Trevor Noah: I Wish You Would is hilarious in parts but mostly underwhelming
Trevor Noah’s standup special shines the most when it makes sharp, pointed observations on human life. But these observations are overshadowed by convoluted setups and punchlines which don’t quite land.
Trevor Noah’s third stand-up special I Wish You Would has its moments. It shines in places but falls flat in others. One such bit where the special shined was Noah discussing the reaction of the world to the death of Queen Elizabeth II. This, in context to the larger theme of schadenfreude, a German word which means deriving pleasure out of others’ pain. Noah does a rather good job at explaining to the audience why the death of a monarch was celebrated by nations that were enslaved by her for over a hundred years. Not that it requires any explanation but the comic hits the nail on the head when he points out that Elizabeth II was buried with the jewels stolen from British colonies. The icing on top of the cake was Noah invoking an imagery of the Irish, Africans, Indians, Carribians dancing on Queen’s grave. “Even in that, the Queen is winning. She has some of the best dancers dancing on her grave”. Witty observations such as these set Noah apart from his contemporaries like Hasan Minhaj who is known for his storytelling. It is these observations which force us to think and even question our own belief systems. Noah challenges ‘don’t speak ill of the dead’ adage when he quips “Maybe we should be nicer to each other when we are alive and talk s**t when we are dead. At least we’ll not have to hear it when we are alive”. Another set which works really well is the Western media’s reaction to the Ebola outbreak in Africa. Noah again makes a sharp observation on how Africa used its experience in fighting Ebola to fight Covid and succeeded but no one gave the continent credit for the same.
I Wish You Would has promise in Noah’s choice of premises. However, choice alone cannot save a special if the premise isn’t executed well. Noah does tend to overperform some of his premises and setups. He also takes long pauses and breaks which gives the viewers sufficient time to guess the joke which is coming next. It takes away from the thrill and excitement of watching a special where the viewer doesn’t know which topic the comic might hit next. This is evident in when Noah talks about the Covid-19 outbreak and how parents reacted to being stuck in the house with their kids 24×7. None of the jokes or observations in this are new. The writing is simplistic, lacks nuance and is frankly very underwhelming. In some of the sets, like the one where Noah talks about being mistaken for ‘Black Hitler’, the build up to the joke and the punchline is so elaborate and convoluted that by the time Noah begins dropping punchlines, the viewer is already fatigued and wishes to move on to the next set.
The set on stupid people in horror comedies, again, has been vastly explored. In fact, the whole Scary Movie franchise which came out a decade ago is meant to poke fun at such people. Noah, again, is not offering anything new here. No observation or joke that we already haven’t heard of. In fact, the bit where Noah talks about people ‘wishing too much’ seems too oversimplified. The writing is almost kindergarten-level simple, direct and even silly at times.
What’s peculiar about this special is that the sets which work are simply brilliant but the ones that don’t are unbearable. Had the special been a dud through and through or on the contrary, a laugh riot, perhaps there wouldn’t be much to say. However, I Wish You Would is more of a mixed bag of setups and punchlines which work and those which completely fall flat.
Given that Noah’s special released a month after Minhaj’s special, the comparisons are inevitable and it is obvious that The Daily Show host pales in comparison to Hasan. Reportedly, the special was filmed in Canada 24 hours after Noah announced his exit from The Daily Show where the comic is known for delivering sometimes funny, mostly satirical monologues on American politics.
Noah is also a good impressionist and it shows in the special. The comic hits the ball out of the park with his Donald Trump and Barack Obama impressions. However, the overdramatic vocalizations are almost cringe-inducing and don’t seem comic in the least. Halfway through the special, there is a whole bit where Noah tries to make a larger point on the impact pandemic had on human lives which comes across as preachy, self-righteous and seems like text stolen from a moral science book. Again, the nuance and emotions are missing and the message seems too simplistic – almost like beauty pageant contestants lamenting “Why are we doing this to each other? We need world peace”.
All in all, Noah’s third special shines the most when it makes sharp and brilliant observations on human life. But the special loses this shine when these pointed observations are overshadowed by convoluted setups and punchlines which don’t quite land.
Trevor Noah: I Wish You Would is streaming now on Netflix.
Deepansh Duggal is an entertainment, pop-culture and trends writer based in New Delhi. He specializes in op-eds based on the socio-political and gender issues in the world of entertainment and showbiz. He also writes explainers and occasionally reviews shows in the OTT space. He tweets at @Deepansh75.
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