Here are some tweets by newly designated “Daily Show” host Trevor Noah that spent early last week rocketing around an outraged Internet:
• “So now that Adele is singing, does that mean it’s over?”
• “I’m watching Olympic women’s hockey. It’s like lesbian porn. Without the porn.”
• “Almost bumped a Jewish kid crossing the road. He didn’t look b4 crossing but I still would havfelt so bad in my german car!”
• “South Africans know how to recycle like Israel knows how to be peaceful.”
Noah is a 31-year-old South African comedian who was announced by Comedy Central as Jon Stewart’s replacement to unanimous surprise and an almost-unanimous chorus of “boos” and “oy vays” the minute his tweets since 2009 became public.
As the week went on, Noah himself – who has “Jewish blood” on his mother’s side – tweeted “to reduce my views to a handful of jokes that didn’t land is not a true reflection of my character or my evolution as a comedian.”
Comedy Central released a statement midweek saying “to judge him on a handful of jokes is unfair. Trevor is a talented comedian with a bright future at Comedy Central.”
To which I’d be inclined to say “Amen” or “Hear, hear.” But I understand – if not sympathize completely – those who would respond with some version of “Hooey. Who needs that?”
I do think some things need to be considered criminally obvious 15 years into the 21st century:
• It’s not for nothing they’re called “tweets.” That’s all they are – mini-bits of empty chatter of no more significance than the things we all say to be thought amusing at parties or family dinners. They’re the “cheep, cheep” in the human chicken coop. Sometimes they’re memorable but usually they’re of no more significance than my personal contribution to the massive Buffalo Twitter ovation lauding the University at Buffalo’s basketball team.
A tweet is a tweet is a tweet. And, in essence, little more.
2. Even professional comedians make bad jokes when they’re not being paid. Take some of the sharpest who ever lived – Richard Pryor, Woody Allen and George Carlin, for instance, in modern times. If, for professional reasons, they too thought it necessary to “tweet” every fugitive thought flying through their teeming heads, they’d hit quite a few brick walls, too. If we had to hear everything Mel Brooks said over Chinese dinners to Joseph Heller, we’d be unlikely to find all of it hilarious. (I’m guessing it would still be 70 percent.)
3. Whoever replaced Jon Stewart was going to be in for it. Even Chris Rock – who would be a decent candidate if the job didn’t represent a giant demotion from the stature he’s had for the last decade – would have been greeted with a chorus of people chanting “Him? He’s no Jon Stewart.”
Well neither was Jon Stewart when he replaced that chortling superannuated 6-foot-5-inch heap of comedic self-regard Craig Kilborn. Stewart, back then, was just a very funny comedian of shamelessly displayed IQ. It was over the years that, with the help of an exceptional writing and performing staff, he transformed himself into a crucial American institution of satire and, yes, alternative journalism.
That’s not the job, though. “Daily Show” co-inventor Lizz Winstead has said that Stewart fulfilled what she and co-creator Madeleine Smithberg originally envisioned for the show far better than Kilborn, which is why she quit back when Kilborn was host. But she also said that Stewart went way beyond that into something else altogether.
In other words, the job is not “to be Jon Stewart.” There’s only one and always will be. The actual job is a distinctly lesser thing “ to figure out a way to be the host of something called ‘The Daily Show.’ ”
A bunch of stupid and unfunny tweets don’t permanently detract from Noah’s ability to do just that. Go onto YouTube and look at some of his stand-up routines. They’re not only superb, they offer up a perspective we haven’t had before – a fearless, young, mixed-race comic brought up in a land of apartheid.
Every bit of satire and absurdism that Stewart proudly brought to the table as a self-proclaimed smart-aleck Jewish kid from New Jersey, Noah just might bring to the table as a survivor of political and social oppression unlike anything known in either New Jersey or Buffalo or Los Angeles, etc.
It isn’t Noah that’s wrong; it’s how we’re using Twitter.
If we all understood that to most people – even professional comedians spritzing out lines to see if they work – it’s a lot of stream-of-consciousness drivel, we’d treat it for the third-rate thing that it so often is.
The trouble is that in the Internet Age we have gone way past the point where, as Andy Warhol legendarily said, everyone would have 15 minutes of fame. What we’ve got now is a world where you can have it for 15 seconds, and then disappear into the digital din of Internet Babel.
Smallness and impermanence is what we should expect from social media in this century. It’s what is taking over everywhere in the world of late-night television we’ve entered.
James Corden is a talented and hugely likable young guy but he’s also in over his head reasonably often as the new host of CBS’ “The Late Late Show.” He doesn’t, for one thing, have the strangely disturbing comic singularity of Craig Ferguson, the first openly declared recovering alcoholic we’ve had on late-night TV.
It is already the case that late-night TV comedy is an entirely different animal from what it was just five years ago.
When David Letterman says goodbye to the “Late Show” on May 20 (the announced date), it will indeed be a historic moment everyone has predicted it will be for years. He not only is the longest-running late-night talk host of them all, he was a figure of unique and historically pivotal gifts in both TV and American history itself. (Right after 9/11).
That’s why the appearance last week of Sen. Al Franken with Letterman was so rare. He went out of his way on the requisite final Letterman appearance to say that Letterman wasn’t just a great comedian but a great “broadcaster” with a uniquely important respect for his audience.
That’s what we’re losing in late-night TV.
Jimmy Fallon is nothing if not likable. But so much of what he’s now doing is a new version of a ’50s afternoon game show – a kind of 21st century “Beat the Clock” or “Pantomime Quiz.”
The idea of late-night TV as the place where adults could flee to be addressed as adults by other adults is a traditional one.
And a disappearing one.
Stewart and Letterman are still there to make sure that late-night TV is American comedy’s “Big Table” (to steal a concept from Woody Allen).
Noah has a chance to sit there, too, despite the handful of schoolboy tweets he’s been sending out.
If he can sit there, I say more power to him. Literally.
The way late-night TV is shaping up, we’ll probably really need him.