Police brutality. Terrorism. Ebola. Trevor Noah’s standup is cheerful, almost blithe, considering the comedic territory he often frequents. In his latest special, Lost in Translation, Noah recounts several police shootings of unarmed black men as lessons on how to avoid getting shot himself: Don’t wear a hoodie; don’t approach police; don’t run away from police; don’t be a big black guy. Noah hones in on the absurdity of these tragedies. The result is commentary that’s biting as well as telling.
“Even in my saddest moments, I use comedy. That’s the tool I use to process information,” Noah told Isthmus while on tour in Australia. “I’m curious about why people think the way they do. How people manage to completely throw logic aside and commit themselves to a view that they have.”
The host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show brings his international comedy tour to the Orpheum on Sept. 10. He grew up in South Africa — where his biracial family was illegal under the apartheid government. He developed his comedy chops performing in several of South Africa’s 11 official languages. After conquering the scene on his home continent, the 32-year-old is well on his well to establishing a global fan base.
During his long reign at the late-night satire show, Jon Stewart’s outrage at realpolitik was evident (and a reliable source of hilarity). Now that Noah helms the news desk, he says the show’s approach has shifted: “I’m a lot more conversational in the way I approach a topic.”
Noah says Stewart had become frustrated after 16 years of seeing things get worse. “[Stewart] said to me, ‘You’re not angry, and you should enjoy that. Rather, let your true emotions guide you as you’re commenting on what’s happening. Because if you come at it artificially and try to occupy a space of anger, where do you evolve from there?’”
The Daily Show was on a brief hiatus while Noah toured overseas. New episodes started this week, but nearly every weekend up until Election Day Noah will be doing comedy around the country.
“This is where I was plucked from,” says Noah on doing standup. “It keeps me connected with my art form. And it keeps me connected to the conversation I’m trying to have with people out there.”
He isn’t telling jokes about the African National Congress or South African President Jacob Zuma much anymore. But Noah says the humor he finds in politics transcends borders and culture.
“Comedy is comedy wherever you go,” says Noah. “It’s like watching another TV show. You just have to figure out who the characters are. A lot of the time, the themes they are playing with are exactly the same everywhere.”