Trevor Noah’s comparison of Imran Khan and Donald Trump was mind-blowingly shallow

Published: August 16, 2018
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To say Noah's piece was an uneducated, lazy piece of political news would be an understatement. PHOTO: COMEDY CENTRAL

Trevor Noah is a funny man.

In 2015, he replaced Jon Stewart as the host of The Daily Show – a highly reputable satirical show on politics. Previously, Noah had been very successful as a stand-up comedian, and had reportedly been Stewart’s first choice as the leading host of the show.

But when it comes to Pakistan, the two men could not be further apart.

Stewart’s Daily Show was known for its wide array of well-researched pieces, and even his comedic bits gave the impression that he knew what he was talking about. He was never all jokes and no context. When the President of Pakistan at the time, Pervez Musharraf, went on the Daily Show, one could tell Stewart had given the time to research the man himself, his policies, as well the reason for his popularity around the region.

But we see something completely different when it comes to his successor.

Yesterday, Noah’s Daily Show did a piece on Imran Khan. To say it was an uneducated, lazy piece of political news would be an understatement. As big of a writing force and creative team Noah has, it felt like the piece was done only by looking up Imran on Wikipedia and cherry-picking his life to somehow match Donald Trump’s.

Noah tried to compare a philanthropic man – who has opened two cancer hospitals and one university in an impoverished country, and is renowned in the world for his cricketing endeavours – to a man who inherited upwards of $400 million from his father and started a reality show, and who also has a well-documented history of harassing women.

The piece begins with Noah pointing out how Trump’s political style has been imported by other parts of the world, and lo and behold, Pakistan somehow tops the list! Thus begins the horrid comparison of two people who could not be more unlike, which I shall try my best to break down.

Imran’s gold-draped room with the large bed and the feathery lamps from 1984 does not compare to the three-storied gold plated Athenian style penthouse suite overlooking the Manhattan skyline, which has been valued at $100 million. After all, we’re still talking about the man who refuses to live in the Prime Minister House because it costs the federal government $8 million a year, right?

Next, the side by side comparison of Imran shooting a Pepsi ad versus Trump shooting a Pizza ad was just bizarre. Famous people have been known to sell popular products since capitalism became a reality of our time. The narrative that simply because this event happened, it somehow equates the two, is quite lazy. I was waiting for Noah to point out how both Imran and Trump drink water, breathe, perspire and even exist at the same time! Because clearly, the lines of comparison here are so blurred that absolutely anything goes.

As the piece goes on, the non-contextualised cherry-picked video clips regarding Imran are played on full throttle. From his lack of experience to his populist approach to his marriages (for which they did not even take a picture of Bushra Maneka, just some random Google image of a veiled woman), Noah and his team did their best to somehow make Imran another shadow of Trump.

And then Noah made the following joke:

“Trump thinks Islam is bad, Khan lives in Islamabad!”

This joke was so awful, my soul was cringing beneath my skin. Surely you can do better, Noah!

The saddening lengths they went to became obvious when Reham Khan – who is notorious for defaming and shaming Imran – was used as “evidence” for sexual harassment allegations against Imran.

Another montage of Imran and Trump was played, this time trying to show how similar their politics is. From Trump’s ‘rowdy and violent campaign rallies’ to Imran’s ‘rude and disruptive followers’, to people inexcusably waiting for their leaders to show up at a political rally, everything had become comparable. I repeat, the extent to which Noah’s team stooped to somehow compare these two people was mind-blowingly shallow.

By the time the final reel was played of the two sitting side by side saying the same thing – taken completely out of context – I was done with Noah. Imran’s answer to an Australian journalist’s question on why he chose to come to politics was an altruistic, selfless reply regarding the reality of his life, as opposed to Trump’s false sense of entitlement that people love him.

The next clip shows Trump calling out a fairly stable, fairly well played out two-party democratic system in the US to be corrupt and crooked (mind you, this is the same Trump who is being investigated for collusion with the Russians and has never produced his tax forms), against Imran calling out the status quo in Pakistan. This is a man who had a three-time serving prime minister from said status quo sent to jail after being found guilty for money laundering and declaration of assets. So much for pure and pious, eh Trevor?

However, what left me in a fit of anger surpasses all of this. When the last clip of Imran was played, one could hear a much energised version of Mein Tou Dekhoonga by Strings playing in the background, to which Trevor commented,

“I’m not gonna lie, it sounds better hearing Trump’s phrases with Bollywood music in the background.”

Bollywood? Bollywood?

If anything, it was a very sour piece of journalism and I can’t help but say, a college student with little to no worldview and minimal international exposure could easily Google search the two people and see the difference. Perhaps if they hired Jeremy McLellan as a correspondent, this whole thing could have been avoided.

The problem not only lies in Noah’s depiction of Imran, but the entire portrayal of Imran thus far by western media. It has been abhorrent, and it has been careless. As someone who lives in the West and is very close to Pakistani politics, I can see the nervousness in the media here. It almost seems as if they don’t know how to talk about Imran – as if they’ve never seen a creature like him before.

If that is the case, it’s not that hard to connect with expats and immigrants from Pakistan who will willingly offer context to the man and the machine that is the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman, so hopefully we can endure less of this offhand journalism and terrible humour for the next five years.

I like Trevor Noah. For the most part, he does a good job at The Daily Show. But this piece just goes to show how much exposure is needed for Pakistan to thrive in an international culture. I have my hopes that Imran, the pseudo Donald Trump, will shine a new light and paint Pakistan in a different shade of green.

Mohammad Nazar Syed

Mohammad Nazar Syed

Nazar is a writer and poet based in Canada. His debut publication is called 'A Rush to the Stars' and is a collection of his poetry. He tweets as @mnazarsyed (twitter.com/mnazarsyed)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Shamael Fraz

    In an attempt to be funny, he fell flat on his face.

    Sigh…. And I really liked him too.Recommend

  • Rabia Rehman

    The eff? im a fan of trevor noah but this was literally a pathetic low blow…how does he see his current president and Imran khan on the same level? i have to say I’m disappointedRecommend

  • Omar

    Truth is hard to swallow. IK is even worse than Trump. Trump does not take that many U-turns at least. Trump is not a drug addict.Recommend

  • Ali from Multan

    The amount of hero worshipping of Imran Khan here in Pakistan is astounding. I agree given the current lot, he is a tad better in comparison. Imran Khan should be judged only by his acts as a PM. This means he needs to complete his term to be compared to others. Blindly following any one for that matter is dangerous. I hope one day we have a very strong and sound system in place that we no longer have to defend an individual who has already been dubbed as a messiah with out him proving his capabilities as PM of PAKISTAN.Recommend

  • Big Bad Wolf

    As an Indian, I feel insulted by Trevor Noah’s silly comparison of a stalwart like Imran Khan with that clown called Donald Trump.

    One has led his country to a World Cup win, built a state-of-the-art cancer research institution through sheer labour of love, and is respected and admired by so many of his people, and those across the border as well.

    The other is Donald Trump. The less said about him, the better.

    Today, India lost a tall leader named Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Imran Khan has the opportunity to become even taller and everyone’s hopes and best wishes are with him.

    Trevor Noah and his fellow stand-up comics in the West inhabit a very different world. This time he has crossed his limits by hurting the sensibilities and genuine aspirations of Pakistanis, Indians and other South Asians.

    Khan Saheb, we are all looking forward to your inauguration and restoration of excellent ties with India.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Those who took Trevor Noah’s show even slightly seriously….are mind-blowingly dum.Recommend

  • SuperNeo™

    Pakistanis should be happy here master country head is compared with slave country head. lot positive about it.
    Well he just compare true incidents of both states head.Recommend

  • Manzoor Ahmed

    Just another boy doing a white mans dirty workRecommend

  • wb

    The comparison should have been how Trump won in a rigged election with the help of Daddy Russia and Imran won in a rigged election as well. That would have been fair comparison between Trump and Imran. Also what would have been fair is that both Trump and Imran are shallow people who promise to solve all problems of their countries without laying out a single concrete idea, let alone a plan.Recommend

  • Akthar

    As an Indian, I don’t agree with you. There are lots of shades common between Imran and Trump. He played well on the field doesn’t mean he will play well in politics too. Both are completely different. I don’t think Trevor has hurt sensibilities of Indians or South Asians. This is your wildest imagination. Put forth your views. Don’t try to be a spokesperson for a nation or region.Recommend

  • fatherxmas

    What about this?: Fox News host ridiculed for comparing Denmark to Venezuela. Danish politicians respond to Trish Regan’s strange claims about cupcake socialism.Recommend

  • Amer Lodi

    Well said bro…..I hope all of us from either side of the borders share the same feelings for prosperous regionRecommend

  • djangophet

    He called out Imran, and showed him for what he is, truth is bitter, so whatRecommend

  • MJ

    If you look impartially, the similarities are there ….
    1) Both have a colorful past wrt women and were playboys in their youth.
    2) Both have had 3 marriages, with at least two of the brides imported from Europe.
    3) Both have fanatic followers who have formed personality cults and won’t admit to any fault or shortcoming of their respective leaders (read this one twice if you disagree)
    4) Both can say one thing as a policy or fact and then contradict themselves 100% in the very near future. (to be fair, most politicians do)
    5) Very few people believed that they will win the elections when they started their political career or campaign to be elected.
    6) Both are fairly rich and famous and constantly remind people of that in their interviews that they don’t need any more money or fame.
    7) Both claim to have broken into politics to help their country get rid of crooked politicians and the status quo (crooked Hillary, corrupt Nawaz slogans)
    8) Both leaders use unprecedented, rather harsh and colorful language against their political opponents and call them derogatory names.
    9) Both have surrounded themselves with politicians with proven financially corrupt conduct while claiming to drain the swamp of such people.

    I can go on and on …. maybe the only big difference is that Imran has truly reformed himself and is honest to his cause and Trump is still a lying and cheating rascal. I hope for the future of Pakistan that this is the case.Recommend

  • numbersnumbers

    Note that Trevor Noah is required to have his scripts approved by the DNC (Democratic National Committee) before airing!Recommend

  • numbersnumbers

    Hilarious, Team Trump has the US economy booming in case you failed to notice, and has been actively pushing all his campaign promises regarding illegal immigration, trade policies, tax structure, regulations and military forces!Recommend

  • Proud Ahmadi

    I believe Pakistan will be truly democratic when there is an Ahmadi prime minister and a Shia president. Imran just got lucky.Recommend

  • Black power

    Just another rag head venting his frustration (surprisingly peacefully).Recommend

  • Nadia

    Say that to Big Bad Wolf. He seems to be hurt in all the wrong places.😎Recommend

  • UJ

    Pakistanis shouldn’t be outraged due to this superficial comparison. It was Trevor’s desperate effort to trigger people and get reactions because the show’s ratings have been tanking after Jon Stewart. He has been doing this in his last few episodes.Recommend

  • Manzoor Ahmed

    Your assuming that I am a rag head….and you know what they say about assumptions which reflects poorly on yourself. Whose venting what I am just saying the TRUTH which you cannot handle.Recommend