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If you’ve been anywhere near the internet over the last week or so, chances are you haven’t been able to escape Trevor Noah’s face. First there was the excitement surrounding the news that he would be taking over from Jon Stewart as host of The Daily Show, then there was the predictable backlash — in Noah’s case for some old Tweets — followed by the backlash against the backlash.
Everyone from the New York Times to Patton Oswald has weighed in on it. What many seem to have missed however is that Noah himself settled the debate with a tweet during the early hours of the fracas.
The tweet I’m referring to is this one:
To reduce my views to a handful of jokes that didn’t land is not a true reflection of my character, nor my evolution as a comedian.
— Trevor Noah (@Trevornoah) March 31, 2015
In order to understand why the debate didn’t need to go beyond that tweet, it’s useful to look at the career of South African cricketer Hashim Amla.
When a 21-year-old Amla was first called up to the South African test team in 2004, big things were expected of him. He had captained the South Africa Under 19 team to a World Cup final, he had already been named captain of his provincial team and scored four centuries during his first eight innings for the franchise. During that first international series however, a buoyant English attack discovered a weakness in his technique and he only scored 36 runs throughout the whole series.
He wouldn’t make his way back into the team until 2006, with some wondering if he’d be found out again. But Amla had honed his technique and, in his own calm way, marched to the top of the test batting game, where he’s been ever since. Amla, now captain of the test team, is the first South African player to score more than 300 in a single innings and has amassed just under 7 000 runs at an average of 52.78. And that’s without even going into his One Day International record. Not for nothing is he affectionately called “The Mighty Hash”.
So what’s that got to do with Trevor Noah
At 31, Noah is considerably older than Amla was when he got his international break. But when it comes to hosting an internationally renowned talk show, he’s pretty young. Stewart himself was 37 when he took over the reins at The Daily Show.
To be fair, Noah’s also had a lot longer to hone his craft than Amla did at the beginning of his career (as long as you ignore the fact that comedy doesn’t tend to count as a school extra-curricular). But there are similarities in their trajectories. Both have faced critics at various points in their career (how many Cell C customers cursed Noah’s voice during his time as its “customer experience officer“?), but both have also doggedly honed their crafts, worked on their techniques and come out better for it.
Indeed, the distance Noah has traveled as a comedian since 2012, when many of the tweets people took offense to date from, is comparable to the distance Amla has come since those first few scratchy innings against England. In the years since those tweets were typed, he has played to packed audiences in the US and UK, and made numerous appearances on late night talk shows and comedy panel quizzes in both countries.
To judge him on those tweets then would be analogous to judging Amla on his early innings, ignoring the world-class match-saving efforts he’s put in since then.
Some have suggested that Noah’s old tweets should have been audited prior to Comedy Central announcing him as the new host of The Daily Show.
I’m not so sure. Cricketers don’t get to erase their old records, authors can’t make their earliest published works disappear and that’s a good thing. It’s a reminder that of where they’ve come from, of their evolution. I’d like to think that Noah, who has more than 2-million followers on Twitter, gets that.
Like it or lump it, everyone now knows who Trevor Noah is and where he’s come from. It’s now down to him to keep doing what Amla’s did in his comeback and show the world what kind of comedian he can be.
We’ve seen glimpses of it already, he just has to prove that the right pair of feet can more than fill a big pair of shoes:
Image: Cricket South Africa.