By NORIMITSU ONISHI and DAVE ITZKOFF APRIL 2, 2015Huh?
JOHANNESBURG — Years before he was chosen to succeed Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show,” before he made his debut on that Comedy Central news satire or appeared on any American television program, a rising stand-up named Trevor Noah explained why his racial background was both empowering and confining.
Speaking from his native South Africa in 2008, Mr. Noah, the son of a black Xhosa mother and a white Swiss father, said that his countrymen had variously accepted and rejected him as being black, and embraced and denied him as being mixed race.
Though his comedic sensibilities are largely unknown in the United States, they have been fundamentally shaped by South Africa’s legacy of apartheid, his challenging upbringing in that still-developing democratic nation and by a racial identity that is no more easily categorized in his home country than in the one where he is about to become a television star. …
Few if any topics seem too delicate for him to make fun of – for better or worse, as illustrated by a controversy this week over some questionable jokes he made on Twitter about women and Jews.
But, like the man he will follow at “The Daily Show,” when Mr. Noah is told a subject is off limits, he seems to want to go right for it.
In an interview over the weekend, before his “Daily Show” appointment was announced, Mr. Noah spoke of being part of “a new young generation of comedians of color, in a space where our parents didn’t have a voice that was recognized.”Noah was six when Nelson Mandela was released as part of a deal junking apartheid, and ten when Mandela was elected.
He added, “Comedy plays an important role in us weathering the scars of apartheid.” …
His jokes may spring from brutal circumstances, but they are told with an air of straightforward ease, by a performer who is mindful but not resentful of the past. …
Born here in 1984, Mr. Noah grew up in the final years of apartheid, when South Africa’s white-minority government became an international pariah, backed by a dwindling number of allies, particularly Israel, its longtime economic partner and arms supplier. To this day, as a result, many blacks, as well as whites who supported the liberation movement, tend to reflexively criticize Israel and support the Palestinian cause.
Apartheid remained a rigid system where race determined many aspects of one’s life, including choices of culture and entertainment. The apartheid government, for instance, financed separate film industries for blacks and whites.
Relations between blacks and whites were illegal, and when Mr. Noah was born, his parents could not put his father’s name on his birth certificate. His family had to engage in elaborate ruses to hide the fact that Mr. Noah was their child.Noah turned 20 in 2004.
In “You Laugh but It’s True,” Mr. Noah talks about being shuttled between his mother’s home in Soweto, a black township near here, and a Johannesburg apartment in an all-white neighborhood where his father lived.
At his father’s residence, his mother posed as the housemaid so that they could live under one roof.
In his 20s, when Mr. Noah began to pursue comedy, it was an almost unthinkable career path for him.
Though white comics had performed for white audiences here for decades, stand-up was an unknown form of entertainment among most nonwhites.His father is white. And they had these things called TVs.
Mr. Noah said in his interview that comedy “wasn’t something I knew existed.” When friends first turned him on to the work of Eddie Murphy, Mr. Noah knew him only from his movie roles.I’m guessing that the article’s implication that Noah was in his 20s when he heard about Eddie Murphy being a standup is an example of the usual liberal innumeracy about how many years they’ve been in charge. I find myself constantly doing simple arithmetic in my head to figure out how long something has been going on, but I don’t see much evidence that other journalists do that.
“Somebody said, ‘Hey, have you heard of this Eddie Murphy guy?’” he recalled. “And I was like, ‘Yes, “The Nutty Professor,” of course.’ I couldn’t believe he was a stand-up first.”
As for Murphy, from Wikipedia:
Murphy released two stand-up specials. Eddie Murphy was his first album, released in 1982 [Noah was age -2]. Delirious was filmed in 1983 [age -1] in Washington, D.C. Due to the popularity of Delirious, his concert film Eddie Murphy Raw (1987 [age 3]) received a wide theatrical release, grossing $50 million…
I suspect Noah’s introduction to Eddie Murphy as a stand-up was more like my introduction to Bill Cosby as a stand-up around 1967 when I was eight. My cousin said something like, “You know that guy on I Spy, Bill Cosby? Well, what’s he really good at is making comedy records. Listen to this one about Noah and the Flood.”