Trevor Noah: Comic about growing up in Soweto, settling in Scotland, and why he went to jail with his mother


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About Brian Beacom

What’s up with the notion that the darker the experience of life, the more expanded and illuminated the comedy mind can be? Has Trevor Noah, like comedy greats like Billy Connolly, Richard Pryor and Spike Milligan, been ‘blessed’ by an early life of suffering and anguish? In the South African township of Soweto – a world of burning tires and burned-out dreams – are his experiences growing up one of the reasons why he’s filling SEC Hydro so fast?

Hosting the American late-night talk show The Daily Show, Noah is one of America’s most successful stand-ups, and his popularity – and influence – is such that Time magazine called him one of the world’s 100 most influential people.

And if you accept the theory of comedy darkness, Noah had the perfect beginning to learn to think beyond the box of life.

His Born a Crime autobiography (which is actually being turned into a film) is no slouch. The first gig for Noah was just that. In 1984, under the apartheid regime, the son of a black secretary and a white, German-Swiss, interracial sex was illegal. And his mother had to dress up to visit his father as a maid. In so doing, she was captured and imprisoned often. His mother was sentenced to a lengthy jail term, and young Trevor was presented with life in an orphanage. “It was a constant hide-and-seek game when the police showed up. Many blacks worked as informants with the police. ”

The boy was cared for by his grandmother during his mother’s prison stints. He was forbidden to call him Daddy on the few occasions that young Trevor met his father. That would have been too much of a chance.

“As if that experience was not dark enough, his father disappeared from the scene and his mother raised the little boy in the crime-ridden township of Johannesburg. “I was her way of sitting in the front of the bus; that was her form of protest,” he wrote. “I was her way of sitting in the front of the bus.

Poverty was omnipresent. Then his mother married a mechanic who beat her and her son and drank her earnings away. Later, Noah’s mother left her husband and remarried, but then the mechanic returned and shot her in the head.

Fortunately, both mother and son survived the ordeal. Today, Noah admits that the stoicism and inventiveness he had to develop influenced his success in part.

“Noah reveals that Billy Connolly was his guide to achieving comedy greatness. “Billy actually came to one of my shows when I first started in New York. He’s been fantastic. He told me, “You’ve got a crazy life.” You’ve got plenty of stories. I want you to talk about the great experiences you have had and appreciate the process. And don’t be concerned about the end. Say them, just. Just make humans laugh.

“With the voice of a conqueror, he tells his life stories. “I don’t think I will ever stop thinking of myself as a South African,” he quietly reflects. “I’ve only been living in America for five years, and I’m very glad I haven’t forgotten what defines me.

“I work with South Africans. I have South African friends here. They can be relocated, but they remain imprinted. I can’t see life through the lens of a South African.”

He continues, “I keep going back home. I have a home there. My family is there. And that has influenced what I create, what I think about and how I perceive the world around me.”

Noah gives an example, “Where I come from, there are a lot of leaders like Donald Trump. When I realized that, I started to understand that my point of view is what will always shape the [Tonight] Show. I don’t have the same point of view as other late-night hosts because I don’t come from the same world.”

Noah makes neat social/political insights. ‘Trump’s ambassador to the EU got involved with a country that’s not in the EU? That is not a jurisdiction of his. That will be like Santa doing the work of the Tooth Fairy.’

And how about, “It’s 2020, nobody on the phone is talking.” Wishing your grandma a happy birthday or committing crimes is the only excuse to chat on the phone.’

But while he may poke fun at the giant target that is President Trump, Noah has learned to be careful, too. He’s definitely learned that flooding social media with gags is dangerous. The comedian faced bricks in 2012 after he wrote, “I watch Olympic women’s field hockey. It’s like lesbian porn. Without the porn.’ He faced a


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