Trevor Noah’s Daily Show is at its best when it leans on its fieldpieces from its senior correspondents, and, on Tuesday night, Ronny Chieng’s piece on a racially-charged Supreme Court case was proof of that.
In Chieng’s segment, he sits down with the Oregon-based Asian-American rock band who, in an effort to reclaim an anti-Asian slur, named themselves The Slants, and became the subjects of an eight-year long court battle that just recently wrapped up with a Supreme Court case—Matal v. Tam—that ruled in the band’s favor. As Noah points out in the preface to Chieng’s segment, the SCOTUS ruling could mean that Washington’s NFL team could retain their offensive name.
Matal v. Tam was brought about by The Slants’ frontman, Simon Tam, after the band was denied a trademark application on their name by the U.S. Patent and Trademark office. Tam explained to Chieng that the PTO claimed that the band couldn’t use “The Slants” because it could be seen as derogatory towards Asians. When the issue was brought to the courts, the patent office’s labyrinthine argument was that the band was “too Asian” to use the name, and that anyone could register “The Slants” as long as they aren’t Asian.
“[The court] said our race provides the context for [the name] being a racial slur,” Tam explained to Chieng.
“So, by protecting you guys against racial discrimination, they’ve actually discriminated against you racially,” Chieng said, trying to break down the court’s core argument. “How the hell does that make any sense?”
Chieng went on to point out that “The Slants” wasn’t even the most offensive name the band could’ve come up with, and suggested a couple of alternative names they could have used, like the Ching and Chong Sing-a-Longs, Gook Face Killas, Wok and Rollers, and Vanilla Rice.
Chieng’s fieldpiece is well-packaged, light on its feet, and pokes fun at Asian stereotypes. At one part of the segment while Chieng is delivering a standup with the band in the background, the camera focuses on every other person in the shot except for Chieng, in a spoof the “all Asians look alike” stereotype. “Can you not tell us apart? The fuck?” Chieng asks.
The piece is another well-produced and funny Daily Show investigation for the consistently funny Chieng who, in the past, has covered things like Jesse Watters’ racist O’Reilly Factor Chinatown segment, America’s voting machines, and selfie culture.
Say what you want about Trevor Noah’s Daily Show, but it has managed to take an institution that was once considered to be the least diverse in late night to being one that, on a good number of nights, offers a much-needed perspective on stories affecting minority communities.