We already know that Trevor Noah isn’t funny. We already know he’s bad at his job. We wrote about this just like two hours ago. But it bears repeating that the Antifa segment on last night’s episode of The Daily Show is an embarrassment.
If you haven’t seen it yet, and don’t mind wasting some of the precious fleeting moments we all have left on this planet, go take a look here.
This is the video where Noah shakes his head solemnly and says “another peaceful protest interrupted by violence,” basically pulling the same “both sides” move that Trump was excoriated for after Charlottesville. Maybe that’s not Noah’s intent. Maybe when he says “peaceful protest” he’s talking about the “Rally Against Hate,” a peaceful counter-protest that drew thousands of progressives in opposition to a scheduled far-right demonstration whose announced speakers featured a Holocaust denier and an “American Nationalist” who gained fame for beating counter-protestors with a stick earlier this year. That far-right rally was cancelled in advance due to the counter-protest, but a number of far-right protestors still turned out, and that’s who Antifa wound up sparring with.
It doesn’t matter which protest Noah is referring to when he calls it “peaceful” and rues its descent into violence, either the depleted version of the originally announced far-right rally or the much larger progressive counter-protest. No matter the intent, this segment gives cover to the victim narrative constructed by Fox News, Breitbart, talk radio and the entire far-right media machine, that this was a peaceful demonstration of patriotic conservatives who were attacked by lawless, unhinged progressives, who are the real fascists, don’t you know. It’s difficult to watch this clip and hear Noah say “another peaceful protest interrupted by violence” and not think he’s equating Antifa beating up a troll to a white supremacist murderously driving his car into a crowd of protestors. It’s impossible to hear Noah call anti-fascist activists “vegan ISIS,” a joke that makes no sense at all on multiple levels, and not recognize he’s basically perpetuating far-right propaganda.
Hey, punching people is bad. I’m not out there punching people, and I don’t encourage others to do it. I’ve never punched a person in my life and I’m not about to start—I’ve got a mortgage and a family and a bunch of pinball machines to worry about. But that doesn’t mean I can’t see through this bullshit argument by a hack comic with no clear or cohesive politics. And if I did punch somebody, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and the alt-right would make pretty justified targets.
A small percentage of protestors in Berkeley resorted to violence against far right trolls who were agitating for violence. The vast majority did not. Meanwhile the other side’s protests are entirely rooted in a fundamentally violent ideology that denies the humanity of its targets. To not understand that distinction shifts the conversation even further to the right and normalizes a strain of hate that should be extinguished. The Daily Show has failed consistently as both comedy and commentary since Noah took over, and this is just the latest reminder.
The multimillionaire TV man says ”[Antifa’s violent acts] make it seem like, in a world where white supremacists have a friend in the White House, the real problem is you guys” as if he’s completely ignorant of the role the media (which, you know, he’s part of) plays in defining and perpetuating these conversations. There’d be no debate over what “the real problem is” if people in power like Noah didn’t act like punching somebody who believes all people of color need to be forcefully removed from this country (perhaps through death) is in any way equitable to, y’know, believing that all people of color need to be forcefully removed from this country (perhaps through death). Antifa only becomes “the real problem” when partisan news sources like Fox News and talk radio depict them as such instead of getting their own house in order, and when former media watchdogs like The Daily Show, its current incompetent host Trevor Noah, and the mainstream media uncritically support those arguments.
This country is in the state it’s in because one of our two major political parties has stoked racism and hate for decades. They’ve constructed an entire shadow media industry to normalize prejudiced thoughts and language that used to be considered too racist and offensive for public discussion. Instead of making bad jokes that sympathize with and encourage those elements, Trevor Noah should be tearing them down through his comedy. The jokes would probably still be bad—I mean, he’s still Trevor Noah—but at least they’d have a purpose. As is, Noah’s jokes aren’t just uninspired. They aren’t just hackneyed. They’re actively bad for society.
Garrett Martin edits Paste’s games and comedy sections. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.