Upon catching wind of the recent announcement that Trevor Noah would succeed Jon Stewart at The Daily Show, I was elated. My favourite comedian had just been parachuted into one of the shows I went to for political refuge in the United States. Let me elaborate.
Although the primary reason why I fell for Noah’s comedy is that he didn’t swear that much, I grew to like his social commentary and political satire even more. For a man who virtually made it his personal mission to criticize South African president Jacob Zuma, and rightly so, he did a very fine job. In fact, I’ve watched a stand-up act of his which sounded more like a funny political critique than it did a comedy show. It is difficult to tread the often tumultuous political waters, but Noah does it effortlessly with humour – and I love it. What’s more, I met the guy at Stanford University when he came to present at our annual African Cultural Show. He is very intelligent, funny and also humble!
And now he’s coming to The (Jon Stewart) Daily Show, a satirical show that I often went to for political news during my stay in the US. Stewart’s quips were particularly pleasurable whenever I watched them right after a session of Fox News propaganda. (A note on Fox News: From my experience, ALL major news outlets in the US do doctor the news. However, Fox News takes it to mind-numbing heights). The Daily Show rounded up on all the ridiculous political mishmash and made the ridiculous appear really ridiculous. In away, that was political refuge for me. There’s something about political satire that is so satisfying and vindicating – it’s a kind of tonic. And when you have the best satirists doing it, such as The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report’s Stephen Colbert, it’s something enlightening.
And Trevor Noah is right up there with the best, in his own way. If you’re familiar with American politics, at this point you probably believe that I am a Democrat and that I absolutely hate the Republican Party. That is probably because you know the Daily Show goes to great lengths to attack the Republican Party, while Fox News is a Republican apologist. The thing with Trevor Noah is that, because some of his comedy is a scathing critique of American society as a whole – both Democratic and Republican – he has the potential to rise above this Dem versus Rep dimension. And that is why he could bring the Daily Show to a whole new level. He’s one outsider who has the wit and the gut to take on the untouchable United States itself, and not just one of its warring political parties. He can take on both its political and social ills without being partisan, much like he has done in South Africa.
Consider it. How about a mixed-race guy born of a black mother and a white father who pretended to have a homeowner-maid relationship just to be together with their child in apartheid South Africa? How about a guy who speaks Xhosa, Zulu, Afrikaans, English and German, and does accents better than most people? How about a South African born ‘black’ man who has the guts to talk about ‘European’ Americans in front of an American audience? How about a guy who takes on America’s drone programme right in the U.S. of A? How about a guy who takes on America’s African stereotypes – who turns the ridiculous into the really ridiculous?
I say yes! But Fox News says no. Apparently, Trevor Noah is not qualified to critique the very fibre of America – Jon Stewart was at least patriotic, they argue. Already, they’re afraid Trevor Noah can pop the bubble and even go after the Holy American Constitution. Why would that be wrong? Every day, prominent Americans wipe their noses (you know what I wanted to say) with the constitution, yet it’s out of bounds for satire? Perhaps for an American, but not for a non-American. Especially not for a smart, knowledgeable, observant and funny non-American. He can go after that ‘fibre’ and help the Americans look deep into themselves. He won’t be content with the mere Sarah-Palin-Said-What? Ron-Paul-What-the-Heck? and Barack-Hussein-Obama level. He’ll want the ‘Native’-Americans-Are-the-Real-Americans level. What makes him qualified? Well, he’s like a person looking intently in from afar. Much like an eagle.
But I am actually afraid they might clip Noah’s wings. I just hope they do not. I hope he will slap America out of her global slumber and ask her the hard questions. I hope he’ll take the Daily Show in a non-partisan direction and smack American partisan politics right in the face. I hope he does it relentlessly, until perhaps the powers-that-be gag him, just as Jacob Zuma did. (And I sure hope he hits Fox News out of the park. Judging by their hysteria right now, they know that it’s coming).
I have said it before on this blog that while I was in the US, I felt more alienated for being (black) African than for being black. A lot of it was caused by the ignorance of America, and not least by the relentless mass media. When I watched Trevor Noah perform in the US, I felt my voice in his. Here’s somebody who made it okay to be (black) African in America. And when I spoke with him personally, he was just like me (only more handsome and funnier). He made me feel alright being myself in the US. And I hope he feels alright being himself on The Daily Show. For himself and for America.
Uhm, one more thing, my good Americans: Trevor Noah is referred to as ‘coloured’ and not ‘mixed-race’ in South Africa. In his own words, if you called someone ‘mixed-race’ there, the reply you’d get is, “Mixed-race? Your mama’s mixed-race.”