Trevor Noah: Lost In Translation | Gig review by Steve Bennett at the Hammersmith Apollo

Trevor Noah: Lost In Translation

Gig review by Steve Bennett at the Hammersmith Apollo

Trevor Noah is the guy who has made The Daily Show– like The Simpsons and Viz – officially ‘not as good as it used to be’.

Yet while he’s yet to emerge from Jon Stewart’s shadow on TV, on stage is where he’s at home: a relevant voice offering a fresh perspective on the ways of the world, packaged in debonair style.

That engaging delivery, underpinned by an unforced confidence, sometimes puts a sheen on routines that conceals less-than piercing writing, but his best material shines a new light on familiar issues, and has plenty of capacity for surprise.

Forever pictured in the sharp suit of any American TV host, he’s actually in casual mode at the Hammersmith Apollo tonight, jeans, T-shirt and jacket with rolled-up sleeves that he makes look cool, rather than a 1980s throwback.

There’s a little gentle observational comedy to start, about intimidated British parents being at the beck and call of their indulged children – the liberal pin-up playing against type by cheekily suggesting a few more beatings wouldn’t go amiss. Naturally enough he evokes his upbringing in Soweto as a contrast; the background that gives so much of his material the edge that makes it stand out, especially as he moves into the more political.

His discussion of colonisation highlights the ridiculousness of a situation in which a white man ‘discovers’ and ‘civilises’ other lands, in a routine redolent of the sweeping historical thoughts of Eddie Izzard, the comic who was his first and loudest cheerleader. The multitheic Hindus baffled by the one-god invaders is a particularly neat exchange.

‘I find racism so entertaining,’ he says, recalling a trip to Lexington, Kentucky, when a woman praised and ethnically insulted him all in one elegant Southern breath. Yet while caught up in the ebola panic, he’s rather disappointed not to be considered African enough be at risk of carrying the disease. This is part of a longer routine about ingrained prejudices that might not have an especially intense focus, other than to mull everyone’s media-stoked bias, but generates plenty of amusing anecdotes and thoughts along the way.

Another strong section doesn’t rely on him being South African at all (except perhaps for letting him get away with it): a simple and silly take on the old comic trope of funny foreign accents, in particular the scary Russian, but masterfully expanded. Incidentally, Noah’s English accent is fairly ropy, but he insists on doing it. A lot.

He slices this routine in two, calling an interval slap-bang in the middle of it. He says he’s not used to interrupting his show – but he talks for well over two hours tonight, without support, so it’s hard to see how he could deliver the show in a single bound.

Funny voices aside, Noah rarely strays too far from a social or political agenda. He brings the room to silence by mentioning the Charlie Hebdo murders – an atrocity that, as a high-profile satirist must be high in his mind. He raises some interesting points, perhaps more than funny ones, as he condemns both the killers and, to a lesser extent, the racist humour of the magazine. Voltaire put it pithier, admittedly, but he didn’t have to stretch it to a full stand-up routine.

The obligatory Oscar Pistorius routine felt sluggish, though, as Noah reconstructed every step of the Olympian’s defence. But he has the charm and stand-up chops to not only to keep the audience on side, but to build a show-stopping crescendo with what would, on paper, probably be some of his weaker material. The man is effective, that’s for sure.

Review date: 22 Dec 2015
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Reviewed at: Eventim Apollo

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