OZY First: The New Jon Stewart
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because it’s time you caught up with globe-trotting funnyman Trevor Noah.
By Andreas Hale
This OZY encore originally published Mar. 26, 2015.
It takes a special kind of international comedian to connect with audiences in the United States because, like the use of the English language and soccer, some things are universal everywhere but the good ol’ U.S.A. Sure, you have the likes of Russell Peters and Jim Jefferies, who have seen their brand of comedy successfully assimilate into American culture. But for the most part, Americans like their comedians to be as American as possible. You know, so they can understand them.
And so along comes Trevor Noah, a South African comedian who offers a unique blend of “smart” comedy. The 31-year-old makes the most of his particular perspective: He’s African but not African-American, making his views on everything from stateside hip-hop to understanding the American use of the word “napkin” (which means a diaper in the U.K.) both hilarious and refreshing. He’s an African of mixed descent (South African and Swiss), which informs his assessment of race relations and what it’s like to be viewed as a black man in other countries.
He has to be just snarky enough to satisfy non-U.S. audiences by skewering American obliviousness …
Take, for instance, this highbrow look at American sports from an African perspective. For Americans, an obsession with ESPN’s 24-hour cycle of stats-centric sports broadcasting is commonplace. For Noah, however, it’s just a bit ridiculous. “Americans love their sports back to front,” he says as he begins his routine. “You analyze them, you worship them. You watch the game before the game; the game after the game.”
Noah goes on to emulate a sports broadcast, stacking numbers and percentages in a faux-broadcaster voice that’s spot on with how Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith toss nonsensical stats at one another on ESPN’s First Take.
Sure, that’s funny — but then comes the smart part of Noah’s act. He has to be just snarky enough to satisfy non-U.S. audiences by skewering American obliviousness, but poignant enough to have American audiences laughing at themselves. After rattling off sports stats like they clearly explain every moment of action on the field, Noah changes the channel to a business broadcast, expecting some hard numbers on the state of the economy. And that’s when he drops into his most nonchalantly clueless American dialect: “Well, nobody knows!”
Noah landed a gig as a senior international correspondent on The Daily Show back in December, yet he remains relatively new to American audiences. But judging by the 1.98 million followers he has on Twitter, he’s doing just fine with or without us. If you want to get familiar while merrily accepting your late pass, watch his stand-up special, specifically catered to American audiences and appropriately titled African American, currently streaming on Netflix, Amazon and Google Play.