Offensive humor doesn’t do well in the age of “woke.” Social media users have been quick to descend on comedians willing to transgress ever-shifting social norms on race, gender and other cultural issues. Dave Chapelle has been called out for what some have called homophobic humor; Jerry Seinfeld came under harsh criticism for seeming to mock Black Lives Matter in a tweet. One can't imagine how Lenny Bruce or Richard Pryor, who reveled in the humor of discomfort, would have fared today—or, rather, one can imagine all too well.
Nobody seems to know that better than The Daily Show host Trevor Noah, who on Wednesday night was slammed after the show’s account sent out a Twitter poll that seemed to mock transgender people.
In that poll, users are asked to imagine what the following day’s most astonishing news would be, a reference to the fact that this expiring week has featured several years’ worth of political intrigue and potential scandal. One option has Trump using the Constitution as a napkin while eating KFC fried chicken. The two that follow are less funny, with James Comey “dropping a complete ‘visual album,’” in reference to Beyonce’s “Lemonade,” and Ivanka Trump requesting “immunity,” presumably from her own embattled father.
It is the fourth option that caused Twitter users to tweet at The Daily Show with anger: “Donald Trump announces he is now Donna Trump.”
The tweet came from The Daily Show’s account; Noah has his own account, which had nothing to do with the above tweet. However, the two are obviously related. And while it hard to blame Noah for writing the tweet, since he is unlikely to have done so, Noah is ultimately responsible for all content related to the show he hosts.
The tweets appears to have been deleted sometime late Wednesday evening, but the New York Daily News captured the post, as well as outraged reactions.
Some say we live in an overly-sensitive age; whether they have a point or not is beyond the purview of this article. However, it is worth noting that Noah has previously caused offense on Twitter, and has done so on more than a few occasions. Not only that, but he has done so with jokes that did not tread anywhere near the sacred realm of the funny, making it nigh impossible to vouch for their comedic content.
When it was first announced that Noah would replace Jon Stewart as the host of The Daily Show, reporters found crude Twitter posts the South African comic had made from his own account in 2011 and 2012. Mean-spirited and juvenile, these tweets frequently targeted Jews and women.
“A hot white woman with ass is like a unicorn,” he mused. “Even if you do see one, you'll probably never get to ride it.”
“Messi doesn't go down easy,” he said in reference to soccer star Lionel Messi, “just like jewish chicks.”
There are more; they are not worth repeating here. Rest assured they are roughly as hilarious as the examples above.
Noah never quite apologized, though he said the Twitter jokes were not reflective of his “true character,” whatever that may be. The controversy eventually died down, even as Noah struggled through his first months as host, leading many to wonder if his job was in jeopardy.
The tension over last year’s presidential election helped Noah discover a voice, though it is one not nearly as genuine or impassioned in its anger as his predecessor Stewart’s was during the George W. Bush years.
Last summer, Noah’s capacity to offend resurfaced. After abortion-rights activists scored a victory in a Texas court, @TheDailyShow advised its audience, “Celebrate the #SCOTUS ruling! Go knock someone up in Texas!”
“Social media was collectively unamused by the tweet,” drily noted a writer for The Los Angeles Times, while the Washington Post’s judicious media critic Erik Wemple called it “incredibly stupid.”
Reactions to last night’s tweet were not much better:
Some users also recalled Stephen Colbert’s seemingly homophobic joke about Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin from earlier this month. That led to questions about why two powerful, presumably straight men felt the need to make jokes at the expense of trans and queer people.
For some, quite obviously, those jokes have gotten old.