The following essay will be discussed in Chicago at an exclusive screening and discussion at the cinema club Filmfront this Thursday, October 27th. For more details and to RSVP, visit the event page.
I never considered Trevor Noah until I found myself on the set of The Daily Show last August. My friend entered the ticket lottery, optimistic that before the leaves turned we would be members of his audience. And on August 8th—the day Noah invited John Lewis onto his show—we stood on the sidewalk, bearing the oppressive heat unique to New York City summers, waiting to be ushered into what Tomi Lahren would later call “the lion’s den.”
Noah seemed to glow as he sauntered onto the set and flashed a toothy grin at us. I was immediately taken by his charm. His conversation with John Lewis was solemn and powerful. As Lewis spoke, Noah wore a look that communicated a deep respect for the civil rights leader. There were no jokes here, and no gags. When the interview ended Lewis and Noah shook hands and the crowd erupted into an applause that went on long after the crew members told us to stop. After that night, I began to consider Trevor Noah, not just as a successor to Jon Stewart, but as an individual who would make The Daily Show his own. Who, I thought to myself that evening, was this black man who had decided to tackle the onerous task of talking about race to liberal America in our current political climate?
An answer first materialized when Noah sat down with Tomi Lahren, a former conservative political commentator for TheBlaze. The event attracted significant media attention. Print and online news outlets claimed that Noah had “eviscerated” Lahern, that he “expertly skewered” her. It was a must-watch according to my Twitter timeline, necessary viewing for those fighting the good fight. For most of the interview Noah wants Lahren to answer one question: “What is the right way for a black person to get attention in America?” But Lahren does not answer the question. Instead, on more than one occasion she refers to systemic racism as a perception. “Why would you take out your perceived oppression of black people on our national anthem and our flag?” she asks in response to Colin Kaepernick’s protest. “I’m not sure what oppression he is discussing.”