Someone To Root For.

Source: Vanity Fair

Standup comedy is an interesting phenomenon. Even though people have probably always gotten up in front of groups and told jokes it didn’t really take on a form we’d recognize in the United States until the 1950’s. In coffee shops and other small venues performers got up and, instead of repeating borscht belt jokes and other worn routines, would talk. For people of color it was a terribly oppressive time but across the spectrum it was also subtly oppressive with great pressure to conform. Standup comedians acted out against that. It was part of what caused Time magazine in 1959 to dub them “sicknicks”.

It’s Trevor Noah’s birthday today. You probably know him as the current host of The Daily Show, which he took over in September 2015. I wasn’t familiar with him before that and I still don’t watch The Daily Show all that regularly but I’ve watched and listened to Noah and I think he’s hilarious. And I think there’s something very profound about his experience.

Listening to him on NPR’s Fresh Airit’s an amazing interview–I thought about how Noah, who grew up in South Africa under Apartheid, is in some ways more in touch with the spirt of the original “sicknicks”. Oppression still exists in the United States but what he grew up with was more vivid and maybe even more brutal than it was here even in the 1950’s. He left South Africa after his stepfather attempted to kill his mother in 2009. He came here as a comedian and has really taken hold here, but who he is and where he came from informs his comedy. That’s what makes him a great choice to host The Daily Show. He’s brought an international perspective to something rooted in American tradition.

7 Comments

  1. M. Firpi

    I can try to be funny but only in a visual way. If I try to be funny verbally, I just cannot do it. The skill required to do this seems to be a highly verbal one.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Being visually funny is a great talent in itself and can even translate better across cultures. Some verbal humor can transcend cultural barriers but a lot of it is also lost in translation.

      Reply
  2. Ann Koplow

    I’ve been hearing about Trevor Noah lately from people I care about, which tells me he’s an important person for me to hear. Thanks for making it easier for me, Chris (as usual).

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I’m so glad to have helped although some credit should go to Terry Gross too.

      Reply
      1. Ann Koplow

        Strangely enough, I saw Terry Gross’s car parked at WHYY in Philadelphia this past weekend.

        Reply
  3. Jay

    He’s great. I’ve seen him live and he’s always on-point.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Seeing him live must have been pretty amazing. The first time I heard him was on a podcast but watching him is great.

      Reply

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