Looking ahead to a promising future in fake news funnies
Comedian Trevor Noah keeps Montreal crowd laughing with a (mostly) clean routine
MONTREAL— When Trevor Noah bounded onstage to host a gala at Montreal’s Just for Laughs festival on Thursday night, he called out: “Too much applause!” Even though the cheers had been rehearsed for the benefit of the television cameras that roamed through a pimped-out Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, the crowd’s enthusiasm seemed genuine — as did his own.
The South African comedian was given a rough ride when he was announced as the incoming host of The Daily Show, but now he’s enjoying a moment of Zen.
Noah, who will headline Toronto’s own JFL42 festival on Sept. 26, just two days before taking over from Jon Stewart, wasted no time ingratiating himself in Montreal. He extolled the virtues of “the sexiest border crossing in the world” and the “beautiful subway.” He proved that his comedy about being a curious outsider can resonate broadly by repurposing years-old material about learning Japanese as a bit about trying to speak French.
His opening monologue was pleasant if only occasionally (and dissonantly) edgy, as he spelled out how the Arabic language “frightens” him. He used the pronoun “we” to denote Americans, aiming to defuse the oddness of his high-profile import status.
At recent standup gigs, Noah has been taking on hot-button topics such as the death of Eric Garner; perhaps mindful of the cameras, he steered away from such fare in Montreal.
That said, in his second monologue his excoriation of South African compatriot Oscar Pistorius was masterful. Echoing the absurdist, often physical comedy of his mentor, Eddie Izzard, he acted out possible scenarios between the “blade runner” athlete and his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on the night he shot her, ridiculing Pistorius’s claims of having done so accidentally — and suggesting Noah will have a fine future ahead in skewering public figures.
Noah never referred to his upcoming hosting of The Daily Show, nor did he address previous tweeted jokes about “fat chicks” and Jewish people, which made him infamous as soon as he was famous, and for which he has since apologized.
But the other comedians on the bill had a field day with 21st-century political correctness, especially Canadian Mark Forward, who launched into a tirade against the idea of “trigger words” in comedy — “How can he make fun of psoriasis?”
And Dave Chappelle, performing earlier that night — his seventh of 10 Just for Laughs gigs this year — had a go at “fat people” because, he said, they’re the only group it’s socially acceptable to make fun of today.
Noah’s comedy, despite those errant tweets, doesn’t rely on superiority: rather, he’s an either/or, both marginalized and privileged.
It’s a hard position to navigate, especially in such a public role. As a host, Noah subverted the usual stiff introductions by deploying increasingly unbelievable variations on “he/she is the best comedian I’ve ever worked with . . .”
It remains to be seen whether he can live up to high expectations in helming The Daily Show, but he will certainly bring a very different reality to the realm of fake news.