As the host of Comedy Central’s flagship program The Daily Show, and with his bestselling 2016 autobiography Born a Crime being developed into what promises to be a Major Motion Picture (Lupita Nyong’o has been cast as his mother), South African comic Trevor Noah is one of the “35 Most Powerful People in New York Media,” according to Hollywood Reporter.
As he did the year he got the Daily Show gig (2015), Noah will host Just for Laughs galas this month, and while his material is likely to be as topical as ever, being north of the border (and seeking out his favourite hole-in-the-wall poutine place) should provide a little respite from his day job: writing comedy with his team after watching and listening to the latest spiel from Donald Trump and his band of sycophants.
Back in 2015, Trump was still a twinkle in the eye of fake news reporters everywhere. Now that the then-joke candidate is President and is waging culture war (if not actual war) on the American populace and the rest of the world by extension, Noah is bearing in mind the advice given to him by his predecessor Jon Stewart.
“He said, ‘Enjoy the fact that you’re not angry all the time because you haven’t lived through multiple cycles of politicians, the hypocrisy of politicians over and over and over again,’” Noah says. “I understand what he was saying — there’s a certain level of fatigue that can come with the job.”
Stewart left his post burnt out from 16 years of lampooning and lambasting the government and the propagandists of the USA’s right-wing media, and he’s remembered almost as much for his anger and frustration as his comedy chops. Noah, by contrast, is a more jovial and light-hearted type, even given the seriousness and darkness of current affairs. But that doesn’t mean he’s not angry.
“I can’t live in a world completely detached from my emotions,” Noah says of his response to Trump & co.’s outrageous offences. “I’ve learned to compartmentalize the information in a way that helps me understand that it’s part of what I’m doing for my job — I use it as catharsis. And actually a lot of it is not real — I know that’s a weird thing to say, but some of the (Trump administration’s actions and statements) are created to gin up an emotion in people, so you have to deal with those things the way they should be dealt with.”
A Noah/Trump interview will almost certainly never happen, but when asked what one question he would theoretically pose to Trump (with a guaranteed honest answer), Noah says, “I would ask him what he really wants to get out of the presidency. In other words, what is his dream? Is it to be loved by Americans? Is it to get the respect he’s always desired? Is it to be taken seriously as a cultural figure? What does he really want? That’s what I want to know.”
My father was born in South Africa, but my ties to the country are limited to second-hand handwringing communiqués from an elderly uncle and aunt who live behind a barbed wire fence (making them less than trustworthy sources when it comes to gaging the state of the country). I asked Noah what’s going on there, and there appear to be plenty of parallels to the American state of the union.
“SA’s going through a really interesting and tough transitional phase, like a post-honeymoon phase. We went through a period where we achieved democracy and hosted international sporting events and everything went really well, then we went through a rough patch with a government and a president who focused on enriching himself and his cronies. We really got ravaged by rampant corruption, which has crippled a lot of SA’s institutions and infrastructure and I guess the general belief that the government is there to work for the citizens.
“Now we’re in a place where we’ve got a new president building up again, but it’s also a country where no wealth was distributed — people were for so long separated from both education and any access to building any type of future for themselves because of the colour of their skin. We’re trying to figure out, how do you jumpstart and bridge the gap between people who don’t have and those who do have, building up the middle class, which is a very difficult conversation to have while it’s happening under the umbrella of race and race relations.”
Noah has often compared Trump to African dictators — leaders who assume power through dubious means, practice nepotism and line their pockets at the expense of their people, frequently with a flair for absurdist buffoonery. Things don’t often end well for these guys, and Noah believes that Trump will likely suffer the same fate.
“Over time their followers start to realize that a lot of it’s a scam,” he says. “The very same people who helped them get to power rise up against them. People may start to realize that Donald Trump’s policies benefit people who are very rich and who own corporations but don’t necessarily trickle down to the people he purports to support.” ■
The Trevor Noah galas are happening at Place des Arts’ Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier (175 Ste-Catherine W.) on Saturday, July 28, 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m., $57.27–$102.05