If Trevor Noah had covered the controversy surrounding Liam Neeson’s recent comments about looking for a “black bastard” to kill after his friend was raped by a black man, he probably would have told a few Taken jokes and moved on. Instead, during a “Between the Scenes” Q&A session with audience members, The Daily Show host was able to share his nuanced and complex feelings about the situation.
“I think it’s really difficult, because in many ways it feels like an onslaught,” Noah said in the clip released Friday. “I can understand, for any black person out there to be like, this shit never seems to end. You think you get past the age of lynching and then there’s still blackface in 2019.”
At the same time, Noah said Neeson is only receiving so much backlash because of “how he told the story and where he told the story.” If the actor had been having a conversation with Oprah Winfrey, he posited, we all would have “seen it as a person admitting to a time in their life when they allowed their hatred and anger to fester into a racism that they’re ashamed.” He acted out the tearful reconciliation that could have been achieved in that format.
The way it did play out is that Neeson was in the middle of promoting his new revenge-fueled film when all of a sudden he recounted how, after his friend was raped, in his words, he “went up and down areas with a cosh, hoping I’d be approached by somebody—I’m ashamed to say that—and I did it for maybe a week, hoping some [making air quotes with his fingers] ‘black bastard’ would come out of a pub and have a go at me about something, you know? So that I could kill him.”
Noah said it was to be expected that the headlines would read, “Liam Neeson: ‘I walked the streets looking for a black person to kill,” which is “what he said, but not technically what he was saying.”
“And I think also, I’m going to honest, that a lot of people take this story a little more seriously because it’s Liam Neeson,” he added. “Because people see him as the Taken guy.” If Tom Hanks said the same thing, Noah joked, “we’d all be like, ‘Really, Tom Hanks?’”
From there, he gave Neeson credit for making a “powerful admission,” hoping people take away from the story that “if you are not careful, you can have a hatred inside of you that is encouraged or grown by the society that you live in.”
“I think it was cool that he said he looked for help afterwards,” Noah said, referring to a follow-up interview in which Neeson discussed seeking advice from a priest and friends, who advised to, among others things, try “power-walking” to get rid of that “primal urge.”
“And I think it was great that he was ashamed,” the host added. “For me, that’s the world I want to live in. I want to live in a world where a person who says something like that is ashamed of it.” On the other hand, Noah said he “understands” why Neeson would deny that he’s “racist,” but wanted to stress that what he said is “racist.”
“That is racism that you have,” Noah told Neeson. “The fact that you think you can just go out and kill a black man, that you’re going to kill any black man for what a black man might have done, is a form of racism. Because you’re going, the whole race should be condemned.”
Since a lot of people are “afraid to admit that they ever had a racist thought” out of fear of being labeled “racist forever” by society, Noah said he worries there is “no value in atoning.”
Of course, Noah had to end his mini-rant with a joke, saying that as he watches Neeson make matters worse with subsequent interviews he’s thinking, “Clearly your particular set of skills doesn’t involve shutting the fuck up.”