Gawker — Over the weekend, new Daily Show host Trevor Noah performed a short standup set at a convention in Los Angeles called Politicon. There, he did a bit about the varying extremes of racism he has experienced across America, which was insightful, but also a nearly exact replica of a decades-old Dave Chappelle joke.
These transcriptions come from The Hollywood Reporter, who first reported the story, emphasis mine. Here is the joke Chappelle was telling back in the late-90s:
Traveling has made me a racism connoisseur, if you will. You know it’s different region to region. Anyone ever been down South? So you guys know what I’m talking about. The racism down there is just fucking [bon appétit gesture]. It’s perfect. Stewed to a perfection. It’s comfortable. It’s out in the open. There are no secrets in Mississippi. Everybody knows the deal. “Morning, nigger!” “Morning, sir!” Not up here. Here in the big cities, man, it’s different. It’s always a secret. And we should be like them. We should keep our shit out in the open and vent a little—I mean with limits. You don’t want to say whatever comes to your mind, that might be a little much. White dude be walking down the street minding his business and a brother walk up to him: “Hello, you white oppressor, you slave master rapist of Africa.” “Why hello, my big lips spear-chucking friend.”
Now, here’s Noah at Politicon last weekend:
Before I came to America, I thought I knew all kinds of racism. I’ve always considered myself something of a racism connoisseur. I appreciate the finer racism. Not to say I appreciate all racism, but a finer racism. Before I came here, blatant racism was my favorite. Blatant racism, where you know exactly where you stand, often perpetrated by old people, which I have always appreciated. They’ll just tell it to you like it is. “This is what I think about you!” Yeah, you’re going to die soon. Charming racism in America changed my life. I discovered it in a place called Lexington, Kentucky. Probably one of the most wonderful places I’ve ever been— charming, friendly people. Racism with a smile and a tip of the hat. I was walking through the streets, a man walked up to me, didn’t know me from a bar of soap, came straight up to me and looked me dead in the eye and he was like, “Good afternoon, nigger.” “Good afternoon.” I’ve never seen racism with a smile. I didn’t know what to do. He just said it like it was a fact. As if I fought him, he would have been like, “What, didn’t you know?”
Though the details in each bit are slightly different (i.e. Mississippi versus Kentucky) the thesis is the same, as are the introduction—including the phrase “racism connoisseur”—and the punchline, in which both comedians are warmly greeted by an old white man using the N-word.
Yikes. Trevor, my man, that’s not good. That’s really, really, really not good. I mean it’s one thing to have a similar concept to someone. That’s something that’s probably overblown in the world of Stand Up Comedy. People have similar ideas, and it’s not that absurd that two people with that same kind of observational brain that drives one into Stand Up Comedy might have a similar take on something.
It’s a whole other thing to take the three key points of a joke and basically say them word for word. That’s not a good look. You’re already doing a garbage job with the Daily Show and really haven’t made me laugh once, and now it just looks like you can’t make anyone laugh unless you’re ripping off another comedian. I can understand this kind of stuff a little more when you’re still trying to make a name for yourself, but you have your own show. You’ve already reached what most would call the pinnacle of your industry, yet you’re either consciously or subconsciously ripping off an old Chappelle bit because you somehow can’t come up with your own take on racism. Be better Trevor. Or just, you know, don’t do that.
P.S. And look, I don’t doubt Noah’s intellect and point of view. I think he’s a very smart guy and definitely deserving of his own show. He’s just not funny, and shouldn’t have taken over a Satirical Comedy News show when there are infinitely funnier people like Jessica Williams and Jordan Klepper getting held down in correspondent roles. No joke I haven’t laughed once because of him. Sure the writing is still there, but his delivery is just brutal. Jessica Williams should absolutely be hosting that show, and it will never make sense to me why they picked Noah.