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Tue Mar 31, 2015, 06:50 PM

Why I am standing by Trevor Noah despite his offensive Tweets

Comedy is often filled with offensive material, I don't know that there is a big name comedian out there who is both funny and consistently inoffensive. People have every right to be offended by certain types of humor and I don't think that we should be telling the people that are offended that they need to learn to take a joke. I am not here to defend Trevor Noah's tweets, some people are clearly offended by them and they have every right to be offended. What I am here to do however is to ask people to consider that we should not judge a comedian on the basis of a few bad jokes that were dug up by the media, instead we should look at that comedian's body of work in context and try to get an understanding of who the person really is.

Like most Americans I am just getting to learn about Trevor Noah, prior to yesterday I had only seen one of his segments on the Daily Show. Once I heard he had been selected as the new host I watched a few YouTube videos from him as well as a one hour stand up show that is currently streaming on Netflix. I watched his stand up before I saw the tweets and I am glad I did so because his stage act is far funnier and more insightful than anything you are going to find on a Twitter feed.



I encourage everyone to watch this video as it gives us a much better understanding of who Noah actually is than those Tweets do. This a man who grew up as a mixed race child in apartheid South Africa. Interracial relationships were illegal there at the time so he could never be seen with both parents in public, this is a guy who truly understands what it is like to face oppression. While he is able to joke about the horrors he faced living under apartheid it is also clear that behind his laughter is a guy who realizes that bigotry is deadly serious. In many ways that makes him the perfect host for the Daily Show, this is a show that makes jokes out of the worst things that are taking place in our society without trivializing the wrong doing.

It is easy to look at the tweets that have been dug out from Noah's Twitter account and think they represent his viewpoints, but I would caution against leaping to such a judgment without first becoming familiar with his particular brand of humor. Clearly the jokes in his tweets were unfunny and offensive, but every comedian has jokes that fail and those jokes often fail in ways that really get people upset. I know there were a few times in which I thought Jon Stewart really failed in his attempts at humor, but I can't judge him solely on the basis of the failed jokes he told.

I have heard many people say that these Tweets reinforce their opinion that Tina Fey should have gotten the job, and I will be the first to say that Tina Fey would have made a great host despite the fact that she is also facing accusations of bigotry right now. Yes, you read that right, Tina Fey is right now battling accusations of racism herself. There is a new show on Netflix called "The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" which was written largely by Tina Fey and it is facing a lot of criticism for the racial stereotypes in the show. I just saw the first couple of episodes of the series and it is an incredibly funny show, but I can definitely see why some people might find it offensive. This is a comedy about a woman who kidnapped at age 13 and held prisoner for fifteen years by a cult leader who repeatedly raped her, when she escapes captivity she goes to live in New York with a flamboyant gay black man and then finds an Asian boyfriend named Dong. Just by reading that premise it should be clear that this show is going to spark some controversy. The show has received a great deal of critical acclaim and I am sure many people from the groups being stereotyped in the show will love it despite those offensive stereotypes, but there have been a number of people who have been very offended by Fey's writing. Those people are not wrong to be offended, but at the same time I am not going to pick out the offensive jokes that Tina Fey has made and pretend those jokes are representative of her work as a whole.

Al Franken has gone far beyond anything that either Trevor Noah or Tina Fey has said, while he was a writer for Saturday Night Live he made a joke about drugging and then raping Leslie Stahl. There was nothing funny about the joke at all, what he said was absolutely sick and disturbing. My mother and sister actually refused to vote for Franken in his first run for Senate because they were so offended by him. I tried to convince them that Franken should not be judged on the basis of a bad joke he told as a comedian, but they are still upset about that bad joke to this day. I believe that they did both vote for Franken the second time around as they are both quite liberal, but they still have not totally forgiven him for his bad joke and I can understand where they are coming from.

I can also understand where Noah's critics are coming from, but just like I felt Franken should not be judged on the basis of a bad joke I don't think Noah should either. All comedians who tackle controversial issues screw up some times and say things that they really should not say, but I think we do need to be somewhat forgiving and understand that we should not judge people on the worst things they have ever said. I know I have said some things that were pretty offensive in the past when I was trying to be funny and I would not want people to judge who I am as a person based on failed jokes that I have made, I think Trevor Noah deserves the opportunity to move on from his bad jokes as well.

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Arrow 11 replies Author Time Post
Reply Why I am standing by Trevor Noah despite his offensive Tweets (Original post)
Bjorn Against Mar 2015 OP
Warpy Mar 2015 #1
Prism Mar 2015 #2
barbtries Mar 2015 #3
Bjorn Against Mar 2015 #5
gollygee Mar 2015 #4
Bjorn Against Mar 2015 #6
jeff47 Mar 2015 #7
Bjorn Against Mar 2015 #9
geek tragedy Mar 2015 #8
Bjorn Against Mar 2015 #10
geek tragedy Mar 2015 #11

Response to Bjorn Against (Original post)

Tue Mar 31, 2015, 07:14 PM

1. I know what I'd call a stand up comedian with a squeaky clean Twitter feed

A bore.

I can forgive him his occasional lapses into bad taste. If they were all there was to him, it might be less forgivable.

After all, I can be tacky, too.

I just hope he's a fit with Fake News that has more truth to it than the official news does.

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Response to Bjorn Against (Original post)

Tue Mar 31, 2015, 07:18 PM

2. Burning heretics has never ended well

 

And I'm not one to carry a torch.

Tumblr and Twitter activists need to get a grip already.

Really nice post.

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Response to Bjorn Against (Original post)

Tue Mar 31, 2015, 08:01 PM

3. as a fat woman

who is also technically jewish, i will wait and see how he handles the controversy. i've been poring through youtube to share a piece he did about guns but it's looking as if maybe it wasn't him? i don't know but it was very good.

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Response to barbtries (Reply #3)

Tue Mar 31, 2015, 08:14 PM

5. Here is the response he made on Twitter today...

https://twitter.com/Trevornoah/status/583019964556152832?s=09

He admits that they were failed jokes but asks us not to judge him by them and suggests that he has evolved. I think it is a good early response, many comedians would have doubled down but he did not.

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Response to Bjorn Against (Original post)

Tue Mar 31, 2015, 08:09 PM

4. I'm guessing

that it's hard to find a comedian at that level who hasn't made some offensive jokes. Am I wrong? I don't know but that's certainly my impression. Our society sees offensive jokes as edgy, so comedians do them at least in part because they know it's what people want to see. I'd seen a few clips from him previously and I remembered them as very funny and very relevant.

I don't like the tweets but I do also feel like sometimes people of color are held to a different standard, and I worry about that in this case too. I have seen a couple of episodes of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and you're right, there's offensive stuff there too.

I guess I see both sides in this. I do think the tweets are offensive and I wish he hadn't made them, but I don't know how many comedians don't make offensive jokes, and I worry about him being held to an different standard than white comedians.

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Response to gollygee (Reply #4)

Tue Mar 31, 2015, 08:15 PM

6. Good post, I agree with every word.

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Response to Bjorn Against (Original post)

Tue Mar 31, 2015, 09:16 PM

7. Twitter is really a bad format for his jokes.

He does a whole lot of sarcasm, and jokes that require significant set-up. You can't do either very well in a tweet. And in trying to do so, he screwed up.

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Response to jeff47 (Reply #7)

Tue Mar 31, 2015, 09:45 PM

9. I think Twitter is a bad format for comedy in general

The strict character limit in Twitter makes it virtually impossible to include any context in a single tweet. I think comedians should try to avoid Twitter, I have seen far more jokes fail in Twitter than I have seen genuinely funny tweets. It is no surprise that Noah's stand up routine is far funnier than his Twitter feed.

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Response to Bjorn Against (Original post)

Tue Mar 31, 2015, 09:34 PM

8. I get that humor will offend, but whom it offends

 

and how matters.

Just ask Michael Richards.

If it's meant to provoke or challenge or provide insight, there's some leeway.

When it's just kicking a group of people that society finds easy to kick, that gives me pause.

And, enough of bro culture already.

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Response to geek tragedy (Reply #8)

Tue Mar 31, 2015, 09:55 PM

10. Aside from these few tweets Noah does not seem to kick people who are down

From what I have seen in his stand up routine he seems to be very conscious of the harm brought about by bigotry, he was after all a victim of apartheid himself.

While the tweets do not show that side of him, you also have to remember that most of these Tweets are a few years old. The guy made over 8,000 tweets and the ones you are seeing today represent the worst of them, the majority of his work is not nearly as offensive.

I am not excusing them as I do recognize why people are offended, but I do think people need to look at them in context and recognize that these Tweets do not represent the full body of his work.

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Response to Bjorn Against (Reply #10)

Tue Mar 31, 2015, 10:33 PM

11. You're making the case for him as well as it can

 

be made.

I guess we will see.

Cheers.

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