What's so funny? Growing up mixed race in South Africa was a bit of a hoot – at least if Trevor Noah is to be believed. Noah, now resident in the States, has been brought to the fringe by Eddie Izzard, who is obviously a fan.
Is it easy to see why? Noah comes across as a lovely chap – and a smooth comedy operator. He's instantly and effortlessly in control of the room, and his material is insightful and entertaining, at least for most of the show.
I feel a "but" coming. The show tails off towards the end. Noah has 45 minutes of material on his upbringing, his feeling about race, and his emigration to the US, and then a tacked-on section with workaday stuff about satnav and funny foreign accents.
Let's focus on the good stuff. It's remarkable to be able to say, as Noah does, "I was born a crime." Mixed-race relationships (Noah's dad was Swiss, his mum South African) were forbidden under apartheid. In public, Noah had to pretend someone else was his mum. And, being half-white, he got called "master" (as a joke) by his own granddad.
What a wonderful system that was. It certainly confused Noah, who grew up with conflicted racial allegiances ("That's racist! – but I see what he means") and headed to the US in the hope of healing his split identity.
Does it work? It must have done – because it would be hard to seem more at ease with yourself than Noah does. He positively cruises through the show – although the material (there's an interesting section about US racial terminology) has sharp edges. There's also an enjoyable paean to the black American vernacular. Then there's the satnav shtick.
In summary: The pedestrian ending only slightly detracts from this impressive fringe debut from a classy young comic.
According to the BBC weather forecast, the peak temperature for Johannesburg over the next few days is likely to reach 29 degrees. Contrast that with highs in shivering London of a miserable three degrees Celsius, and you have to ask why anyone in their right mind hailing from that part of South Africa would choose to pitch camp over here at the grimmest time of year.
It’s a question that Trevor Noah, one of the country’s hottest exports - brought over to the Edinburgh Fringe last year by Eddie Izzard and now enjoying a sell-out run at the Soho theatre - asks impertinently straight off.
Combining boyish good-looks with an air of laid-back assurance and softly spoken thoughtfulness, he puzzles at our sunshine deficit and wonders at our staying power. “Why would anybody live here, if you had a choice? There is no sun in the UK,” he continues. “That’s why there’s no hope here!” We shouldn’t even call it the weather, he advises. “The word 'weather' implies change.”
For a moment you begin to wonder whether you’re putting up with some of the most uncomfortable seating in London (great “cabaret” ambience they’ve got here, but what a crush), only to be the butt of the joke. Then Noah, 28, warms to his main theme, racial identity, and it’s his equal, fearless frankness on the subject that makes him as health-giving as a winter break.
The son of a Xhosa mother and a Swiss father, a child of apartheid and a rare mixed-race phenomenon in the Soweto township where he grew up, Noah was, he says, “born a crime”.
This is the source of many amused recollections for him - he had to walk on the opposite side of the road to his dad, for instance, and he avoided getting hit by his grandmother because he bruised more visibly. It also makes him ideally placed to scorn our current climate of political correctness.
Racism, he mock-complains: “They don’t make it like that anymore… No dogs, no tear-gas.” He’s baffled at the way “black” has been replaced by the euphemism “urban” and hates the right-on phrase “I don‘t see colour”. We should all lighten up, he reckons.
Rare is the comic who can unite a diverse audience in laughter while making potentially divisive comments. The only pity is that his show is so short. He should come back later and play to far more people for longer. You never know, our washout weather system might even come up trumps for a change, too.
In an era and a culture that congratulates itself on its stale talent for "tolerance", it is bracing to breathe in the exhaust of a fast-talking man who is a little hard to take.
Hardly content to be tolerated and much more eager to inflame debate, Trevor Noah proves a breath of rash air.
With a white Swiss-German father and a black Xhosa mother, this South African child was born into apartheid and a fascinating preoccupation with identity. For Noah, identity is less a means of defining himself and more a topic of inquiry. For him, race identity is a myth and locus for some funny jokes.
This show is likely to produce robust discussion. It is also likely to produce robust laughter. One can hardly ask for more from comedy than this: a little transgression through a lot of laughs.
ONE night and two shows into this year's comedy festival and I'm going to call it (ridiculously) early.
Trevor Noah is a contender for a Barry nomination. Heck, Trevor Noah could win the damn thing. This comic is that good.
Like the best comics, this talented young South African has the ability to relax his audience from the moment he steps on stage, launching into a strong routine comparing comedy and sex.
It's a trust thing and we know instantly we're in capable hands.
An early technical snafu with a microphone only serves to show off Noah's impressive improvisational skills.
Routines dealing with life in Africa (Mugabe, Mandela, the novelty of escalators in Zambia) are thrillingly fresh and funny and a hoot for the Africans in the crowd.
The son of an African mother and a Swiss father, Noah's show is about growing up a child of mixed race under Apartheid in South Africa (“home to some of the best racism in the world”) and his personal experience of racism, particularly in the United States.
It's to the US he ventures in search of "acceptance", and it's in this section of the show where Noah is in his element, such is his gift for mimicry.
His impressions of African American comedians have the audience in hysterics, but there's also material featuring racist British shopkeepers, dumb white Americans, weary Australian customs officials, his mother (speaking a local Soweto clicking dialect) and, hilariously, Adolf Hitler ordering lunch at a Subway sandwich bar.
Despite dealing with issues of race and racism, Noah never goes even close to being particularly didactic or overly political; he treats the material with gentle wit and a winning grin that has the crowd in raptures.
Three words: do not miss.
Comedy review: South African born stand-up Trevor Noah tackles a potentially thorny subject matter in his new show The Racist – yet the results are surprisingly warm and funny.
We have Eddie Izzard to thank for Britain’s introduction to Trevor Noah. He produced the South African’s Edinburgh and now London dates, in a move that chimes nicely with his desire for a more international comedy scene.
Noah comes at the issue of racism from a unique perspective, in that he was ‘born a crime’, the son of a black Xhosa mother and white Swiss-German father under the apartheid regime.
This clever, tight show rests on Noah’s desire to be black American (the coolest kind of black, in his eyes), a journey of identity that leads him to make some smart, astute observations about subtle and overt racism in a country where the music industry will throw more money your way if you declare yourself black rather than mixed race, and where his ticking the ‘white’ box on a California bank form prompts some awkward reactions.
None of this comes with sharp edges: Noah is a warm and charismatic sort, whose world view is one of amused curiosity. A refreshing find and one that will no doubt find other outlets thanks to his additional gift of mimicry (he does a fine Mandela).
The Racist is going to get Eddie Izzard rave reviews – and he’s not even in it. But he has helped make it happen, bringing over to Edinburgh one of South Africa’s most exciting stand-ups as part of his vision of a more international comedy circuit.
Trevor Noah is a fascinating and funny new voice on the nature of race, thanks to his unique perspective on the world. He was born in the apartheid era to a black mum and a white Swiss father – even though such relationships were illegal at the time. The racial pecking order was so instilled in society that his own maternal grandfather called him ‘master’, even if it was tongue-in-cheek.
There are the inevitable lines about his twin heritage, but it’s true he’s inherited both the ballsy approach of his mother and the bone-dry sensibilities of his father. His best routines are not afraid to raise interesting points on contentious topics, but he tells them in a soft way, which makes them as thoughtful as they are funny.
The show is mainly about his – and other people’s – identity. He was drawn to America because that’s where the black people he wanted to be liked lived (and he does a brilliant impression of terrible Def Comedy Jam comics screeching about various ‘crazy-assed shiiiit’ observations), while many black Americans see Africa as some quasi-mythical spiritual homeland.
It’s in the States, where Noah’s strongest routines are set. Simple descriptions of people approaching him in the street are made brilliantly funny by spot-on re-enactments, while he raises valid points about the categorisations of African-American and other hyphenates – not to mention how being half-black seems to be a hell of a lot more important part of his make-up, as far as other people are concerned, than being half-white.
None of this is serious as it might sound written down; Noah’s playful with his comedy and raises this as quirky or ridiculous behaviour that ought to be laughed at, rather than pushing any great message or agenda. Nor is it all about his own race; he also messes about the Scottish, by way of icebreaker, and takes on the Japanese accent without being offensive, though this is not the strongest section, despite being his closer. Heck, he even does a gag referencing the Holocaust within the first five minutes, and even that manages not to cause consternation.
It’s all intelligent, classy and savvily-observed comedy from a warm and genuine performer – a fine way to say ‘Sawubona!’ to the Fringe. The only slight anticlimax is that he closes his long set in the American way – simply by ending a routine, saying ‘thank you Edinburgh, you’ve been great’ and leaving – as opposed to the way British festival-goers have come to expect; of having a conclusive segment that the whole hour builds towards.