Culture Culture on the Run

Trevor Noah at the Gotham Comedy Club

Despite someone vomiting on my foot during Trevor Noah’s final show in NYC for this summer leg of his tour, Sunday night’s performance was a good one.

For Argentinian fans it was a chance to forget about the defeat; for German ones it was the perfect way to end a beautiful victory. For the South African comedian, it provided another opportunity to cement his growing support base in the country.

Noah’s performed a few times here before. Last year, he had a stint at the Culture Club, and he’s played venues Upstate too. This time, he had a three-night weekend residency at the Gotham Comedy Club near the sadly now-defunct Chelsea Hotel. Noah is no longer brand new; he is now onto the stage where he has to repeatedly display he can hold his own, show after show.

And so far, he has, all while steadily building up a solid base in the US – as he has in other parts of the world too, through live shows, the festival circuit and recorded performances at the likes of London’s famed Hammersmith Apollo Theatre.

But it’s here in the US that it seems he really is onto something worth watching, as he moves from performing on late night TV to working with Will Smith’s production company on a new series, while winning over the support of fellow American comedians at the same time.

During Sunday’s show, in playing up the differences between soccer and football, and playing on the similarities between players and babies, Noah had people in the crowd standing up with laughter – the kind of conviction that signals utter and complete agreement with the scenarios he was describing. It wasn’t just riffing off the topical issue at hand that won the crowd over; his New York experiences, something he drew a lot on during his previous times here, had fans nodding ferociously too.

I’ve seen Noah perform in South Africa many times, and have been following his US progress with great interest – not just as a journalist who reports on his moves (and was once stuck on a tropical island with him), but as a comedy fan, who, at times, is a little homesick for some South African humour.

This is the reason Noah appears to be on the right track. He knows how to translate the very particular brand of South African humour to an American audience. This has been noted before, but it was during his final joke on Sunday night that the significance of this truly became clear to me. He was doing a bit about the “N”-word. I’ve heard many a joke done about this word – no doubt we all have. But Noah brings a sensibility to it that resonated differently but still had people in the audience keeling over. I won’t ruin it for those who still have to hear the joke but it’s something similar he does with other scenarios that makes those in the audience, from East London or Joburg giggle and guffaw just as much as those from Staten Island and Bed-Stuy.

In an interview with NPR, Noah once said, “I’m not a South African comedian. I’m a comedian that’s from South Africa.” If he continues to do be exactly this, and the positive word of mouth continues to spread, he really is set to become the country’s – and indeed the continent’s – great international comedy breakthrough, and not just someone who’s talked about in a flash of hype.

In the meantime, I’ll still keep going to his shows when he’s here in New York – although my shoes would prefer it without the risk of being thrown up on.

Keep up with Trevor Noah’s antics here

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