Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Trevor Noah, Smart, Funny, Humble in Born a Crime

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When Jon Stewart left The Daily Show many of us wondered how we'd go on. Ironically, what began as a fake news program actually became one of the few places where people could get the real news. Yes, it was dressed up for comedy but it was still the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

I've read that when Trevor Noah took over the show he received an unprecedented amount of hate mail. At the time I was shocked. Now of course, since the election, nothing could shock me. What has pleasantly surprised me is how much I've come to appreciate Mr. Noah and the whole tenor of the show he fronts. We should have trusted Jon to choose wisely and in Mr. Noah he has a worthy successor.

What I didn't expect was that Noah would also be such a beautiful writer and a deep thinker. Just look at this editorial piece he wrote for the New York Times last week. 

"Born a Crime, Stories From an African Childhood," is so much more than a series of funny vignettes, it's a primer on the history of South Africa, how apartheid was established, and why it was able to work. Each chapter starts with a short lesson in evil, beginning with the establishment of the Immorality Act of 1927 which outlawed the sexual mingling of Europeans and native peoples. Since Noah's father was German and his mother a black South African of the Xhosa tribe, his birth was literally a crime punishable by five years in prison for each parent.

Noah explains how complicated the separation of the races was when he was growing up, how his black grandmother had to hide him in her home when he came to Soweto to visit because a child of mixed race could be snatched off the streets by the police and sent to an orphanage or worse. If his father and he were walking down the street and a cop came along, he would have to drop back and appear to be on his own.

 In school mixed race kids were an anomaly, fitting in with neither black or white. A lonely child, Trevor - it's hard to believe - claims he was chubby, had terrible acne, and few friends. I've read many memoirs by comedians and I find that this theme of alienation is a thread that runs through them all. Only by being funny could he be accepted by all sides.

The poverty he describes in South Africa cannot even be imagined by western standards. The lengths that Noah and his remarkable mother went to in order to survive, to eat, to get an education, and to succeed, are daunting.
But what Trevor Noah lacked in material things was more than made up for with love. In fact, this book is actually a paean to his mother and her single minded will to raise a man of integrity and honor. She practiced tough love but she also shared a huge sense of adventure, a vivid imagination, a love of books, and deep pride.

I hope, because Noah is young, hip, and followed all over the world, that his book will reach a wide audience of young people uneducated in the horrors of apartheid, that it will open their eyes to what can happen right here, right now if we aren't diligent in fighting bigotry whenever and wherever it raises its ugly head. Our world is currently in a very fragile place. I worry that with just a little more pressure we could reach a tipping point from which we may not be able to return. What's the old saying? Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.


Mij said...

Nice to see your review of Trevor Noah's book.

After the election, the first thing I did was to sign up for cable TV, which my husband and I had put aside some years ago, and then set up recording The Daily Show and also Late Night with Stephen Colbert. I watch them in the mornings with my morning tea. It's the only way I am going to get through the next 4 years.

Sallyb said...

I hear you. It's amazing, isn't it? I don't have cable either but watch the shows the next day on the internet. So my news is a few days late but it works. It keeps me sane. Tonight, as I'm sure you know, Trevor is interviewing the president!