By Dawn Watson
There’s much, much more to Trevor Noah than meets the eye.
Though the comic is best known for hosting the Emmy and Peabody Award-winning “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah,” he’s got ample reserves of talent to in store beyond that. Recently nominated for his very own first-ever Emmy Award — for Best Short Form Variety Series for “The Daily Show: Between the Scenes,” the “Daily Show’s” online program — the South African-born television host is also a standup comedian, author, role model and survivor of abuse.
Noah laid his story to bear, and showed considerable mettle, with his New York Times-bestselling autobiography “Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood.” With that book, the Writers Guild Award and NAACP Image Award nominee proved that he’s a whole lot more than just another funny face.
The book, serious and hilarious in equal measure, portends some of the more significant themes that the charismatic funny man is bound to touch on when he takes the stage at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center on Saturday July 22, during his “You Laugh But it’s True” show. From growing up as a mixed-race child in South Africa during Apartheid and learning how to navigate different cultures, all the while “trying to survive the life and death pitfalls of dating in high school,” to eating caterpillars to keep from starving, being thrown from a moving car, and learning of his mother getting shot in the head by his former stepfather, he’s got some fascinating material to work with.
Adding to that is what he does so well at his day job. Pointing the spotlight at life’s little absurdities and bigger-picture problems, Noah’s quick wit and storytelling ability serve him well. And then of course are the politics. During his adult-themed show, the comedian will most assuredly take precisely pointed aim at the chaos surrounding America’s 45th President and those who support him.
“In America, you take the crazy politicians seriously,” he said during a televised interview with fellow late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel recently. “In South Africa, we’re like ‘that guy’s crazy, we’ll vote for him anyway.’ In America, you’re like, ‘that guy seems pretty serious. We should build a wall.’”
What sets Noah apart as a comedian is a deep insight, gifted intellect and survival skills that he began honing as a young child — being able to bridge deep cultural gaps by identifying with and understanding his audience — which bring considerable wisdom along the ride with the laughs he provokes. For example, at a young age, he learned how to speak the dialectics and tongues of warring indigenous South African Zulu and Xhosa natives, among others, while also the learning English and language of the transplanted white Afrikaners who ruled Africa at the time. The reason: to be able to cross cultural barriers and fit in wherever life might take him, and also not to get the crap beaten out of him if he ended up in front of the wrong guys.
“Language brings with it an identity and a culture, or at least the perception of it. A shared language says, ‘we’re the same.’ A language barrier says, ‘we’re different,’” he writes in “Born a Crime.” “The great thing about language is that you can just as easily use it to do the opposite: convince people that they are the same.”
“Racism teaches us that we are different because of the color of our skin. But because racism is stupid, it’s easily tricked,” he continues. “If you’re racist and you meet someone who doesn’t look like you, the fact that he cant speak like you reinforces your racist perceptions: He’s different, less intelligent. A brilliant scientist can come over the border from Mexico to live in America but if he speaks in broken English, people say, ‘Eh, I don’t trust this guy.’”
“But he’s a scientist.”
“In Mexican science, maybe. I don’t trust him,” he writes as example.
“However, if the person who doesn’t look like you speaks like you, your brain short circuits because your racism program has none of those instructions in the code. ‘Wait, wait,’ your mind says, ‘the racism code says if he doesn’t look like me he isn’t like me, but the language code says if he speaks like me, he … is like me?’”
“Something is off here. I can’t figure this out.”
The Trevor Noah show at the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center on Saturday, July 22, at 8 p.m. has been sold out. Tickets are still available for his shows on August 18 at Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan and August 19 at The Paramount in Huntington, New York. Visit trevornoah.com to learn more.