Trevor Noah defends his old, offensive tweets & slams ‘cancel culture’

Royal Ascot, Day 1, UK - 18 Jun 2019

Trevor Noah covers the latest issue of The Hollywood Reporter, and it’s basically a hype piece for everything Noah has going on – his successful memoir, Born a Crime, which has been made into a film starring Lupita Nyong’o; his stand-up; his various side projects; and of course the Daily Show. I was startled to realize that it’s actually been four years since Noah took over from Jon Stewart. Probably because I haven’t been watching? I know many of you enjoy Noah and his version of The Daily Show and I get that, but I can’t. I find him sort of smarmy, honestly. But I enjoyed reading this THR piece, it put some things in perspective for me, and I admire how he negotiates and knows his worth. Some highlights:

How he was already familiar with Donald Trump’s African-dictator vibe: “I know what it’s like to live in a country that’s extremely divided by race — where people feel like it’s crashing every day and they don’t trust that their president has their best interests at heart. And we joke about it not to minimize it but to try and heal the wounds. Where there’s no conflict, pain or tragedy, I don’t know what to do. I’m a horrible superfluous comic. If anything, I’m only trained in this.”

The difference between South Africa & America: “The biggest difference in [being black in] the U.S. is learning how to navigate white spaces with a certain level of deftness about you. Where I’m from, you talk [back] to police. Here, I have to be afraid of them.”

He’s single & not planning on settling down anytime soon: “I don’t want to have a child before I believe I want a child; I also don’t want to be in a position where I resent either the child or The Daily Show for taking time from the other. What I’ve come to realize is that life is not as urgent as you think it is. So for me, right now, it’s head down and grind, and I don’t feel guilty like I’m abandoning or deserting anybody because I’m single. My wife is The Daily Show.”

Negotiating his Daily Show contract: “I remember I said, ‘I’ll have to figure out how I’ll manage with taking a pay cut,’ and they were like, ‘What do you mean a pay cut? You’re going to become host of The Daily Show. And I go, ‘Yes, and I know this is hard for an American to process, but you can be very successful working in the rest of the world. Please don’t think I’m belittling you. … I just have to make sure I’m not giving up the world I’ve built for myself for something that somebody else controls.'”

The old tweets which almost derailed his career & why he didn’t apologize: “In many ways, social media and comedy are time stamps of who we were … and if you’re not disgusted by what you did when you look back five, 10 years ago, then I’d argue you haven’t grown. But we live in a society where people are more concerned with the platitudes of apologies than they are with the actual change in human beings. I just don’t think it’s healthy for us to berate and destroy people for who they were versus who they are because ‘are’ is more important. And that’s the problem I have with the ‘cancel culture’ a lot of the time — you condemn people to only being that forever. What’s the value of atoning if it doesn’t mean you’re welcomed back into society?”

His South African success: “People don’t understand that I came to America from a country where I was really successful. And I’m proud of South Africa because that’s where I made my fortune. I had my homes and my cars and my nice things, and my country gave that to me. So I wasn’t escaping anything. I’m here because I want to be here.”

[From The Hollywood Reporter]

I found that a good reminder that even though Noah was “new to most of us” when he took over The Daily Show, he was already a wildly successful comic internationally and he already had a lucrative career too. It puts his decisions in perspective. But I dislike what he says about refusing to apologize for those offensive old tweets – to refuse to apologize is one thing, but what’s wrong with putting out a thoughtful statement where he could shed light on the perspective he has now, and how he acknowledges that he actually did offend people? I went back and looked at some of those sh-tty tweets and you know what? They still bug me. They still has a vein of sexism and just mean, punching-down bullsh-t. And a great way to demonstrate change is to actually apologize and acknowledge how and why you were wrong. Ugh.

Cover & video courtesy of THR.

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51 Responses to “Trevor Noah defends his old, offensive tweets & slams ‘cancel culture’”

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  1. Nicole says:

    But he’s not defending them, is he? He’s saying they’re crappy and instead of just saying sorry, he’s maturing and not the same person anymore.

    • Lexilla says:

      I thought the same thing — he’s not defending the tweets. He even hints that he’s disgusted by them, though he could and should be more direct in saying that.

    • TheBees says:

      That’s what I got from his statement as well.
      Some people will never be happy even if he say sorry every day. I find that for me, it’s easy to be mad at someone else’s mistakes than it is to forgive because of how high I put them in my mind. I’m working on that !

    • LoonyTunes says:

      Exactly. He addresses it, but not letting it define him. He’s an intelligent, successful man. Love him.

    • Snazzy says:

      That’s how I see it to. I really him, his perspectives on politics and race are very informed and interesting.

    • KL says:

      Yeah. There’s room to read it as avoiding having to own his past actions, but for the moment I’d rather give the good faith reading of “don’t ask people to apologize, because apologies can be easy and empty words — judge the person on their current actions. Judge for yourself if they’ve changed and if the person they are now is worthy of your time.”

      And if that’s what he’s going for, that’s a very nuanced rebuttal to cancel culture. It maybe underestimates the celebrity machine and PR spin from the perspective of someone who isn’t in showbusiness, but that’s an understandable blind spot considering the source. And I don’t think it addresses how comedians especially can normalize really hateful rhetoric, and apologies at least lampshade that in the era of “PC culture is killing comedy,” but ditto.

      I’m still not a fan of his Daily Show, but it doesn’t sound like a completely trash take.

    • charo says:

      He’s not defending them but he’s defending HIMSELF, it’s a lot of BS. He thinks he doesn’t HAVE to address what he said and even bother to say it was wrong. Maybe he still believes it.

  2. Clare says:

    I don’t love his brand of humour but I’ll say this – I prefer a refusal to apologise over a fake apology.

    I don’t agree with him, I think he should apologise, but not if he isn’t actually sorry, and it doesn’t sound like he is. To me it sounds like he’s saying he has ‘grown’ and evolved, but not that he regrets those tweets. At least he is honest?

    • Lory says:

      I agree with you. Apologizing just for PR reasons is meaningless to me. Actions speak louder than words and I think that’s what he’s saying. I also agree with his comments on the cancellation culture. Some people have done such terrible things for such a long time that they could never really come back from that. Saying stupid things on social media however does not fall under the same category. At least, if the person actually learns and grows from that point on. Saying that person is cancelled forever because of an offensive tweet from 10 years ago while not taking into account that person might have grown in the meantime is shortsighted because it would mean no one is allowed to make even 1 mistake anymore. It also feels hypocritical because cancelling everyone after 1 mistake implies the person doing the cancelling has never made a mistake which is of course disingenuous.

  3. Becks1 says:

    I kind of see what he is saying about the tweets. When there is a demand for an apology for stuff from 10 years ago, and that person apologizes, it sort of feels like “I’m sorry someone found this” and not “I’m apologizing because its the right thing to do and I am sorry.”

    I feel like its like we say about GoT – “don’t tell me, show me.” I want these people to show me they’ve changed, not tell me. And I think that’s Trevor Noah’s point.

    • L84Tea says:

      I have to agree. I actually think what he said makes a lot of sense.

    • Valerie says:

      As much as I agree, I also wonder, what are they supposed to do? Unearth the tweets themselves and apologize of their own accord? Because anyone who’s looking will find them and it sometimes seems like changed behaviour doesn’t satisfy some. And even if they delete them, they can be dug up as and looked at in isolation as ‘proof’ that someone should be cancelled.

      I also agree that changed behaviour is the best apology, but you also have to give people time to show that. Now everyone cancels on sight and brushes off the beginnings of changed behaviour as backtracking.

  4. Esmom says:

    I don’t watch The Daily Show regularly since Jon Stewart left but Trevor’s grown on me quite a bit. Although I don’t agree with him at all about people caring more about the “platitudes of apologies” than with changes in behavior or attitude. I think “cancel culture” is more thoughtful and nuanced than that and I would have hoped he would had a more thoughtful and nuanced take on it.

    • perplexed says:

      Do people ever actually follow through on cancelling someone as a broader collective? I keep reading so-and-so is cancelled, but then the person is still working and successful (i.e Chris Brown).

      • Esmom says:

        Good point. There’s always someone who will support a person no matter how terrible they are. Sometimes BECAUSE of how terrible they are. Exhibit A: Donald Trump.

      • eto says:

        I think Chris Brown IS still canceled by a major group of people. Yes, he’s still successful but he’s nowhere near the fame and reputation he had before. Like, his new single is doing well, but is he going to perform it on any of the popular night shows? GMA? Nope. Seems like a small distinction, but I’m grateful for it.

      • perplexed says:

        He’s working with Drake. That sounds pretty successful to me.

      • Kebbie says:

        Does “cancel culture” really refer to people like Chris Brown? I mean he’s actually a terrible person. I’ve always thought of cancel culture to be more like people canceling Meryl Streep or Constance Wu because they turned out to not be perfect in every way at all times.

    • Wow says:

      I feel like there is nothing nuanced about cancel culture. Its a brute swinging hamner that cancels human beings leaving no room or reason for remorse.

      I’m over it, there is no nuance to shunning and making outcasts of human beings with lives, thoughts and feelings with no chance of achievable redemption.

      Canceling someone then beating on them for that forever regardless of actions or apology
      isn’t nuance, its barbaric.

      • Bros says:

        I agree. It’s liberal fascists these days. Out of one side of our mouths we argue for prisom systems that rehabilitate and redeem the human, the type that work so
        Well in the scandinavian countries. And out of the other sides of our mouths, condemn in perpetuity, with no chance of redemption, people because of their old tweets or bad behavior or endlessly pick apart their apologies for evidence of insincerity. It’s obnoxious and also silly to think if you cancel someone you have somehow purified society or enacted any real change.

      • shirurusu says:

        I totally agree. Although I would actively avoid supporting something Harvey Weinstein is involved with, because his stuff is more serious and he certainly hasn’t been punished for his criminal behaviour. But I think it’s different with mistakes people have made in the past and sometimes even apologised over, and the public still not letting them off the hook for just being plain young and dumb etc. I think people just like to have an excuse to hate sometimes, they are so fucking quick to judge and write someone off (as if they’ve never done something stupid themselves…🙄)

      • otaku fairy... says:

        All of the problems with Cancel Culture being pointed out here also seem to disproportionately affect some groups of people more than others, which is my biggest problem with it. I’m not even talking Harvey Weinstein, Chris Brown, R. Kelly, or Roseanne Barr levels of toxicity either- but about people who are generally on the right side of human rights issues while also fucking up and being from certain targeted marginalized groups themselves. Not only is their less forgiveness all around, but those fuck-ups become shields for the prejudices of some people doing the cancelling and a way of bullying other members of those groups. It’s not just a left thing either- the right capitalizes on it for every marginalized group for their overall agenda, while liberals slyly cherry-pick who it’s now ok to dehumanize openly because a disliked member of that group has fucked up.
        There are also situations where a person does something where it’s questionable, but not 100% clear whether they actually fucked up and should apologize/ stop what they’re doing or if it’s just something that’s being conflated for a larger issue when it’s not. Sometimes those gray area issues get latched onto too just because people don’t like that individual person who respect one or more of the marginalized groups that person may be a part of.

      • tealily says:

        I feel like it doesn’t leave any room for growth or redemption. Sometimes people just need to learn why what they are doing or saying is wrong. If you give people a chance to take criticism on board, a lot of people will surprise you. Some of them won’t.

        I also feel like cancel culture largely targets people who are already trying to do the right thing, but are perceived as not doing or saying ENOUGH. That’s so unhealthy and misguided to me. Tell someone how they can do better, don’t minimize what they are already doing because you think they can do more. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

      • Wilma says:

        I’m not obliged to spend my money on people. If I don’t want to spend money on an actor or director I don’t agree with, I don’t have to. I don’t need to spend time, attention or money on artists whose views appall me. That’s what cancelling someone means to me. Thoughtful apologies or statements explaining ones personal growth mean a lot to me. I like Chris Hemsworth better because he explained why he was wrong to dress up a native American.

      • otaku fairy... says:

        “I also feel like cancel culture largely targets people who are already trying to do the right thing, but are perceived as not doing or saying ENOUGH. That’s so unhealthy and misguided to me. Tell someone how they can do better, don’t minimize what they are already doing because you think they can do more. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.” Yes!
        It’s one thing to offer constructive criticism and helpful suggestions about how someone can improve. It’s another thing to needlessly dismiss, Dear Muslimah, and diminish what people are doing just because you don’t like them personally, or worse, because what they are doing makes you feel defensive about how you, your friends, and/or your ancestors and others you respect/trust have been allowed to treat certain groups of people before.

    • GirlMonday says:

      I don’t think “cancel culture” is thoughtful or nuanced at all. If it were it wouldn’t be “cancel culture,” it would be “thoughtful adjustment” culture. The concept of canceling is unilateral and final—there is no nuance in that.

  5. Purplehazeforever says:

    Trevor Noah is actually funny so these tweets were rather lame. Comedians push the envelope and if you don’t like it, don’t watch it. I always look at behavior, not the jokes they tell. You know..Dane Cook, Bill Cosby, Roseanne, their patterns. They have behavior to apologise for, not Trevor Noah. Trevor Noah tweeted some crappy stuff. It doesn’t mean he’s a terrible person. Or should be cancelled.

    • perplexed says:

      I think this makes sense. Bill Cosby, on the surface, was family-oriented, and I’m assuming, didn’t make inappropriate jokes. But clearly there was a monster lurking underneath. So who would you rather give your attention to?

    • LoonyTunes says:

      Agreed. He’s funny and thoughtful and actually seems like a good human being.

  6. Erinn says:

    I tend to give a comedian more leeway than say an elected official or a cop or a doctor, or someone who’s job relies super heavily on morality/trust.

    His tweets weren’t good. But they weren’t the worst thing ever. They seemed pretty typical of a mid-20s comedian guy in 2009. So I don’t know. Again – they’re not good. They’re not that funny, and they’re not kind. But again, I’m going to give a comedian more leeway at failed attempts to be funny than a lot of other career people.

    I’d rather no apology in this case than a fake one, in a way. Although a “hey, I made some lame jokes. I’m more respectful now” is fine with me, and I think he’s actually SHOWN that he’s grown.

  7. Marigold says:

    I think he’s correct. In fact, some of the comments prove he’s correct. He is sorry he tweeted what he tweeted and he has changed his way of thinking and his behavior. That’s the apology. But true to form, society wants some long nonsense written by a PR firm to accept it. I think that says a lot more about us than it does about him.

    • ichsi says:

      And that apology would be analysed to death too and would probably create more problems. I find him smarmy too and those tweets are pretty bad, but he’s right about cancel culture and how we should move on from it.

  8. Sue Denim says:

    I like the word smarmy for him. I think that gets to what I feel about hime too, that and a certain smugness? I don’t know, he just has always rubbed me the wrong way…I’m also jewish and reading his earlier tweets it’s like, oh yeah…maybe that underlying antisemitism got me too… And yes, sorry Trevor, I think apologizing for past behavior is good and appropriate and a path toward growth. Not apologizing is the issue…and let’s not hide behind being a comedian. Funny is funny, not funny is not funny… I don’t like him…

  9. smcollins says:

    So do I. I’ve never been aboard that train and, quite frankly, I don’t get the point of it. It seems only self-serving to the person/people doing the “canceling.” I mean I get it when it comes to people that are actually awful human beings (Harvey Weinstein, Chris Brown, R. Kelly, Kevin Spacey, that Bull actor, etc.), but when it’s constantly thrown out there every time a person effs up, no matter how big or small, like everything else that gets overused it just becomes a petty fallback position. At least that how it looks to me.

    Edit: my comment was a reply to another poster’s comment that is no longer showing (?). They basically stated that they don’t support cancel culture.

    • otaku fairy... says:

      Right. There’s a certain someone- I won’t name names yet, partially because the story may be covered here- who recently did something that’s just a no and ridiculous. It’s not the end of the world, just a mild mess and brief fuck up from someone who is generally on the right side of human rights issues and from marginalized group(s) herself. But because she is very much associated with a specific cause that people are hostile toward and afraid of, some people are and will continue to weaponize the situation. Because always.

  10. perplexed says:

    In his case, I tend to believe he did grow as a person. I don’t think you’d be able to do the kind of commentary he’s done on his show if he didn’t…..but who know….no one is what they seem anyway. I think that’s simply something you have to accept with celebrities — they’re brands, so you’ll never really know who is truly authentic. Maybe he feels an apology would ring hollow and insincere, so he doesn’t want to bother.

  11. Mabs A'Mabbin says:

    I don’t know anything about him. Sounds to me like he’s carefully collated his position. The ‘cancel culture’ is a (seemingly) unilateral public action against loud, obnoxious, commercial and celebrity interference with our space and state of being. It’s a logical pushback and social media is our dark ages march through the town with torches. If you choose to speak loudly and publicly with an expectation of an attentive audience, be humble, be gracious, be proud and yes, be embarrassed with past stuff-ups. It’s general elementary school behaviour.

  12. Kate says:

    What ever happened to him and Tomi Lahren? They were spotted together a few times and he seemed genuinely into her. That will have an effect on my opinion of him.

  13. Valiantly Varnished says:

    While I definitely think he should apologize I also 100% agree with him when it comes to cancel culture and the idea of anecdotal apologies that people don’t actually accept. There are multiple examples of celebs who have done things who have apologized- sincerely – and still get their past brought up anytime they are mentioned and people still expect them to constantly apologize over and over. My feeling is this: if you are asking for an apology then you also have to be willing to accept it. Otherwise it simply become a punitive exercise.
    But again – you have to start by ACTUALLY apologizing. Which he has never done.

  14. Diplomanatee says:

    I go back and forth between loving him to the point of waning to marry him, and then remembering he’s still super racist against Latin people. He’s modified his standup routines to reflect this, putting everyone in the same bag as “Mexicans” and using us as a punch line. He still does those awfully offensive impressions quite often.

    I once read a comment from someone who met him, the person said “he doesn’t understand diversity outside of his own experience”, so I believe he still shows his ass in person.

  15. perplexed says:

    If Mark Wahlberg ever delivered an apology for assaulting a guy, I don’t think I’d believe him. So I think whether you “forgive” someone or not probably depends on how you feel about the person to begin with. I don’t have extremely strong feelings about Noah so whether he delivered an apology or not probably wouldn’t change whether I watch his show or not. However, I dislike Mark Wahlberg vehemently so even if he asked for the Pope’s forgiveness right t in front of me, I’d still probably dislike him. I think feelings about a person don’t really change much unless you’re really attached to them as a personality (i.e Robert Downey Jr’s attachment to Mel Gibson).

  16. Godwina says:

    His old tweets bug me and I don’t watch his show, but I hear him. Today’s apology-chasing frenzy is in itself revealing of a gross desire in some of us to see other people abased. It’s one more way we paint our basest instincts (bigotry, hate, narcissism) with noble colours, totally deceiving our (worst) selves into thinking we’re great people when no. Effin ick.

  17. Marty says:

    The Tomatoe Lasagna stuff bothers me more than his old tweets. I don’t believe they were ever dating. But to give someone like that a platform, and then act all buddy buddy with her like she hasn’t made it her job, literally, to be a divisive asshole. That tells me more about his character then 10-year tweets. He lost a lot of support from black women, and rightfully so, for that.

  18. DS9 says:

    It didn’t read to me as a slam of cancel culture but an admonishment to be careful of who you cancel and why.

    I don’t think you need to cancel someone with some sketchy tweets when the body of work since indicates growth and change.

    But someone with sketchy tweets and years of actually sexist douchebaggery? Totally gone.

  19. LizB says:

    Trevor Noah is so very arrogant, can’t stand him anymore. He spouts off on things he knows nothing about and insults people but gets away with it because he’s in “comedy”.

  20. Kath says:

    I HATE cancel culture and like Trevor Noah (more or less), but I was incredibly shocked by his comments on Australian Aboriginal women. There’s “punching down” and then there’s that: crapping on perhaps the most disadvantaged and marginalised group of people on the entire planet. When he does interviews in America talking about how much he respects black women, I side-eye him a LOT because of that. It was only a few years ago and he was a fully grown man with an established comedy career. I never understood what possessed him to make those “jokes”.

  21. Chattycathy says:

    Not a fan of Trevor Noah’s as I find him both sexist and just not funny. That said, I agree with him on this “cancel culture” stuff which just always comes across as immature and extreme.

  22. Lindy says:

    Something he said that jumped out at me: the idea that life isn’t as urgent as you think and that he’s going to focus on his career completely and totally before he even thinks about having a child.

    Can you imagine, my fellow women CBers, being able to have that luxury? And being able to do that without every other headline reminding you of your aging eggs and uterus and dwindling fertility? Can you imagine how nice it would be to have time to build your career and get all your ducks in a row before worrying about having kids?

    Yeah. He’s kind of obnoxious.

  23. PointingScreaming says:

    FFS, cancel criminality, NOT undeveloped opinions. Heck, I cringe to read my teen diary, the twitter of yore, but do I CANCEL myself? Eesh. BTW, the cancel culture is a strategic contention likely by REAL FASCISTS to frame the woke culture as the problem for dissension. I doubt the litmus test for purity is even an American invention.

  24. Lol says:

    Those tweets are why i was never able to get into his work. Cisgender heterosexual men who refuse to apologize for their past public homophobia and misogyny and sexism are not to be trusted.