Trevor Noah Criticized for "Ignorant" Jokes About India-Pakistan Conflict

Trevor Noah - Publicity - H 2018
Brad Barket/Comedy Central

The 'Daily Show' host had joked that if the two countries went to war, "it would probably be the most entertaining war of all time," suggesting that Indian soldiers would break out into a Bollywood dance on the battlefield.

Daily Show host Trevor Noah sparked online fury over his take on the ongoing political and military tensions between India and Pakistan which led him to issue an apology — of sorts.

Last Tuesday, the Indian government stated that Indian Air Force jets bombed a training outfit of the terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammed in Pakistan. The strike was seen as a response to an attack Feb. 14 in Pulwama in India's Kashmir state which killed 40 Indian soldiers and was claimed by JeM, according to India. A day later, Pakistan claimed that it shot down an Indian fighter jet and captured its pilot. Amid a media frenzy, Pakistani authorities finally handed over the pilot to India on Friday.

While both countries have gone to war three times since gaining independence from British rule in 1947, primarily over the disputed territory of Kashmir, current tensions have led observers to speculate whether another war is looming.

Tackling the border conflict on the Daily Show, Noah mocked that "if India and Pakistan did go to war, it would probably be the most entertaining war of all time." He explained that Indian soldiers would go to battle singing and dancing Bollywood style and added, "It would also be the longest war of all time ... another dance number?"

Actress Swara Bhaskar tweeted that Noah's stereotype of the two countries was "ignorant and racist." She added: "Ur set smacks of essentialism & a patronising generalisation."

"I am a big fan of your work but this is NOT FUNNY," tweeted Mumbai Film Festival creative director Smriti Kiran. She added: "Could have used this opportunity to make an astute point with humour that might have warmed the hearts of the people of two countries that are vulnerable & hurting."

Comedienne and actress Mallika Dua found Noah's joke "shockingly unintelligent & tone deaf," adding, "If you’re going to be a racist comic than at least get the comic bit right."

"It's sad when someone who's had a violent past mocks war through a Bollywood stereotype," tweeted writer Zainab Sikander. She went on to explain how the South Africa-born host's mother was shot in the head by her husband (Noah's stepfather), adding, "Imagine someone making fun of it with a Xhosa stereotype — the tribe his mum belongs to."

Responding to Sikander, Noah posted,  "Actually if you watch my stand up you'll see that I did make jokes after my mother was shot in the head. As a comedian, I use comedy to process pain and discomfort in my world but I am sorry that this hurt you and others, that's not what I was trying to do."

In a separate tweet, Noah also posted, "It's amazing to me that my joke about the conflict in India and Pakistan trended more than the story of the actual conflict itself. Sometimes it seems like people are more offended by the jokes comedians make about an issue than the issue itself."

But Noah found himself at the receiving end again when Bhaskar responded to his tweet stating that he should "drop this America-centric condescension. The topic of the conflict was the ONLY thing trending in India & Pak this past week & numerous liberal Indians & Pakistanis petitioned their [governments] to de-escalate the conflict & sued 4 peace. This is not about YOU!"

At the Oscars this year, while presenting best picture nominee Black Panther, Noah included a Xhosa line in his introduction.

"Growing up as a young boy in Wakanda, I would see King T'Challa flying over our village," he joked adding, "He would remind me of a great Xhosa phrase: 'Abelungu abazi ubu ndiyaxoka,' which means, 'In times like these, we are stronger when we fight together than when we try to fight apart."

The real translation, according to the BBC and South African media outlets, was, "White people don't know I'm lying."