It was all over the news, Twitter and then, in the darkest of night. On Monday (June 19, 2017) late-night comedians weighed in on the Philando Castile verdict, panning the decision.
But it was Daily Show host Trevor Noah’s reaction – a touching combination of utter grief and anger, soothed only by Noah’s measured temperament and his resolute efforts to try and figure out how Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted of the killing, that made naysayer critics of the host backtrack.
Now many TV critics say Noah has found his groove, his voice. And viewers have responded to his delightful lightness and smart comedy, as well as moments of somber levity in kind.
After two years behind the desk that formerly belonged to Jon Stewart, Noah’s show is the only late-night program showing year-on-year growth. In May the show hit record ratings, averaging 1.05 million viewers per episode during the week of May 15, 1.64 million viewers during the week of May 29. In addition, June finished up the second quarter as the most watched month (1.54 million viewers) and led Q2 2017 to make it the most watched quarter in the history of the show.
What did he talk about that was so gripping to almost two million viewers? Trump and Russia, Russia and Trump, Flying cars, James Comey and…some more Russia. The subject matter might not differ much from the rest of the late-night cohort, but his hot takes differ dramatically from their insights. His observations are bestowed upon viewers rather than delivered as mere lines from a script. His takeaways jar as much as it elicit applause and make torsos shake with the first signs of laughter. As a South African, he perceives and understands through a different lens, opening up space for additional and distinct impressions. He has lived experiences of racial discrimination – in South Africa and the US – that make a story, a tragedy, an incomprehensible loss like that of Philando Castile, personal. As the only late-night talk show host of color currently on American TV after the cancellation of The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, the need for Noah’s voice to be authoritative has grown in the face of systemic violence and discrimination of people of color.
Scan the ratings and viewers agree. Scan social media and viewers agree.
The Daily Show’s earnest coverage of the Castile verdict also received high praise from The Los Angeles Times and Vox. Vox even picked it as their coveted episode of the week and culture writer Caroline Framke writes that “Noah’s slow and steady dissection of the dash-cam footage was a masterful way to guide his audience to his points.”
Read Noah’s full reaction:
“I won’t lie to you. When I watched this video, it broke me. It just — it broke me. You see so many of these videos, and you start to get numb, but this one? Seeing the child, that little girl, getting out of the car, after watching a man get killed, it broke my heart into little pieces. Like, I thought of every joke people make about “Oh, the most confusing day in the hood is Father’s Day”: “People don’t know where their parents are, ha-ha. Black dads.” That’s a black dad that’s gone. That’s a child that grows up not knowing what it’s like to have somebody in their life.
You watch that video, and you know what’s the most painful thing? For years, for years, people said that there’s a simple solution to police shootings: “Just give the police body cameras. Film everything. Then there will be no question about what happens.” Yeah. And black people have already taken that initiative, right? Thanks to cellphones, every black person has a body cam now.
Black people have been saying for years: “Just give us an indictment, just an indictment. You know, what, just get us in front of a jury, in front of a jury of our peers, of our fellow citizens. We’ll show them the video, the evidence, and then they will see it, and justice will be served.” And black people finally get there, and it’s like: “Wait, what? Nothing?”
You hear the stories, but you watch that, and — forget race. Are we all watching the same video? The video where a law-abiding man followed the officer’s instructions to the letter of the law and was killed regardless. People watch that video and then voted to acquit? And the saddest thing is that wasn’t the only video that they watched.
“You shot four bullets into him, sir.” It’s f—ing mind blowing that Diamond Reynolds has just seen her boyfriend shot in front of her. She still has the presence of mind to be deferential to the policeman. In that moment, the cop has panicked, but, clearly, black people never forget their training. Still, in that moment, the black person is saying, “Sir, I respect you, sir. I understand what I need to do, sir.” The same thing Philando Castile did.
But still, according to the law, the jury had to make a decision. That decision is, “Do you think this policeman was justified in thinking that his life was in danger?” And their opinion, having watched that video, having listened to that exchange, they still said, “Yes, yes, I can see why that cop was afraid.”
But why? Let’s be honest. Just why? Why would they say he was afraid? Was it because Philando Castile was being polite? Was it because he was following the officer’s instructions? Was it because he was in the car with his family? Or was it because Philando Castile was black?
It’s one thing to have the system against you — the district attorneys, the police unions, the courts — that’s one thing. But when a jury of your peers, your community, sees this evidence and decides that even this is self-defense, that is truly depressing. Because what they’re basically saying is in America, it is officially reasonable to be afraid of a person just because they are black. And that’s the truth of what we saw with this verdict.”