It’s only 7:15, doors open at 8 so surely I will get a good spot in line; or so I thought. You can imagine my dismay to find that the line into the RAC Arena stretched all the way past the Biology Building and was wrapping back around; I got comfortable in front of the Meyerhoff Chemistry Building. The line continued to grow and eventually went far up the steps between Sherman Hall and the University Center.
The line that wrapped around our UMBC campus – and somehow managed to fit inside the RAC – was for none other than comedian Trevor Noah, who’s gained popularity with his success on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show. Before this show, I had gained familiarity with Noah’s comedy from his stand-up specials on Netflix. I enjoyed those specials very much and expected to be entertained at his show at UMBC. I was not disappointed. There were moments that I laughed so hard at his stories about his first experiences with American culture that I snorted loudly (much to the dismay of the man sitting next to me). I had a wonderful time, but leaving the show I could not help but wonder what kinds of reactions others at UMBC felt about Trevor Noah.
Noah’s comedy on The Daily Show is political and likely represents the liberal views of many on this campus. But the threat of “political comedy” kept some of my friends from attending this show with me, which is understandable. For many young college students, including myself, last year’s presidential election was the first in which we voted, and what a dramatic election it was. Due to constant whirlwinds of political drama portrayed in the media, sometimes it feels like that election never ended.
At his recent UMBC show, Noah was quick to make political jokes – his Trump and Obama impressions are mastered to a tee. When the first Trump jokes were cracked, a small handful of the audience got up to leave. One might wonder whether those people had planned to leave or honestly did not know what kind of comedy they were walking into.
Some members of the audience also felt discomfort from Noah’s frequent use of the n-word. Why would he – after explaining that he understands the offense behind the word even though he does not share in its history – go on to use the n-word when it did not contribute to his storytelling? This is not to say he always used the word recklessly, but there were moments when it was not necessary. “If it wasn’t for that five minute segment of him using the n-word over twelve times, I would have really enjoyed the show,” says Jessica Hassell ’18, English. She later noted that “there were others who I don’t think knew how to react” to Noah’s sudden splurge of the word.
Another issue to consider when reflecting on Trevor Noah’s performance is that Noah continues UMBC’s tendency to invite male comedians to campus. This is not to say there is anything wrong with the comedians who have performed here in the past, including Nick Offerman, B.J. Novak, and Donald Glover to name a few. But why hasn’t a female comedian been invited to UMBC? The Women’s Center at UMBC has long advocated for this campus to invite a woman to perform at our Homecoming comedy show. This year, the center compiled a list of accomplished female comedians, including Aparna Nancherla, Amy Poehler, and Ellen Degeneres, with the hopes that UMBC will consider them (or others) to perform here in the near future. Jess Myers, the director at the Women’s Center, says that the “post was an attempt to make our UMBC community, which we love, conscious of something they perhaps haven’t been able to see yet – that gender inequity is still persistent and something we actively must work to correct.” Our Homecoming comedy show is but one example where we can work to make change.
Overall, Trevor Noah’s show at UMBC’s Homecoming was a success. However, while I enjoyed myself, mine was not the only reaction to this show. These perspectives – and many others that are not represented here – remind us that UMBC is a diverse community that values the opinions of its students, faculty, and staff. This discussion surrounding the Homecoming comedy show just reinforces UMBC’s commitment to inclusive excellence and thoughtful discourse. With these values, “we expect us to get it right all the time and to be better all the time, but [this] isn’t always the case,” observes Jess Myers. “We can always do better.”