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  • Writer's pictureLara Karuna

Trevor Noah’s Off the Record Tour Lacks Soul

The Silence of Celebrities During the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict

Trevor Noah, the popular South African comedian who made his name as the host of The Daily Show, had his first of three concerts in London at the O2 Arena Thursday, Nov 23rd (Thanksgiving for us Yanks). His wit, charm and ability to make people laugh at what could be cried over has always separated him from other comedians. However, as the death toll climbs to now an estimated 8,000 plus children dead in Gaza, the silence of some of the most prominent of the liberal Hollywood elite, like Trevor Noah, has been striking.

The pressure to remain quiet in the West- particularly in Hollywood - is not a secret. Actresses like Susan Sarandon and Melissa Barrera have been penalized for their pro Palestinian statements with Sarandon being dropped from UTA - one of the top talent agencies in Hollywood and Barrera losing her role in the slated-to -shoot Scream 7 movie franchise.

Noah who has been vocal about racism, police brutality, and of course his personal knowledge of apartheid South Africa, built a fan base around his politically charged comedy. His own inspiring story of being “born a crime” as a half-black, half-white kid growing up in apartheid South Africa makes his silence even more pronounced.

The Israeli government has kept the Palestinians in one of the most brutal apartheid states in history and now are committing what many human rights organizations are calling genocide.

Israeli forces have, as reported Oct 23rd by The Media office in Gaza, dropped around 12,000 tons of bombs on the besieged strip. That is 33 tons every square kilometer for all of Gaza. The level of carnage most of us have witnessed leaves little doubt that these number are an accurate estimate.

As a mother, as a human, I just don’t understand how so many are staying silent. Speaking out about police brutality when the whole country is marching for George Floyd is easy. Speaking out when there’s pressure to stay silent, when your own career lays on the line - another matter entirely.

Yet now is when using our platform is essential. What’s being done should have everyone in the streets protesting. Instead the liberal elite has gone from protesting against babies in cages to advocating for a no ceasefire as babies are bombed to pieces. Trump was a fascist but suddenly Netanyahu is your man? I don’t get it. I’m baffled and Hollywood is showing its ass.

Indeed the 8,000 and counting dead-children -in - the - room being ignored by nearly all of the politically charged satire of late night (with the noted exception of John Oliver) has been as blatant as it has been disturbing. That The Daily Show chose Sarah Silverman as its guest host just a week after she made an offensive post about people in Gaza not deserving water and how nice it was Israel provided it “for free” seems to be a deliberate message from Hollywood. We stand with the Israeli government regardless of the horror committed. If you speak out, we will black ball you and if you speak in favor of the Israeli government, we’ll reward you.

They seem able to cry for all the babies but the Palestinian babies. It’s a blind spot that will be a black mark on the pages of history. The level of carnage of especially children can no longer be disputed, while the Hamas “human shield” argument under even the smallest bit of scrutiny falls apart, especially given that we know other tactics would be used if said militants were in Tel Aviv, London or Los Angeles. I was horrified just like everyone else about the thought of Hamas beheading babies - except no proof has ever been shown. Now there children dying by the thousands and too many videos to deny the veracity of this body count. Horrifyingly, we have all seen beheaded babies blown to bits at the hands of the Israeli government with the complicity of my own country - the US. yet, in the midst of this undeniable horror… silence?

The “business as usual” stance of most - especially those that normally would say something- has been unsettling. Thursday’s Off the Record Tour at the O2 Arena was no exception. Noah riffed on the cleanliness of London. It was funny and fine if this was a Behind the Scene segment on TDS. I’m guessing he riffs on every city he’s in which is impressive, still the bit lacked his usual biting nuance. As an aside, I don’t think there are many comedians - maybe Chapelle? That consistently come up with as much new material as Noah. He’s obviously a super talented guy. Still, for a special in particular, there’s an expectation of a deeper dive.

Noah also dipped his pinky toe into Germany and danced in a big circle around the Palestinian / Israel conflict. He spoke about how the Germans changed the lyrics but not the melody of their national anthem. We all laughed when he translated it to basically “sorry sorry sorry.” Transitioning, he stated with more seriousness that genocide was never ok. At this, a smattered few around the arena yelled, “Free Palestine!” and the mood thickened. There was a pause as everyone sort of universally inhaled. Full disclosure, I yelled “Free Palestine” too. Would he say it? I think some wondered. I knew he wouldn’t. Mentioning genocide in general seemed to be as far as Noah was willing to go.

Interestingly , both Noah’s Off the Record Tour and his new Podcast What Now have been marketed as Noah being controversial and edgy, saying whatever’s on his mind. His podcast was promoted as Noah sitting down with big names, having those “hard conversations.” It seems a bit ironic considering the conversations being had so far have been the easiest, with Noah lobbing soft ball questions and fan-boying.

As we waited for the Off the Record show to start, two giant screens advertised the podcast. It seemed almost mocking with the neon lit graphic appearing and reappearing, “What Now” then… “let’s talk!” underlined… “LET’S TALK” … yeah… about nothing.

On his podcast, Noah’s first guest, The Rock- an outspoken supporter of the Israeli government, raised some eyebrows. Perhaps this would be a hard conversation? Instead it was a mutual admiration exchange lacking substance.

At the end of the Off the Record show, Noah opened the floor up to questions. Disappointingly, the questions were lame. Considering his social media comments are full of people imploring him to talk about Palestine I wondered if he planned who to ask in advanced. If I had been closer I would have asked why he hasn’t said one word about the Palestine/Israeli conflict. And if you’re reading this Trevor, send a sis a DM because I do really want to know.

I understand that art and expression need to come organically and we can’t do it for other’s expectations.

However, I also think we have a responsibility, as artists, to use our voices to try to make the world a better place- through laughter of course, but also being brave.

Speaking out when everyone is already saying it? That’s easy. Speaking out for universal truth in the stillness of silence… that is when our voice is most needed. That’s also when it’s hardest to use. If Noah did say something, that he would be risking his career, speaks of a deeper and more troubling issue.

In the end, Noah made me laugh and that’s what he’s there to do. I am an easy laugh though, so it’s not that challenging. Still, we were all laughing. He is a talented person and I am not trying to take that away. He was as he always is: clever, smart and a great mimic. But for the time, for the moment, and for what is needed, he just didn’t have that jazz, that sauce, that soul that I think he’s capable of and that we all needed.

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