Not since John McCain selected Sarah Palin as his running mate have the vetting capacities of a powerful political force been cast into such doubt. When Trevor Noah was announced Monday as the next host of satirical powerhouse The Daily Show, most observers had little familiarity with the 31-year-old, South African–born comic, save perhaps for his three awkward appearances on the program with current host Jon Stewart. The New York Times piece announcing the succession threw up a few vague red flags (Comedy Central never auditioned Noah, who provided reporter Dave Itzkoff with a weirdly self-aggrandizing non sequitur comparing himself to Beyoncé). But the excitement of a fresh face bringing a unique perspective to a hallowed franchise (Noah’s mother is black and his father is white, which made their union illegal in South Africa’s apartheid era), combined with Stewart’s full-throated support, seemed like endorsement enough.
Then people—notably BuzzFeed’s Tom Gara—started combing Noah’s Twitter feed.
There were tweets that showcased Noah’s breezy anti-semitism.
There were tweets that put a spotlight on the polyglot Noah’s fluency in fat-chick jokes.
There were tweets that skipped across the landscape of Noah’s imagination, where women are objects to be literally or figuratively pounded.
And so on.
It’s true that Twitter is a space for comics to try out material that isn’t fully baked. And I have no doubt that Saint Jon Stewart has some fat skeletons in his closet—after all, he took over the Daily Show from smarmy king-of-the-bros Craig Kilborn, who strictly enforced a tiresome weekly quota of “Janet Reno looks like a man” gags. But during Stewart’s 16 years at the helm, The Daily Show has taken on a moral authority and responsibility that simply cannot condone this kind of bigoted and misogynist … no, who am I kidding. The problem is not that Trevor Noah tells offensive jokes. It’s not even that he routinely breaks The Daily Show’s covenant of speaking truth to power in favor of speaking truth to fat chicks or Thai hookers or, as the Washington Post’s Wendy Todd points out, black Americans who give their kids names that Noah disapproves of. The problem is that Noah’s jokes are so annihilatingly stupid. Are they even jokes? Are they meta-jokes, like the “My arms are so tired” airplane joke he made on his first Daily Show appearance? Or did he mean that as a joke, too?!? Trevor Noah: ontological mystery.
Maybe his hiring is a form of basic-cable performance art. Maybe Jon Stewart just wanted to blow the building up as he strolled away with his shades on. No one will ever know. But Comedy Central’s haste and lack of due diligence amid so much eminently qualified talent—your Jessica Williamses, your Aasif Mandvis, your however many other fresh-faced unknowns with unique perspectives—is a surefire way of alienating your audience. Almost as surefire as dismissing an entire swath of that audience with one thunderously idiotic tweet among many.