Stand up and salute Trevor Noah

CityPress - - Voices - Joonji Mdyo­golo Fol­low on Twit­ter @joonji

I can’t say how long I’ve been be­sot­ted with Trevor Noah. Of course, ev­ery­body is a fan these days, but I want Trevor to know I loved him first: be­fore the one-man sold-out shows, be­fore The Daily Show, maybe even when he was mak­ing life hard for Lolly as a thug in Isidingo.

I owned a copy of The Day­walker, which I kindly lent to my fa­ther, who then passed away with­out re­turn­ing it. I’m just go­ing to let God han­dle that one.

I want to as­sure Trevor that my hus­band is sup­port­ive so, as in a good soapie, noth­ing can keep us apart. My man’s bought me front-row seats to Trevor’s shows, and ever since he left (me) he fre­quently sends me mes­sages on Face­book or What­sApps me about de­vel­op­ments in his ca­reer.

So as Trevor rides around New York with Jerry Se­in­feld, ca­vorts with Chrissy Teigen and John Leg­end at the Met Gala, and hangs out with Lenny Kravitz and Chris Rock on what looks like a leather couch at a lo­ca­tion I’m work­ing hard to de­ter­mine, I hope he feels me watch­ing him … I mean his ca­reer.

It’s not just him I’m de­voted to, but South African stand-up com­edy. Trevor Noah is – I’ve al­ways thought, even be­fore I started cy­ber­stalk­ing him – not just the hard­est-work­ing co­me­dian, but the smartest. Un­der­neath all the jokes he is keenly aware of the po­lit­i­cal power of com­edy: That the laugh can be might­ier than the sword. I be­lieve this and I see lo­cal stel­lar stand-ups as the sav­ing grace in our never-end­ing and un­re­solved racial de­bates, where each side would rather con­tract a form of gon­or­rhoea than up­root from their moral ground.

They say sport unites us. They should look closer. It’s at standup com­edy where the au­di­ences are mixed and venues are full, not at na­tional games when the world is watch­ing and ev­ery­body’s been prac­tis­ing the an­them.

Stand-up com­edy might just be the only place where peo­ple feel safe to let their guard down and when that hap­pens, con­nec­tions be­gin to emerge. I know be­cause I hap­pen to have a sis­ter who is as mean as she is funny and her comedic bril­liance is prob­a­bly the only thing hold­ing our re­la­tion­ship to­gether.

Com­edy is re­bel­lious. Look at Black Twit­ter, which can cut up a racist by sim­ply throw­ing shade. Black Twit­ter is more ef­fec­tive than a num­bered Twit­ter lec­ture from an in­tel­lec­tual.

The sub­ver­sive use of hu­mour has al­ways been the tool of the marginalised as an ar­ti­cle ti­tled The Un­der­ground Art of the In­sult, which ap­peared in a May is­sue of the New York Times, pointed out. An African-Amer­i­can stud­ies lec­turer who was in­ter­viewed said shade had its roots in slave cul­ture in Amer­ica: “A tech­nique that evolved to al­low African-Amer­i­cans a mea­sure of as­sertive­ness de­spite be­ing in con­stant phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal peril.”

Black and gay peo­ple still use it to­day to get one up on their abusers. It’s a sur­vival mech­a­nism some fat peo­ple use – mak­ing fun of them­selves in­side a room of big­ots and emerg­ing vic­to­ri­ous. It’s how the un­der­classes make it through the day among the clue­less and priv­i­leged.

It’s the “eyelash hover and pursed lips” side-eye shared by the cashier and plas­tic bag packer when you come to their till, Range-Rover keys rat­tling, with your inane de­mands when they’ve been on their feet for most of the day. It’s how they stay calm and keep their jobs. Hu­mour is a redeemer for vic­tims of in­jus­tice. I knew this when I came to re­spect Trevor Noah. It was dur­ing his It’s My Cul­ture show, where he told of his mother’s shoot­ing, mak­ing us laugh with­out shy­ing away from his grief.

At the core of that skit was the story of the re­cur­ring tragedy of South Africa’s vi­o­lence against women. Yet in those ex­tended min­utes he did not give the per­pe­tra­tor a men­tion and, with that, con­ferred re­spect on the sur­vivors.

He made me re­mem­ber watch­ing Richard Pryor who, in a mo­ment of comedic bril­liance, made fun of the time he got high and set him­self alight.

I sat dur­ing Trevor’s show and thought, “That boy’s a ge­nius.” At the time I fig­ured I was just a woman be­sot­ted. But look

at Trevor now.

Trevor Noah and Jon Stewart

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