You’re probably used to seeing violent words like “destroy,” “demolish” and “eviscerate” in headlines about political comedy segments. All that destruction might make John Oliver, Samantha Bee and even, from time to time, the CBS version of Stephen Colbert sound like supervillains, but considering how weak and conciliatory the mainstream media usually is, the kind of pointed critiques those Daily Show-trained comedians specialize in will always have power. Those violent words became our go-to terminology when talking about Jon Stewart and the Comedy Central version of Stephen Colbert, who together basically ushered in a new golden age of popular American satire. When’s the last time you saw any of those words in reference to Trevor Noah or his Daily Show, though, which remains moribund and largely unremarked upon eight months into its existence?
Well, here it is, although probably not in a way Noah would have hoped to see: Sophia McClennen, a Penn State professor who focuses on the relationship between politics and culture, and who has extensively studied and written about satire, utterly eviscerates Trevor Noah in Salon today. McClennen doesn’t just reiterate the standard points against Noah—that he’s disinterested in American politics, that he lacks Stewart’s knowledge and bite, that he’s no longer holding disingenuous pundits and politicians and the incompetent news media responsible for their bullshit—but analyzes his own public statements about his show and network to argue that Noah lacks integrity and is disrespectful to other, legitimately satirical shows like The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore and South Park. In the end, she says, Trevor Noah isn’t a critic of the mainstream media, as Stewart was, but an extension of it, offering the same kind of misleading takes you can find on the cable news networks. And that, through this negligence, this refusal to cut through the bullshit of this inexplicable election season, Noah’s failure has actually empowered the rise of Donald Trump to a degree. Basically McClennen accuses Noah, the host of the most visible satirical show in America, of either not understanding or not caring about what satire is supposed to be. It’s a brutal takedown, and only one of a long number of scathing anti-Noah critiques from Salon, but it’s worth reading if you care about comedy, satire, The Daily Show and the ever-deteriorating state of political discourse in America today.