Should African Comedians Make Jokes About America?


Ben Winters

Trevor Noah, if you haven’t heard, is the biggest comedian to come out of South Africa. Oh, and he’s also replacing the host of The Daily Show, John Stewart.

But who is Trevor, really? On March 30, the night Comedy Central announced Noah’s promotion from News correspondent of The Daily Show, Twitter went abuzz (or atweet, rather). Twitter users tore into the comedian’s past and found out who he really was: a mixed South African who pokes fun at fat chicks, Jews, and South Africans. In addition to sexist, antisemitic, and racist accusations, demands that Trevor be fired were also tweeted.

“To reduce my views to a handful of jokes that didn’t land is not a true reflection of my character, nor my evolution as a comedian,” said Noah on March 31. Comedy Central also replied with a statement saying, “to judge him based on a handful of jokes is unfair.”

As a fan of the Daily Show, it was clear that I had to pick a side fast, but deciding wasn’t easy. After an exhausting twenty minutes of research on Noah’s comedic video lectures (aka YouTube), my position was firm; this man was indeed not racist, sexist, or Anti-Semitic.

Noah’s mother is a black, Jewish South African and his father is Swiss German. He grew up during the days of Apartheid in South Africa, making his mother and father’s marriage illegal. “In the streets we couldn’t even be seen together,” says Noah. “My father would have to walk on the other side of the road. He would just wave at me from far- like a creepy pedophile.”

Whether Noah is making fun of everyone or himself, he knows how to convey the hypocrisies and contradictions of the South African culture in a comedic way that works. Conveying those truths to an American audience is another concern.

“If you are going to take on American values… it’s harder to do that if you are from the outside the culture,” said Howard Kurtz from Fox News.

Today, the stage for comedy is broader than it has ever been. From the satire of British John Oliver, to the standup shows of Mexican- American Gabriel Iglesias, the cultural gaps of society are getting straddled. “Maybe what America needs is an African telling jokes about America instead of Americans telling jokes about Africa,” said Noah in an interview for Huff Post Live. Maybe, Mr. Noah, but only if we let you try.