After being tapped to fill the shoes of “The Daily Show” host Jon Stewart, comedian Trevor Noah saw his past come back to make headlines. After scanning Noah’s twitter account, outlets began reporting anti-Semitic and sexist tweets that were clearly his attempts at jokes, but just didn’t land tastefully.
Just like in-person, there are jokes told online that do not go over well and leave the audience quiet or taken aback. The main difference, however, is that when the jokes are posted online, there is no cadence or people laughing together to encourage others the statement is meant to be a humorous take on something otherwise read as offensive.
Despite headlines from outlets such as the L.A. Times and The Guardian questioning if Noah should lose his job over the tweets — with the latter outlet’s story titled “Should his Twitter ‘jokes’ cost him the Daily Show job?” — there were people who happened to find the offensive tweets amusing, as one pulled by CBC was posted a year ago and received over 500 retweets. Not that this certifies Noah’s joke as funny, but it does lend credence that at the time it was not causing much of a fuss.
The rest of the jokes CBC reported are also distasteful, but still don’t stretch the boundaries of the jokes comedians tell online or on television on a daily basis.
Talks of a comedian tweeting insensitive jokes is reminiscent of comedian Gilbert Gottfried’s tsunami jokes posted back in 2011, in which he made light of a very recent and deadly tsunami that hit Japan. In that instance, Gottfried was drawing from a very recent real-life tragedy, whereas Noah’s tweets pull from an immature testing of the waters for his comedy and hoping easy jokes on gender and race would stick.
As presented in a New York Times column, Comedy Central has stated that judging Noah “on a handful of jokes is unfair.” Comedy Central is right to defend Noah, as the company is familiar with comedians telling some jokes in an entire act that may not go over well.
Jokes are what comedians do for a living, and to pull Noah’s new job at “The Daily Show,” as some news outlets suggest, for tweeting offensive jokes would require going back into a deep history of sexist and racist jokes.
The late Joan Rivers always had an offensive quip on the tip of her tongue while working on “Fashion Police.” For instance, Rivers remarking on an actress’ outfit as “screaming date rape” never led to headlines questioning the comedian’s job security.
Stand-up is filled with jokes on gender, race or uncomfortable situations. There just happen to be times when jokes are overthought or analyzed beyond reasonable need for the sake of creating a story. Noah’s tweets could be hilarious to some people, just as they are thought of as ignorant or distasteful by others. Differing opinions on a joke told by a comedian on a platform that encourages spur-of-the-moment thought-posting should not play a role in getting anyone fired or lambasted.