Every so often, an artist appears that is a consummate creative in every sense of the word. They exhibit the kind of suaveness and Swiss Army Knife array of skills that men secretly admire and women find alluring. I’m talking about the endless list of talents that we find in great icons of the past like Leonardo da Vinci.
As Steve Martin once joked in his show, A Wild and Crazy Guy:
‘You feel so small. You go to college and you study about guys like Leonardo, who did everything. A scientist, a great painter, great architect, a designer, and you feel like an idiot…’
One of these guys, who exhibits a fluent creative energy and mastery of many arts, is Trevor Noah. This is a guy that continuously surprises fans and the world alike with his accomplishments – he’s a writer, a TV presenter, a stand up comedian, an impressionist, a polyglot, an intrepid voyageur, and a man straddling many cultures. Trevor Noah has gained a reputation for three things which I believe set him apart from many of his peers: he delivers on point stand up specials, he’s a bestselling author, and he has managed to score hosting duties on the iconic Comedy Central news satire program, The Daily Show.
Playing to His Wheel House: Stand Up Performing
Trevor Noah’s latest special, Afraid of the Dark (filmed at Beacon Theater in New York), showcases a Noah no longer trying to cut his teeth on the comedy circuit, but instead stands as a world player that exudes absolute command of his craft. Over the next hour the South African born talent confidently explores and deconstructs tropes and small-mindedness with his clever wit and insightful humor. Covering everything from the absurdity of traffic lights and his confoundedness at the strange concept of colonization, to sharing his thoughts on casting Idris Elba as James Bond.
But what really impresses is his signature chameleon-like ability to impersonate the accents of different nationalities including Jamaican, Indian, Scottish and Russian, with which he manages to transcend cultural barriers and explore perceptions and beliefs with his topical jokes.
“I love accents because I’m always impressed by how much power they have over us, over our minds. When someone speaks a certain way, it changes how we feel about that person.”
He goes on to explain that we think of people differently, even world leaders, when we hear how they speak. And the power of speech is something he recognized in both Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama’s voices – “They both had this thing. It’s because of the voice. This first black president voice.”
He also explores racism and how he connected to the black people in America, in England, and in Australia. At one point, arguably one of the best bit of his show, he impersonates a man with a Londoner accent who complains to the BBC about immigrants:
“These bloody immigrants. They come over here and get up to no good. I’ll tell you why I hate them: because they don’t even try to be British. They come here, they bring their own bloody culture, they bring their own food, speak their own bloody languages – try to take over the whole bloody place!”
To which Trevor Noah adeptly quips: “Sounds British to me.” Before changing back to a empathic tone when trying to break down and understand narrow mindsets.
“If there is one thing you will never waste your money on, its travel. Travel the world. See another place. Discover a different point of view. Travel is the antidote to ignorance.”
Growing Up in Africa Under Apartheid
Whoopi Goldberg once said in the Billy Connolly Documentary, 30 Years Erect:
“I think people forget that in order to do really great comedy you have to have that tragic streak in you…”
In his 2016 Autobiography, Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, Trevor Noah explores many of the hardships that he endured as a young boy in South Africa. Though he still maintains a comedic tone, there are many revelations offered here that give us a look at the makeup of a stand up performer. It shows us where his sense of humor is coming from. One of the greatest defining experiences of his life was growing up during Apartheid as a mixed child in a strict religious family.
During South Africa’s Apartheid, Europeans forbade white people and black people to mix. But that is just what Trevor Noah’s parents did. Their relationship broke the law according to the Immorality Acts of 1927 and 1957 which disallowed people having interracial relations.
Trevor Noah joked that his parents never really thought their decision through as his birth was essentially a criminal act.
“So they got together and they had me, which was illegal, so I was born a crime.”
Noah went on to explain that living together was impossible.
“My mother could walk with me, but if the police showed up, she would have to let go of my hand. She would drop me and had to act like I wasn’t hers.It was horrible for me. I grew up feeling like a bag of weed. It was a tough time.”
Born a Crime chronicles Trevor’s difficult childhood in Johannesburg. It includes his awkward years learning about love, bullies and segregation. But the book also explores deeper issues. Such as living with an abusive stepfather who tried to end his mother’s life. He talks about making a living in the ‘hood’ hustling and selling pirated CDs to minibus drivers. Then later, his career changed when he started in radio and hosting programs. Really taking off since he started touring with his comedy act in 2009. Eventually leading him to taking over hosting duties from the legendary Jon Stewart on The Daily Show where he adds his insight, voice, and comedic edge to news, politics, and current events.
Opening a Political Discourse Through The Daily Show
Trevor, started his comedic career in television and radio, but the young South African has always set his sights on the bigger picture. He has worked tirelessly to bring his art form to larger audiences, releasing more than 10 stand-up specials since 2009 (That’s Racist and Lost in Translation being some of his best), before eventually landing his biggest opportunity yet. In 2015 he was chosen to replace the critically acclaimed comedian and legendary social commentator, Jon Stewart, on The Daily Show. Since then, he has been talking up a storm adding his unique insight, voice, and comedic edge to news, politics, and current events. Really hitting his stride, like other comedians and hosts, when the Trump administration rolled into town.
Although the show was offered to much bigger names like Chris Rock, the network knew the possibilities and reach they could gain with his style and unique perspective. And ever since the shock announcement that he would become the new host of The Daily Show, he has consistently delivered – bringing his eagerness, confidence, and unwavering resolve to audiences across America.
“I like to think of The Daily Show as a platform and a forum where we are sharing news together, I’m not ‘giving’ you the news. I’m rather trying to provide a space where we can talk about what is in the news.”
It hasn’t always been a smooth road though, with many critics taking aim (fairly and unfairly) at both the appointment and the show’s format since. However, with time he has proven to be a real force to be reckoned with. When you get past all the celebrity appearances and sharp wit, you get a sure-footed man who is deeply interested in discussing the finer points that revolve around culture, race, and deeper societal issues that affect America and the world as a whole. Much like his predecessor Trevor is fast gaining popularity and becoming people’s go-to voice about the issues plaguing us today.
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