Over the weekend, new Daily Show host Trevor Noah performed a short standup set at a convention in Los Angeles called Politicon. There, he did a bit about the varying extremes of racism he has experienced across America, which was insightful, but also a nearly exact replica of a decades-old Dave Chappelle joke.
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 fucking [bon appétit gesture]. It’s perfect. Stewed to a perfection. It’s comfortable. It’s out in the open. There are no secrets in Mississippi. Everybody knows the deal. “Morning, nigger!” “Morning, sir!” Not up here. Here in the big cities, man, it’s different. It’s always 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.”
Here’s Chapelle telling the joke in an HBO special shot in San Francisco in 1998:
Now, here’s Noah at Politicon last weekend:
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, nigger.” “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?”
Though the details in each bit are slightly different (i.e. Mississippi versus Kentucky) the thesis is the same, as are the introduction—including the phrase “racism connoisseur”—and the punchline, in which both comedians are warmly greeted by an old white man using the N-word.
Noah had previously been accused of joke thievery by the Canadian comedian Russell Peters, and this racism bit is suspiciously similar to Chappelle’s. One conclusion is that Noah knowingly ripped off a joke he thought was funny while assuming that it was old enough that nobody would notice. The other conclusion is that he absorbed Chappelle’s joke years ago then had the same experience in his own life, and talked about that experience without realizing that he was regurgitating another famous comedian’s joke.
You can watch more of Trevor Noah weeknights on Comedy Central. Surely you haven’t forgotten about his very existence.
[image via Getty]