Confession: Trevor Noah’s Bad Jokes Annoy Me Less Than Hall Monitors Do

Allow me to preface this by stating that I do not think that Trevor Noah’s Twitter jokes were especially hilarious (neither does he), and that–of fucking course–I am not cool with antisemitism or fat shaming or whatever other things. But I feel like I need to say some things here regarding how all of this went down.

In case you can’t tell just by looking at me or reading my work, growing up, I was a “bad kid.” Always in trouble, always in the damn principal’s office for one idiotic thing or another. Once I got that label slapped on me, it was like I could never do anything right. At some point or another, I stopped even trying.

The natural enemy of “the bad kid” is, of course, the “goody two shoes tattletale.” You know, the kid who reminds the teacher she forgot to assign homework, or who raises their hand up in the air to say “Teacher! ROBYN IS CHEWING GUM!” and just goddamned beaming with pride over it.

Now sure, yeah, I was not supposed to chewing gum in class. It was against the rules. But I still haaaaaated those kids, and I really, really hated that face. When I got to middle school, I hated the self-appointed hall monitors who told on us for smoking in the girl’s room. To this day, I hate that kind of personality. I don’t care if we agree on literally everything else, such people will never be my people.

I won’t argue for Trevor Noah’s jokes. They were stupid. But what’s more obnoxious, really, is the fact that someone was like “Oh! This guy got a gig hosting The Daily Show! I think I’ll go through five years of his tweets and see if I can catch him on having said something wrong! And then I shall have allllll the cookies!” That is an absolutely obnoxious thing to do. Plus, my god, you really have to wonder about people who have the time for that shit.

I think saying something when you see something is a great thing–people should speak up! But for me, specifically going and looking for “problematic” things in someones past, hoping for some kind of badge of approval from the other hall monitors is just definitely another.

If Trevor Noah does indeed continue on to host The Daily Show, this is going to follow him. Every time someone agrees with something he says, someone else will purse their lips and say “Yeah, but like, he said this other thing several years ago sooooo….”

I don’t know what he’s going to have to do to live this down, because that’s how we roll now. These are the new rules. On the Internet, your past is your future and nothing ever goes away. Which is why I am continually grateful that it wasn’t really a thing when I was making some very unfortunate fashion choices in high school.

I really dislike the idea of putting people into this “and now you’re a bad person forever and so is anyone that likes you, so just go away now” camp. It freaks me out. The other night I was upset about Joni Mitchell going to the hospital and I was worried about saying so because, oh god, she said ignorant things in an interview recently, and if I’m going to say I am worried about Joni Mitchell maybe dying I had better clarify that I do not approve of the things she said.

To be honest, I don’t feel like I have the energy all the time to keep up with who is on the “problematic blacklist,” although I think at this point it might be everyone on the planet except Beyoncé. I don’t even say I like people a lot because I am worried that one time they said a “problematic” thing that I don’t know about, and then if I don’t know about it, I am also being “problematic.” I really, really do not like getting into arguments with people and so I would rather avoid these conversations altogether.

For what it is worth, the word “problematic” kind of makes me want to put my fist through a wall. Mostly because I don’t think there is a way to say it without sounding like you are bursting with smug. Seriously, go over to a mirror and try it. See if you want to invite yourself over for a glass of wine, or if you look startlingly like a really judgmental PTA mom.

This may be the wrong thing to say, but I do kind of get why Patton Oswalt had a bit of a Twitter tirade about the Trevor Noah thing. I also get why people dislike “call out culture,” and I get why people feel frustrated, paranoid and confused about concepts like “tone policing” and “microaggressions” and “intent doesn’t matter.” I can see how these things can be interpreted as “You had better walk on eggshells around me, and if you accidentally screw up or are not aware of a rule I came up with yesterday, I get to scream at you and you cannot say I am being unpleasant,” and how that might be a bit nerve-racking.

On the one hand, you have people who are feeling frustrated because they have some valid criticism to impart. On the other, you have people who are freaking out over the increased scrutiny. Then, on your right foot, you’ve got assholes who are being malicious on purpose. This is not about them.

I see it this way. When I go to through airport security, every time, I always think that somehow, some way, they are going to find drugs on me, as if by magic. I have barely even smoked pot since high school, but I still think there is a pretty good chance of this happening, and then I’m going to end up in jail for the rest of my life. I end up acting super weird because of this and making lots of awkward jokes.

Obviously I think we should be checking people to see if they have bombs, but yeah, the increased scrutiny makes me feel paranoid and then I act like a complete weirdo.

I think people watch these things unfold, and they get to a point where they feel like no matter what they do, it’s going to be the wrong thing. I think they get afraid that they are going to fuck up and make a mistake, and then eventually, they get to the point where they are like “Fine, fuck it, I’ll just make all of the mistakes and burn down all the bridges and I don’t fucking care anymore.” Which is not a good place for anyone to be, and I don’t think it actually accomplishes anything good.

The jokes Trevor Noah made were objectively wrong, and not at all funny. But I think there’s room for people to agree that they were wrong, but to also feel wigged out by the idea of other people of going through someone’s Twitter feed and then smugly “calling them out” on wrong things they said three years ago, and then deciding that they have to go right into the “bad person forever” pile. I think if we actually want people to change, we have to let them.