Trevor Noah: The Racist
Friday 11th January 2013
Trevor Noah enters the stage so quietly and without so much as a fanfare, that if you didn’t know he was the star turn, you’d think he was someone just strolling by the stage, casually stopping by to tell a few stories and jokes.
He kicks off his show by jesting with those busy buying drinks at the bar, rather than being seated ready to hear him. He follows this up with jokes with a couple of latecomers. Already with these two almost casual openers he had the audience heartily laughing away. This early on you sensed that the audience were in for a very good show.
Noah launched into a great analogy for the performer:audience relationship dynamic. Brilliantly funny and perceptive at the same time as he builds the analogy and jokes step by step right up to the climax (oh er missus) of the gag.
‘Trevor Noah: The Racist’ is a curious title for a show coming from a Black South African. He performed the show to sell out audiences at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe and the smart people with an eye for talent at Soho Theatre saw his potential and brought him down South so Londoners could see him.
There was so much to enjoy in the hour long show it’s hard to know where to start.
There’s the brilliant accents; American, Russian, Nelson Mandela’s unique sounding South African accent and Xhosa (SAfrican language he grew up speaking, which seems to revolve around the sound of 3 clicks).
I note there was not too much mickey taking of Mr Mandela. I guess Trevor would like to be allowed to return to S Africa one day!!
In any case, Mr Mandela and his supporters had nothing to fear as the mimicking was all done “in the best possible taste” as a certain, dear departed comedian used to say.
I loved hearing his take on our British weather, or rather lack of weather. (Noah obviously wasn’t in the capital during the Olympics and Paralympics).
He joked re our obedience and respect of traffic lights, which back home have little meaning to S Africans and are ignored save for curiosity!
The British obsession with un-necessarily touching the pedestrian crossing button also exercised him and in a very Michael McIntyrish way he proceeded to poke fun at our foibles. Hilarious and spot on.
The ‘N’ word
Getting to the heart of the show’s main theme, he addressed racism and how, for starters, the word nigga means nothing to him. When he hears the word he automatically is thinking, “give it to me” which is what it means in his native Xhosa (pronounced tossa) language.
Secondly, it’s just a word. If a racist really wants to get to him, after all he’s lived through in apartheid S Africa, such as race related murders, having to run for his life, to be called a mere word means nothing. In his world, that’s known as weak racism.
I note he failed to make a joke of the name of his birth language. Perhaps no-one’s yet told him what it means in England.
He touched on last year’s John Terry race scandal and was very certain in his view that the Chelsea FC captain John Terry was racist. No ambiguity. John Terry was angry with QPR’s Anton Ferdinand and in that moment of anger uttered the N word. People get angry everyday, for instance by late or cancelled trains, but don’t then go on to exclaim “Oh Nigga”!! In other words, frustration doesn’t make you racist.
Sting in the tale
Curiously his manner of story telling is very like Sting’s. The voice, the diction. The very crisp, precise, educational and storytelling style. He didn’t sing. Maybe just as well as that might have ruined my analogy!
Trevor Noah comes across as very down to earth, warm and intelligent. He’s a refreshing breath of fresh air to the comedy scene with his thoughtful brand of observational comedy. There’s no sex (well not in a way that would cause a Nun to blush). No profanity. Not in terms of profane language anyway.
Is Trevor Noah racist?
No. What he’s done through this show is shine a light on real versus fake racism. Words versus actions. Real talk versus euphemism. Whether society is racist. The show encourages you to reflect on whether we live in a racist culture and by default almost are naturally or inadvertently racist? For instance why is the word urban used almost inter-changeably with Black as if they’re the same? Urban comedy. Urban music. Urban culture.
Urban, Noah said, means built up and modern, yet that’s not a description of high density conurbations populated by Black people. I think he’s half right. The ‘Black’ areas of London such as Brixton, Brent, Hackney and Tottenham are heavily built up, but not necessarily the most modern areas of the capital.
Top breakthrough act
This was a terrific show from South Africa’s number one comedian. In the words of Sting, a great many people consider “Every little thing he does is magic.”
Proof of that is in the ticket sales. He sold out his entire 8 week residency. Tickets were like gold dust to get hold of. Astonishingly for a newcomer to Britain, Trevor Noah has smashed the all time box office records at Soho Theatre to become their biggest selling comedy show ever.
He’ll be bouncing back to the USA where he’s based with a Michael McIntyrish bounce and spring in his step I’m sure. I look forward to seeing Trevor Noah again, as I’m sure do many others who’ve seen him or missed the opportunity to see him.
© Tiemo Talk of the Town
15th January 2013
Trevor Noah will almost certainly be a nominee and strong contender for ‘Best International Comedian’ and ‘Best African Comedian’ at Tiemo’s Black Comedy Awards 2013. Read this Blog and the brand new Tiemo site when it is launched in the Spring for further information on the nominations and voting process.