On April 8, comedian Trevor Noah, host of The Daily Show since 2015, performed at the Ithaca College Athletics and Events Center. The venue, unfortunately, left much to be desired, with its classroom-style seating arrangement for an audience of around 4,000 people—as someone who stands at 5’3”, the lack of elevated seating was an issue. I was fortunate enough to have an aisle-row seat, but many people ended up watching the large screen above the stage. Seating issues aside, the show itself was refreshingly hilarious.
As soon as Trevor Noah came onto the stage, he immediately expressed one of his first impressions of Ithaca upon arrival: that it looked like a town straight out of a horror movie, referencing the 2017 comedy horror movie Get Out. Noah then demonstrated his ability to quickly find humor in everyday occurrences by telling the audience his initial reaction to watching lacrosse for the first time. Noah, born in South Africa, got a chance to witness the IC women’s lacrosse team outside of the venue right before entering the stage. At first, he thought it looked like everyone was aggressively catching butterflies. However, eventually he pieced everything together and realized that it was in fact a sport that we play here in North America, although he incorrectly assumed that lacrosse was invented by white people, instead of being a sport originating in Native American culture. This bit of observational humor was a good start to the show, but then Noah shifted to something that he’s one of the best in the business at: political and social satire.
While some might argue that political and social satire is merely critiquing an issue without providing a solution, humor can also be a way of making sense of modern issues that are inherently farcical. During the rest of the show, Trevor Noah addressed many current societal issues and hypocrisies—all pertinent to the United States—by either recounting experiences in his life using expert impersonations and impressions or through the use of comedic metaphors.
During the show, or any type of show or public event for that matter, it can be alarming when one realizes how much of a distraction cell phones can be. Admittedly, I was a victim of this, as I missed a joke or two while taking notes on the show on my phone. Early on, Noah singled out an audience member who was on their phone. Noah explained that while he didn’t personally have a problem with it, despite IC discouraging it, he brought attention to how much of an impact a single electronic device can have in a public setting. Noah noted how first, the beholder of the device is focused on the screen rather than on the performer. Then, those seated behind the audience member with the phone are watching the device’s screen, which then causes the next group of people back to wonder what everyone is looking at in front of them. In the end, Noah observed, an entire section of the audience is captivated by one single device.
He elaborated more on the subject of how cell phones are increasingly dominating our lives by suggesting that we are devolving as a result of them. Noah provided an example of this with his term “cell phone neck.” Noah stated that because humans are spending so much time texting nowadays, with their heads and necks bent forward, we are in a way returning to the anatomical state of our very distant ancestors. Another example is present when humans accidentally drop their phones. To demonstrate our common reaction when this happens, Noah acted out a mother gorilla mistakenly dropping her baby, screeching and hopping around like our primate relatives. This enactment was actually surprisingly realistic, and further supported Noah’s point that cell phones are causing our devolution, while at the same time making the crowd roar with laughter.
Trevor Noah addressed the nativist and anti-immigrant sentiment that is present in our society today by using tacos as an example. He noted how tacos are prevalent in America today and enjoyed by a variety of people, regardless of their political beliefs. However, there is still a portion of the nation that has a bias towards Mexican immigrants. Noah found it peculiar and ironic how these people have a hatred towards Mexicans, yet have an affinity for their food. And tacos aren’t the only food that reflect the impact of immigration on the U.S. Trevor Noah made a great point that without immigrants, we wouldn’t have any spice. Instead, we’d only have potatoes.
Noah also emphasized that the anti-immigrant sentiment was not invented by Donald Trump. Noah said that hatred of immigrants was a pair of “pants America always had in its closet.” Trump, whom Noah described as simultaneously simple, hilarious, and scary, “wanted to do president but not be president.” Instead, he suggested that Trump should’ve just had a Fisher-Price president play set so he could write bills and declare war without any real consequences. Noah pointed out that we are learning about the presidency at the same time as Trump, likening him to an airline pilot who has not undergone proper training, while likening American citizens to passengers on the plane frantically scrambling for a flight handbook.
One last important issue that Noah covered was racism. As someone who grew up with apartheid, Noah claimed that he had experienced racism unlike anything the U.S. has today. With this experience, Noah made several important points. To white people, he said that they should not be afraid of saying “black,” because there’s nothing wrong with being black, much to the delight of the audience. And instead of fearing that one might come across as racist, it is more important to have conversations about racism and to address such a significant issue as opposed to ignoring it. Lastly, Noah instructed the audience to not worry about seeing color, but instead worry how to treat color, and also to treat racism with love.
What makes America unique is a comedian like Trevor Noah being able to use comedy to critique the flaws in our government, free of consequences. Having lived part of his youth under apartheid, the privilege of freedom of speech is not at all taken for granted by Noah, who is a perfect example of how comedy can be more than just a relief from everyday worries or a passion that has no real impact. Comedy can be a way of making sense of ridiculous-but-important issues that can only be understood with humor, but it can also provide a method of analyzing and comprehending relevant political and social issues by exposing the hypocrisies and stereotypes that are present in our society and culture today.
I realize that in no way does my retelling of Trevor Noah’s performance fully convey his comedic and satirical expertise. So, if you haven’t already, take the time to watch some of his material. It’s definitely worth your while.