Trevor Noah may have become Johannesburg’s favorite son when he took over The Daily Show, but the comedian has recently been accused of stealing his material from Dave Chappelle and other comedians.
Noah, a biracial man born under Apartheid in South Africa, which made his whole existence illegal, often mocks the racism he encountered in his stand-up routine. But during a recent appearance at Politicon in the City of Angels, Noah’s bit may have seemed familiar. Be warned that, although our copy has been censored, it is probably still NSFW.
“Before I came to America, I thought I knew all kinds of racism. I’ve always considered myself something of a racism connoisseur. I appreciate the finer racism. Not to say I appreciate all racism, but a finer racism. Before I came here, blatant racism was my favorite. Blatant racism, where you know exactly where you stand, often perpetrated by old people, which I have always appreciated. They’ll just tell it to you like it is. ‘This is what I think about you!’ Yeah, you’re going to die soon. … Charming racism in America changed my life. I discovered it in a place called Lexington, Kentucky. Probably one of the most wonderful places I’ve ever been — charming, friendly people. Racism with a smile and a tip of the hat. … I was walking through the streets, a man walked up to me, didn’t know me from a bar of soap, came straight up to me and looked me dead in the eye, and he was like, ‘Good afternoon, n—er.’ ‘Good afternoon.’ I’ve never seen racism with a smile. I didn’t know what to do. He just said it like it was a fact. As if I fought him, he would have been like, ‘What, didn’t you know?’”
The problem with that standup is that it reminds people of an earlier 1997 routine performed by Chappelle, that went as follows,
“Traveling has made me a racism connoisseur, if you will. You know, it’s different region to region. Anyone ever been down South? So you guys know what I’m talking about. The racism down there is just f—ing (bon appetit gesture) — it’s perfect. Stewed to a perfection. It’s conformable. It’s out in the open. There are no secrets in Mississippi. Everybody knows the deal. ‘Morning, n—er!’ ‘Morning, sir!’ Not up here. Here in the big cities, it’s a secret. And we should be like them. We should keep our shit out in the open and vent a little — I mean with limits. You don’t want to say whatever comes to your mind, that might be a little much. White dude be walking down the street minding his business and a brother walk up to him: ‘Hello, you white oppressor, you slave-master rapist of Africa.’ ‘Why hello, my big-lips, spear-chucking friend.‘”
See the similarities? Now, back in April of this year Noah was straight up called out on Singaporean TV by fellow comedian Russell Peters.
The similar structure and lines, particularly highlighting a Southern state, is one thing. The American South gets put in its place so much you’d think it’s New Jersey. However, people are raising eyebrows over the fact that the term “racism connoisseur” is directly copied. It all could be a coincidence, but stand-up routines hardly require citations. Now, the thing about this is that Peters and Noah are, actually, good friends and Peters claimed that his accusations were just jokes. That was back in April, but the Chappelle rip was this month.
— Trevor Noah (@Trevornoah) April 8, 2015
All in good fun, but we’ve seen how upset people get when being accused of having ghost writers and comedians stealing material ranks up there with the worst crimes in show business, so you can see why people are freaking out. In a more recent interview, Peters chats with radio hosts about comedy beefs and refutes claims that Noah actually stole his material. He goes on to explain how similar jokes get circulated and what becomes of them. So, maybe he did rip off Chappelle because he admires his work and can relate to it. In all honesty it’s gonna get swept under the carpet pretty soon anyway. The bigger question is, who cares?