Mrs Chrisparkle and I are always keen to see new comedians, so when they announced that Trevor Noah would appear at the Royal and Derngate, I had to do some Googling to work out whether we should book. I discovered that he was South African but had also been “big in America”, which is an interesting combo; so although neither of us really had a clue who he was, we booked.
So, it appears, did most other African people within a ten mile radius of Northampton. “Anyone in from South Africa?” asked Mr Noah, early on in his gig. “YES!” came a massive cheer of about 50% of the audience. He seemed surprised and delighted; and then ribbed them all for staying in a country where the climate is so appalling. About 15 minutes later, he spoke about taking his act round some other countries in Africa: Namibia – he liked; Botswana – he liked; Zimbabwe – he skipped. “AAAAAHHH!” sighed another huge proportion of the audience. “What?” he exclaimed, “are you all from Zimbabwe?” “YES!!” came another massive cheer. Mrs C and I felt quite outnumbered, never having been further south in Africa than Abu Simbel. So Mr Noah definitely got a “home crowd” vibe on what was, we discovered, the last night of his UK tour.
He’s a very funny, engaging guy who instantly put us all at ease within a few seconds of his unassumingly modest arrival on stage. He’s quite laid back – but not too much; uses (comparatively) very clean language which always makes me think the comic has thought harder and more creatively about the linguistic delights of what he’s going to say; and he also does a great range of comic voices, not only across the African spectrum but also from around Britain, and it’s very funny to hear British accents done by an African. He connects really well with the audience (although I wouldn’t have been surprised if half of them knew him personally anyway after those cheers) and he’s completely happy to go off and exhaust any tangent that the audience takes him, before cunningly returning to his set material.
Not only does he have a very warm style of delivery, he’s also got some very inventive and revealing material. He is great at highlighting the cultural differences between South Africa and the UK, and also with America and other places. For example, he gets lots of humour from pointing out how we’re happy when it rains in winter because at least it’s not so cold; how we’re very reserved and careful with how we interact with children, but in South Africa, basically anyone can give them a good smack “as a sign of kindness”; and how an African audience will laugh riotously at him, whereas a British audience will say to themselves, “oh yes that is very clever and funny” and titter inwardly and smugly. Just as he was making that observation on stage, I was doing precisely that same inward appreciation in Row C. He has some excellent material about contrasting crime in South Africa with crime in the UK (i.e. ours is very cute and theirs is very scary), which involves him unnecessarily going down dark alleyways in the UK simply because he can.
He also has some fascinating and touching material about race and skin colour; whilst his mother is black South African, his father is white German Swiss, and he shares lots of emotionally charged reminiscences of growing up in Soweto under apartheid. Having a relatively light skin colour, he definitely wasn’t considered white but wasn’t really black either. One of the reasons he decided to live in America for two years was so that he could finally discover what it was like to be black. This takes us into some very funny and moving material about race and identity – including how the locals burst his idealistic balloon (figuratively speaking).
Among his most entertaining sequences was the story of his trip to Zambia and how his host said it was very important that he should not be gay in Zambia, as it is illegal – which then makes him go off on a flight of fancy about how the Zambian police might cope with the enforcement of their anti-gay laws. It’s a really funny and not remotely homophobic routine, pointing out the ridiculousness of their law. And I also really enjoyed his routine speculating about the case of Shrien Dewani, who is alleged to have arranged the murder of his wife whilst honeymooning in South Africa. It felt slightly wrong to laugh about a case that is actually taking place at the moment, but his material was so clever and so insightful that you couldn’t help but love it.
A naturally funny man with excellent material, with a most entertaining emphasis on looking at culture clashes between the nations. Despite the name of his show, whilst race plays a major part in his material, he’s definitely not racist. He went down hugely well in the theatre, and Mrs C and I went home feeling that we’d enjoyed a comedy night from a uniquely fascinating angle. If you saw him on tour, you’ll know. If you missed him, damn! Let’s hope he comes back again soon.