REVIEW | Trevor Noah's latest stand-up draws few chuckles, but his performance and delivery remain unmatched

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Trevor Noah: I Wish You Would. Trevor Noah in Toronto.
Trevor Noah: I Wish You Would. Trevor Noah in Toronto.
Photo: Matt Wilson/Netflix

Emmy-winning comedian Trevor Noah talks about learning German, speaking ill of the dead, judging people in horror movies and ordering Indian food in Scotland.

Trevor Noah launched his way to worldwide fame, with the Daily Show being the major catapult. But the Noah-hosted Daily Show era is coming to a close, with his last appearance scheduled for 8 December, according to a Daily Show press release. During this transitional phase, Noah and Netflix have released a one-hour comedy special filmed in Toronto, Canada. Trevor Noah: I Wish You Would is Noah's third special with Netflix and was released on 22 November. There are some laugh-out-loud moments in this special, but most South African fans will know that this is not him at the height of his powers.

Noah is slightly outside his jurisdiction, performing for Canadian audiences in I Wish You Would. South Africa and the United States of America are the two countries he is most familiar with for writing comedy. However, Noah's brand of comedy is cross-cultural, and he can comfortably write material that lands with international crowds. All the bits in this special, except for one, are designed for international audiences, which also helps give the special a broader appeal. Among other things, Noah jokes about schadenfreude, the Queen's death, the pandemic, Indian food and Justin Trudeau (in a bit tailored for the Canadian crowd).

All the bits, which are connected by incredibly smooth segues, are funny, even if the observations feel shallow at times. Noah also opens the special with a recycled but reliable gag about learning German. He performed the joke at the Hammersmith Apollo in the United Kingdom years ago but altered the setup and segue for this special.

Noah's musings on the pandemic elicit a few chuckles, but he is not sharing any thought-provoking revelations. But it will be challenging to find a fresh comedy angle when covering a topic that has affected the whole world for several years. His bit about the Queen's death also feels toothless. It is interesting to hear his perspective on the matter, and he attacks the touchy subject with minimal filter. However, it is like he is echoing the same talking points that have been circulating on social media for quite some time. This section is funny, but it lacks freshness and bite. 

The re-occurring theme in the special is schadenfreude, which Noah describes as "[taking] great joy in the pain and suffering of others". He uses it to tie all the different gags together, which is why his segues are so seamless. It also allows Noah to be a bit edgy here and there, but he never takes it too far. He talks about the joy previously colonised countries felt when Queen Elizabeth died, which is probably the most controversial moment in the special.

Noah even finds a way to sneak schadenfreude into his final joke with an elaborate and hilarious punchline. The last bit is about Indian food, and it is one of the strongest moments in the special. It serves as a reminder that Noah does not just need punchlines to get the crowd laughing. The humour is as much in his performance. Noah employs different accents, some more dubious than others, to construct a vivid scene in a Scottish-Indian restaurant. It is pure comedic theatre, and it is pure Trevor Noah.

When Noah performs for international audiences, it feels like he is presenting a watered-down version of himself. He casts his net wide for jokes, but they lose their potency. When Noah is on his home turf, audiences want to hear Noah's specific take on local matters, no matter how many people have talked about it. With international material, it is just not the same. Countless comedians and entertainment personalities have already delved deeply into the topics presented in the special. Some other comedians even share a similar perspective to Noah.

In such a comedy landscape, Noah does not really stand out. But I Wish You Would is still a worthwhile watch because Noah's style of performance and delivery remains unmatched. Noah mastered his craft a long time ago but still finds ways to refine, adapt and improve it. That is very clear in this show. This special ranks low compared to his others, but it is bound to leave audiences wanting more.

Where to watch: Netflix

Our rating: 3/5 Stars


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