Trevor Noah Goes Beyond Politics at The Arlington


Addison Morris

UCSB’s Arts & Lectures program hosted An Evening of Stand-up with Trevor Noah at Arlington Theater on Friday night. It was a sold out performance that, due to overwhelming demand, required a raffle to award student tickets in Oct. 2017.  

Noah went back to his roots with this performance. Noah’s roots, of course, are in South Africa. There, he rose to fame as a stand-up comedian before taking over for Jon Stewart as anchor of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show in 2015.

Now, in support of his memoir, Born a Crime, he is back performing weekend stand-up shows between his Monday-Thursday tapings of The Daily Show.

Fans who only knew Noah from The Daily Show may have been surprised to find how much of his comedy is not political.

Noah largely drew on life experiences, particularly his move from South Africa to the United States. One laugh-inducing anecdote described Noah’s decision to move to America; a white American friend offered to accompany him to the U.S., but Noah knew he’d have to make a separate trip because he “wasn’t going to leave Africa with a white man—[he’d] read history books.”

Noah was not too shy to jibe at Americans, whom he jeered for loving food-trucks, tacos, TripAdvisor, and their oddly-named garments, “wife-beaters.”

He elaborated on differences between the English language and “American” language when describing his first experience going to a food-truck in the United States. The worker asked if he wanted a napkin, which is what they call diapers in South Africa, whereupon Noah pledged he would not try anymore fare from food-trucks.

Yet another comical snippet detailed Noah’s recent trip to Bali. He recounted the story of how his white counterparts in a local tour were awed by the abject poverty. Meanwhile, Noah felt uncomfortable, as if one poor man was telling him with his eyes, “What are you doing here? … This is for [the white tourists]—they’ve never experienced this.”

Noah was undoubtedly aware of the liberal leanings of the Santa Barbara crowd; he flashed his trademark dimpled smile as he good-naturedly mocked Donald Trump, just as the audience had anticipated. Noah called Trump out for wanting “to be president, but not do president;” he elaborated that Trump just wants to be “the Queen—the Queen of America.”

Moving into introducing his autobiography, Noah admitted, he grew up “in a mixed family,” and then wittily clarified, “in that [he] was the mixed member.” He touched on his difficult childhood, praising his mother—and her humor—for helping him through it.

When called a racist name, his mother told him to “take that racism, shake it up with the love of Jesus, and send it back.” With that advice in mind, the audience then heard a humorous story about how Noah replied happily, even smiling and thumbing-up, to a white driver who called him a derogatory name; the man was so shocked he nearly crashed and died, according to Noah.

The son of a white Swiss man and black South African woman in Apartheid Cape Town, Noah’s very existence was a punishable offense, and the derivation of his book’s title, Born a Crime. His unique experience allows him to speak as an authority—satirizing and mocking, yes, but also educating—on the subject of racism.

As an immigrant himself, he has a particular insight into Americans’ xenophobia and fear of immigrants, especially Mexicans. One highly-applauded ending statement of a segment demanded that Americans not eat the food of immigrants they want to keep out—meaning that if Americans want to build a wall, they’ll have to give up their precious tacos.

Employing a deft, light touch to discuss controversial subjects, Noah delivered a humorous and thought-provoking show. During the performance, the immediate hilarity of his jokes hit first, but the stimulating messages lingered long after the laughter and applause subsided.

The audience clearly relished the performance, giving Noah a hearty standing ovation. Noah did his job well; as host of The Daily Show, Noah has made use of visual gags, a deep research team, archive footage, and the polished production of a team of writers, correspondents, editors, and producers. On Friday night, in contrast, Noah reminded the Arlington audience that he can entertain and educate with just a simple spotlight and microphone.