exclusive interview – in conversation with: comedian trevor noah

May 29, 2013

Go see “Born A Crime” at The Culture Project in SOHO, now. It’s a new show by Trevor Noah—South African born comic with a unique perspective on being biracial and a kid during the apartheid–that is unabashedly funny and asks some hard-hitting questions about the boxes we allow ourselves to be put in. Noah speaks with AFROPUNK to debunk the myths about what his comedy is all about, discussing the hilarity of racist pasts to what he finds funny today.

Interview by Mark Corece* (‘Mark Corece On Some Other Ish…’)

In your show, Born A Crime, you talk about your transition from being a comedian in South African then selling out in Europe. Newsweek had a looming question: Can Trevor Noah jump from South Africa to the US? How has the proverbial jump been for you?

It’s a very different world going from South African comedy to the US, but at the end of the day comedy is comedy you just have to find the right rhythm to speak to the people; that’s what really changes, the rhythm from one city to the next. It is a jump, but it’s a jump you have to get used to if you’re traveling as a comedian.

How did you find your rhythm in New York?

I just go to as many clubs as possible. I go to as many spots as I can. I meet as many people as I can. You try to understand what makes them laugh on a small level and then you can take that into your show and try and work that in as much as possible.

I can’t think of very many people who can be critical and funny the way you are in this. You’re in the US talking about the KKK and using the N-word in a very cavalier way. Where does that part of the show come from?

I guess it comes from living in a country where we were censored for so long. We’ve only had 18 years of democracy so censorship was very big in South Africa. Now we are lucky enough to be in the fresh stage of a country where people aren’t self-censored. At lot of times you look at countries and they have freedom of speech and then over time self-censorship starts to become the new censorship. In America, for instance, a lot of people are very careful about what they have to say—almost too careful. At the same time you have people who are the total opposite, people who are completely racist or unashamed of saying the wrong thing. So I don’t think I ever intended to be a shock or anything, but I just enjoy the fact that you can say these things. You have free speech so comedy is a good platform to use it.

In your show, you talk about a lot of different things—I must say you have some funny things about Google [Laughs]—what kinds of comedy do you like to tackle other than race?

I talk about everything. Race might be the overlying theme of the show, but I try to talk about the most mundane things I can. Just things that make me laugh in the everyday world from the city I’m in to the people I meet. Stories that have happened to me to random things that pops in my mind. I don’t limit myself.

In a way that we’d ask musicians what they are listening to, in general what do you find funny? What are you laughing at now?

That a funny question [Laughs]. I love TV shows. I’m a Family Guy fan. I love The Boondocks…

[Which are coming back by the way]

…in terms of standup comedy Hannibal Burress is one of the funniest guys, he’s a friend and I laugh at him a lot. I find I laugh at everything everywhere.

What’s not funny to you?

That’s the thing I can’t say something is not funny. I can’t say these things are not funny because that’s just a blanket statement. Anything can be funny. If you don’t laugh then you don’t find it funny.

Yea, but are there things that are extremely popular and funny that you don’t connect with?

Comedy is always subjective. I can see why something is funny and if I couldn’t I think it would detract a bit from my levels of skill as a comedian. In terms of the craft of comedy, you have to be able to identify why something is funny even if you don’t think it’s funny—at least be able to narrow down that funny thing. Kind of like cooking food, you have to know what the flavors are in order to make it even if it’s not your type of dish. Just because I don’t find it funny doesn’t mean it isn’t. I know some people say that Beyoncé’ can’t sing and that she’s not a good singer and I’m just shocked when I hear that [Laughs] but everybody has their own opinion about that thing.

Thank you for mentioning Beyoncé, our hits are going to be so much higher now because of that one line [laughs].

What kind of music do you listen to?

I listen to everything…

Do you really listen to everything? I feel like that’s the thing now with everyone…

…I genuinely listen to everything right now from Daft Punk to Justin Timberlake to Jay-Z, Kanye West. I have rock songs I even have some Taylor Swift.

What do you want people to walk away with after seeing your show?

I hope they walk away smiling. That’s all. That’s the main thing. My number one fear is that I will waste people’s time. I never want to waste people’s time whether it’s in a conversation or at my show. I just know I don’t want to waste people’s time. We’ve all done things where we just go: that was as waste of my time. I want people to go wow I’m really glad I spent time with that guy. That was really cool.

** “Born A Crime” will run at The Culture Project at 45 Bleecker Street through June 29th. Tickets available here. **

* Mark Corece is a radio personality for WWRL 1600, where he’s a cultural critic on politics and pop culture. He works in visual media and he’s also a contributing author and co-editor of “For Colored Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Still Not Enough.”
– Photo by Gavin Kleinshmidt