Stand up and salute Trevor Noah

Joonji Mdyogolo. Picture: Leon Sadiki
Joonji Mdyogolo. Picture: Leon Sadiki

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 stand-up 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.

Follow Joonji Mdyogolo on Twitter @Joonji 


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