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My mother was arrested, fined, thrown in jail, but she didn't care ; Rising comedy star Trevor Noah has used his experience of life growing up in...

November 28, 2013


My mother was arrested, fined, thrown in jail, but she didn't care ; Rising comedy star Trevor Noah has used his experience of life growing up in apartheid South Africa to inspire his new show - The Racist

The story of comedian Trevor Noah is a stark, moving account of growing up in apartheid South Africa. But Trevor is laughing in the face of adversity.

Or, at least, wanting us to, with his show, The Racist.

It's intellectual, observational humour about race and ethnicity.

Don't let that put you off.

He's hot property in his home country and fast charming the rest of the world.

"Of course, racism is part of my life, it's part of every South African's life," laughs Trevor.

"During my childhood, it was illegal for black and white people to interact and I'm from a mixed family - me being the mixed one.

"My mother was black Xhosa, born in South Africa, and my father, Swiss. They were mavericks, fighting the system. Which was awkward for me.

"My mother was arrested, fined, thrown in jail for the weekend, but she didn't care. She was crazy. She wanted a white man.

"Consequently, I was born a crime... which is something they didn't think through. We couldn't be seen together, we couldn't be a family.

"My father would have to walk on the other side of the road and wave from afar.

"If the police showed up, my mother would let go of my hand and deny I was hers. It was a game we'd play. It was tough."

It affected Trevor in a big way, he says. "We discussed it, when I became an adult. Mum said she just put her head down and lived life - she didn't give a damn about it."

That rebellion is something Trevor has adopted. Not that he's an extremist. It was the sense of humour about it all that did him some good, he says. "There was one time in town," he said, "a policeman on a horse was hitting a black person in the street and my grandfather, who was so entrenched in apartheid, took it upon himself to tell this policeman a joke. A horrid, stupid joke, but a joke all the same. The policeman stopped, listened, laughed and rode off.

"Fortunately, he picked the right copper. It could have been a hanging jury rather than a laughing one. That illustrated to me the power of laughter."

Trevor didn't know what comedy was as a boy. Stand-up didn't really exist in South Africa until 1994 and there was no way a black person would be allowed the freedom to do it.

"The first time I saw anything remotely stand-up, I was 21 and it was just these random guys in a bar.

"I was fascinated," he says. "I couldn't understand how they made people laugh - when it was planned. I thought that was impossible."

Friends had been telling Trevor for a long time he was funny but it wasn't until his cousin got into a fight at the pub, goading some comedian about how much better Trevor was, that his moment came.

"The next thing, I was up on stage," said Trevor.

"I didn't know what I was going to say but felt at home straight away. That's how I've done it since. I've never understood anything about technique. My style's very loose. "I listened and learned from people like Carl Barron, Dave Chappelle and Eddie Izzard."

Modest he may be, but Trevor's rise to stardom has been meteoric. Not just on the comedy circuit but in television, as an actor and presenter, and on the radio, too.

In South Africa, he's something of a celebrity.

"It happened so gradually, it really doesn't feel that way," he explains. "It was probably a period of seven years, it was no overnight success. People got to know me slowly - less celebrity, more familiarity.

"Celebrity is the enemy of comedy. When people are looking at you, you're no longer in a position to look at them - you've become the spectacle, as opposed to the spectator," he says. "I want to be the one in the hoodie while the chaos is going on. I don't understand that hunger for fame."

Perhaps it doesn't help Trevor was on the South African Strictly Come Dancing and the front cover of The Rolling Stone magazine this year.

"Why did I do that?" he pauses. "Strictly was ridiculously hard work. I wouldn't do it again.

"But the mag, well, comedy is the new rock 'n' roll." Trevor's pretty pleased to have met his best British buddy, Eddie Izzard.

Since their friendship blossomed, Trevor has enjoyed a record- breaking season of shows at London's Soho Theatre and a sell-out season at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2012.

His success is not Eddie's doing, by any means.

However, the mutual respect was evident when Eddie introduced Trevor on Live At The Apollo, describing him as "annoyingly good - the highest complement another performer can give".

"My show is different everywhere I go," says Trevor. "That does mean a lot of work though.

"The UK is very intellectual when it comes to stand-up, they're high-brow - they want more than just a laugh."

Trevor's appearance on QI proved he's got what it takes.

Sandi Toxvig and Stephen Fry were salivating over his Xhosa clicking - Trevor's native tongue.

So to his UK tour. He does know there's more to our kingdom than London and Edinburgh, but it's no surprise, he's never been to Leicester.

"Everything I know about any city, I judge by their football fans. Leicester City fans aren't so bad. It's multi-cultural? I love that vibe. It will be fun."

info TREVOR Noah - The Racist, is on at The Y Theatre, Leicester on Saturday. Tickets on 0116 255 7066.

"The UK is very intellectual when it comes to stand-up - they want more than just a laugh" Trevor Noah

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