I am a big fan of Trevor Noah. He is a national treasure. He is extremely smart and he is a gifted comedian. It came as no surprise to me that he took America by storm. I basked in a reflected glory, having worked with Trevor when we hosted for our annual Corporate Comedy Breakfast. Trevor Noah was virtually unknown at the time and suddenly I felt like I was the one who had discovered him. We can all imagine.The crowning glory was his ascendancy to the position of host of The Daily Show (TDS) which has achieved iconic status under the stewardship of John Stewart. Stewart sat in the hot seat for 16 years and pioneered the genre of holding a comedic light to politicians who behave poorly. For many Americans and global newshounds like me, TDS has required viewing and the only truly trusted news source to emerge from the USA.
When I heard that John Stewart had resigned, I went into steep decline. Although I really liked John Stewart, I had been annoyed by his many years of threating to quit and now it had come true. Like all true fans, I thought that the world without John Stewart’s acerbic wit would send us back to the days of the bland news diet of Wolf Blitzer and Charl Paauw who bought whatever a politician sold them.My sorrow turned to joy when I heard that Trevor Noah was to be his replacement. TDS is, after all, one of the most popularly syndicated programs in the world and it felt like a World Cup win for all South Africans. I read all of the articles and hoped along with all South Africans, that Trevor would be as good as we know he can be. I hoped that the famously myopic US viewer would “get” his brand of humour.I have eagerly watched the first few weeks of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah and I have reached a depressing conclusion; this will not last long!It is not that Trevor Noah is not funny.
It is not because he doesn’t understand America or because he can’t think on his feet. He can do all of these things and his delivery is flawless.The problem is that John Stewart was a left leaning, libertarian, social democrat; Trevor Noah is a foreign observer with no discernible viewpoint. You knew where you stood with Stewart, you don’t with Noah.Trevor Noah honed his act on the uniquely South African society and our uniquely gaffe-prone politicians. Everyone was fair game and he would switch from having a go at one of our politicians and then seamlessly switch to a white, northern suburbs accent and parody the white obsession for pets in a country where people are struggling to feed themselves. Like most of the South African comics, he held a mirror to our crazy society and we loved it.
He was black enough to poke fun at the government and white enough to lampoon whites. For those in-between, he was one of them.Trevor is now doing this on The Daily Show, and it will get tired real quick. As we know, Americans take themselves very seriously and they don’t like foreigners telling them what they are doing wrong. To understand just how the USA views the rest of the world, consider that they won’t even join the International Criminal Court because they refuse to have “other” people holding them to account!If Trevor Noah is to succeed, he is going to have to stop acting like a humorous judge who cracks jokes at the expense of the plaintiff as well as the defendant. He is also going to have to become American, lose the foreigner tag and become more American than any other American.This is something that Englishman John Oliver does really well. Hardly one episode goes by without Oliver poking fun at the British and their idiosyncrasies. Oliver acts like becoming American was the best thing he ever did he leaves the viewer in no doubt that he is now American and will not be going back to London anytime soon.
Trevor Noah won’t do this and he won’t because it would mean that he would have to be very nasty about Africa, and I am not sure that Noah is prepared to do that on a very American show. He would have to turn his back on Africa and become its biggest critic. He had a mild dig at our African Big Men leaders, but that was in the context of a parody of Donald Trump as America’s first Africa dictator.Trevor would have to do it relentlessly. It ain’t gonna happen.The appeal of John Stewart was the light he held up to American society, and you always felt that given half a chance, Stewart would roll up his sleeves and help to remedy the given situation; Trevor Noah doesn’t offer the implied solution.Once the initial honeymoon ends, Americans are going to tire of the wisecracks by this foreigner at their expense, ratings will drop and our comedy World Cup will have been lost.