found most people to be polite and kind.  Flipping though mainstream TV and paying attention to the headlines is an easy way to find oneself depressed.  However, there is good in this world and it is worth remembering that all hope is not lost.  You might have to dig for it sometimes, but it is there.  Don’t let the bastards get you down…

The Cartoon Network Turns Into the News

“And the Cartoon Network turns into the news” – If God Will Send His Angels by U2

I have been house sitting for a friend and watching Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.  The show is excellent and I am so glad there is another program speaking truth to power through comedy.  The comedians seem to be some of the only ones telling the truth on TV anymore.  Our news descends further and further into banal gibberish.  John Oliver has an excellent bullshit detector and I can’t help but feel that I have learned more in one half hour of his show than I would in an entire week of cable news.  He does this all while being thoroughly entertaining.  I will never tire of using the Oscar Wilde quote, “If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you.”  That seems truer than ever these days.