Trevor Noah haunted by social media past

By Quinton J. Hobson

Trevor Noah
Trevor Noah

It seems 2015 has been all about spring cleaning with several talk show hosts and TV personalities announcing their departures from the shows that made them household names.

This domino affect appears to have been triggered by the late Joan Rivers in September 2014 when the former Fashion Police hostess was replaced by protégée Kathy Griffin following the legendary comedian’s untimely demise; it would take less than a month for Griffin herself to leave the show after it became shrouded in race-related controversy earlier this year.

Since Rivers, comedian Rosie O’Donnell has left her position on The View to deal with personal matters, radio personality Jian Ghomeshi was fired from CBC Radio One’s Q under a series of sexual harassment allegations and NBC’s Brian Williams, anchor of NBC Nightly News, is serving a six-month suspension for “misrepresenting his experience in the 2003 invasion of Iraq,” each within the last three months.

This pattern has become be a daily recurrence, with the world waking up every morning to find out that someone is either retiring, getting fired or being replaced.

Fans of Comedy Central and the South African community were initially pleased when comedian Trevor Noah was appointed Jon Stewart’s replacement on The Daily Show, a late-night talk show specializing in news and political satire.

Noah was first hired as a Daily Show contributor in December 2014. His sudden promotion from correspondent to host within the short span of four months came as a reasonable surprise to fans given that he has appeared in only three episodes. Whether Noah will prove himself a worthy successor remains to be seen as Stewart does not plan on resigning until much later this year. However, it wasn’t long before the South African-born comic found himself in hot water but for what he’s been typing as opposed to what he’s been saying.

Barely moments after his accomplishment – about to be crowned the first African to host a prime-time American show – news of Noah succeeding Stewart was quickly overshadowed by the backlash that greeted the satirist’s Twitter account, which is accused of containing an archive of offensive tweets, allegedly ranging from racist and sexist to anti-Semitic.

Noah’s tweets were first brought to the forefront by bloggers who combed through the comedian’s account, causing it to blow up overnight. After first being greeted by the likes of the Los Angeles Times as “an exciting, refreshing choice by Comedy Central … bringing both ethnic and continental diversity to what has become one of the country’s most influential news programs,” the very same people who just last week had lauded Noah’s arrival began debating whether his tweets should cost him his job.

Fortunately for Noah, Comedy Central defends their new employee, advising readers not “to judge him or his comedy based on a handful of jokes” and calling it “unfair.”

There is an increasingly thin line between what is considered funny and what is deemed offensive. In addition to having a profession that constantly demands they be funny for a living, comedians often flock to Twitter to share jokes and opinions with the world and are thus not strangers when it comes to receiving backlash for their jokes, depending on whose ears they fall upon.

But what sets Noah’s criticism apart from others is that the majority of his allegedly offensive tweets are not recent; several date all the way back to 2010, when the then-obscure comic first created his account.

Fortunately, there is something for all to learn from Noah’s experience. Employees are constantly warned to censor what they post online because it only takes one quick minute for someone to find them and tarnish one’s reputation forever, especially if your employer happens to be a multi-million-dollar television network.