On Monday, Comedy Central selected Trevor Noah to be the new host of The Daily Show, one of the station’s most popular and important programs. He will be taking over for Jon Stewart who has sat in the big chair for the past 16 years. A date still hasn’t been set for when Noah will take over but one would think that information will be coming soon.
If you aren’t familiar with Trevor Noah or his comedic work, you’re not alone…at least not in America. Noah joined The Daily Show as a correspondent this past December and has only made 3 appearances to date. However, the 31 year old South African has a much larger following outside of the United States, though that is likely to change following Monday’s news.
Noah was born in Soweto, South Africa to a black Xhosa mother and a white Swiss father. Considering that was 10 years before the apartheid ended, such a union was most scandalous. In fact, Noah’s mother was fined and jailed by the South African government and the comedian joked that he was “born a crime.” Noah’s father couldn’t even appear on the birth certificate.
Yet while his upbringing has influenced his growth as a comedian, it hasn’t defined him. When asked if he would have been a comedian even if he didn’t grow up in apartheid South Africa, he responded that he likely would have because humor is something he inherited from his family.
He has gone on to become the most successful comedian in Africa, hosting numerous television shows including his own late night talk show called Tonight with Trevor. He was also the first South African comedian to appear on both The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and the Late Show with David Letterman. His one man show at the 2012 Edinburgh Fringe enjoyed a sold out run and he was the subject of David Paul Myer’s award-winning documentary “You Laugh But It’s True.”
In short, his relatively brief comedic career has seen a great deal of success and included many opportunities to hone the skills that will be instrumental in successfully following Jon Stewart as The Daily Show’s next host. However, many people wanted Comedy Central to select a woman to be the next host of The Daily Show to help break down the gender barrier, perceived or real, that exists in this genre of entertainment. Others might be inclined to look at Noah’s hiring as achieving a similar goal on account of his mixed race.
That’s why Comedy Central president Michelle Ganeless’ statement about choosing Trevor Noah is so refreshing and so important. When asked about their hiring process, she responded “We talked to women. We talked to men. We found in Trevor the best person for the job.”
Trevor Noah will be replacing Jon Stewart because the people in charge considered him to be the most qualified candidate to do so. Did his race play some role? Perhaps. But you get the feeling in reading Noah’s resume and the quotes from Ganeless that his race only played a part in the sense that it helps to define who he is as a comedian and the perspectives he will bring to the job. In short, his race may have played a role but it’s not the reason he was hired.
Equality is a popular and controversial topic these days. True equality necessitates that we start to view other people in the same way Comedy Central viewed Trevor Noah. It necessitates that when we look at others, their race isn’t the first thing we see.
Each day’s news is full of reminders that we aren’t there yet. But, just maybe, we’re making progress. Just maybe Noah’s selection as the next Daily Show host, and more importantly the reasons he was selected, are signs that we are headed towards a time when, as Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed, people “will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Most admire Dr. King’s dream but, based on the way equality is often described today, I’m not sure how many truly understand it. He was not calling for an end to race but to racism. He was not calling for an end to judgment but simply asking that we all be judged on the same scale.
God shares that dream. Galatians 3:28 is often quoted as if to say that, in Christ, race, gender, and social status will cease to exist. However, that is not what the text says. Paul writes not that those aspects of who we are will cease to exist but that, in Christ, they will cease to define us. All are equal in Christ because all are seen through the lens of his saving grace. Every one of us has the same opportunity to know God and serve God through the salvation made available in Jesus Christ.
God’s dream is neither that our differences define us nor that they cease to exist. God’s dream is that we use our differences to enhance his kingdom here on earth. God has created each and every one of us with a unique role to play in that kingdom. While your race, gender, and where you fit into society can be an important part of that role, never forget that those things don’t define you. They are aspects of your nature but not the whole of it.
So will you allow God to show you the place he has carved out just for you? Will you allow God to use what makes you you to draw people closer to him? If you will, you too can experience the full and liberating truth of Paul’s admonition that in Christ there “is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Amen?