Fresh from a record-breaking season of shows at London’s Soho Theatre, South Africa’s biggest comedian Trevor Noah is bringing his show The Racist to Kent. He chatted to What’s On about his meteoric rise to fame.
In just six years, Trevor Noah has risen from never having taken the stage before to being South Africa’s biggest comedian.
Still only 29, Trevor has sold more DVDs than any other stand-up in Africa and fronted many TV shows in South Africa, including the country’s music, television and film awards.
He has hosted the South African Comedy Festival and two seasons of his own late-night talk show, Tonight with Trevor Noah.
The comic, who grew up in Soweto, was also the subject of award-winning 2013 film, Township to the Stage, which recounts the story of his astonishing career.
He is now taking on the UK with a tour of his show The Racist, which sold out a 40-date residency at London’s Solo Theatre, making him the most popular comedian to have appeared there.
He says: “I’m so delighted to be touring the UK. I’ve always had a fantastic relationship with people here because all South Africans are children of Britain.
“The influence of the English language is also immeasurable. In South Africa, we have 11 different languages, but English is unique.
“It naturally lends itself to comedy. African languages might rely for humour on alliteration or funny sounds rather than puns or sarcasm. But English has humorous tools that are just not available in any other language.” Despite his success, Trevor didn’t plan to go into stand-up comedy.
He says: “Originally, I wanted to be a traffic cop. I loved the idea of shouting into a microphone – which I did end up doing!
“But six years ago, I was out one night at a dingy bar in Johannesburg. The guys on stage were doing an open mic night. It was a horrible, horrible show. It had no structure, rhyme or reason. One of my companions said to me, ‘You should be doing this’. I’d always loved making people laugh, so he managed to convince me.
“The moment I got on stage, it just worked. People were immediately cheering me. I felt instantly at home. Stand-up is the one thing I have never been taught. It’s the one area where I intuitively knew what to do.”
Trevor has a black South African mother and a white Swiss father and says that his upbringing helped him develop a balanced approach to the racial tensions in his country.
He explains: “I’m not at all an abrasive person. Growing up in South Africa, many people on both sides had a huge amount of anger. Many black people have never learnt to trust white people in any shape or form and many young white people are getting angry about black people hating them.
“But my father was white. So when I see a white person, I don’t automatically think, ‘bad guy’. I think, ‘He looks like my dad. Maybe he’ll buy me a bike!’
“My mum is the love of my life. So I’ve lived in both worlds and I’m in touch with both worlds.”
Indeed, despite the provocative title of his new show, The Racist, he emphasises that the show is about more than just race.
He says: “It’s about identity. It asks: who are we? The issue of identity comes up repeatedly all over the world, regardless of race. In the show, I’m just playing with that.
“All I see of South Africa on the news in the UK is horrible. It looks like a war zone. Does that depress me? No, it inspires me to challenge that view.
“Simply by being here, I’m overcoming those stereotypes. You can make them think, ‘I guess I didn’t know everything about South Africa’. I’m not going to change racists through my act. But I can plant a seed in their minds, so maybe they’ll think, ‘they’re not all bad.’”
Trevor Noah will be at Margate’s Theatre Royal on Tuesday, January 28. It starts at 7.30pm and is recommended for ages 16 and over. Tickets £15. Call 01843 292795.