Quick, name your favorite hour stand-up special by a host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show.
How much time did you waste Googling what Craig Kilborn is up to in 2015? Did you remember that Jon Stewart’s lone hour special was way back in 1996 for HBO, where he’ll be working two decades later after his long-running stint as Daily Show host?
A few fun facts about that Jon Stewart: Unleavened special from 1996. One: Stewart has a tag to a dick joke about an young Israeli soldier by enthusiastically shouting twice, “You can do it!”, which possibly predates Rob Schneider’s long-running gag using it as his own movie catchphrase by two years?! Two: Stewart’s Israeli joke actually built on observations he just had made about U.S. involvement in the Middle East, the ridiculousness of bombing Iraq and Saddam Hussein over and over again, and why America maybe shouldn’t even be involved in these neverending holy wars anyhow. In 1996. Third: That bit followed some opening jokes that mocked Stewart’s ability to hit on women in Miami because the attempts were lost in translation.
All of which leads us back here, to the future. 2015. And Trevor Noah’s new hour special for Comedy Central, Lost In Translation.
Noah already had established himself as a skilled and charismatic storyteller, and now a few years after first taking his act to America, he’s certainly very assured with his new star status here.
Noah took over as host of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah in September, and Comedy Central and Noah celebrated this occasion by taping a new hour stand-up special to help introduce him as a person and personality to audiences. Just to make sure nothing the biracial South African comedian says or does is, well, lost in translation.
Because he’s still learning about American customs and problems, like how he has to learn not to be shot by police officers.
His first several minutes deftly work typical audience outbursts into a discussion on sound cues vs. language, then how “woohoo!” sounds like a cop car, which is perhaps why it’s not as popular among black Americans as it is white ones. Which then provides Noah an opportunity not only to delve into how his own traffic stop by a cop has been colored by recent shooting deaths of men such as Mike Brown and Walter Scott by police, but also how the media coverage twists the question of why those men and so many other young black men have died in police custody into what those victims must have done to deserve their sudden and unexpected deaths.
Noah’s outsider perspective (the globe is stretched on not-tectonic plates behind him onstage at The Lincoln Theatre in D.C., where he filmed the hour) also allows him to tell his more unique take on flying from Africa to America during the Ebola crisis. And turn that into tales and observations about the Charlie Hebdo massacre in France, hate speech and thoughts about Muslims, how some gun violence is labeled terrorism while American mass shootings are described on TV as lone gunman suffering from mental instability. All terrorists are mentally unstable, Noah exclaims.
His possible solution on all of these acts of terror circles back to his title’s thematic hint, suggesting how adopting the correct language can diffuse situations. Which also is why he flies airlines owned by Middle Easterners for his global flights. Even if may make him the outsider once more.
Not all of his observations are new or particularly unique (see links elsewhere for accusations that his closing bit on charming racists closely mirrors an old Chappelle bit), but they will go far in reassuring viewers of The Daily Show that’s he’s up to the task of tackling not only the news but the way in which the media covers it. Just ask his grandmother and mother, who are proud of him for getting this new job and hope he keeps it awhile.
“Trevor Noah: Lost in Translation” is available On Demand or via the Comedy Central App.