Racism, politics and the conundrums of tacos with Trevor Noah

Trevor Noah has the audience in stitches in Jorgensen on Saturday, April 1, 2017. Noah is the current host of the Daily Show. (Amar Batra/The Daily Campus)

South African comedian and “The Daily Show” host Trevor Noah packed the University of Connecticut’s Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts, in a sold-out show laced with humor, culture and political commentary.

As Noah entered the spotlight thunderous applause resounded, while camera lights were flashing. Opening comedian Angelo Lozada had warmed up the audience for a night of laughs, but little did they know they were getting more than simple humor.

Noah’s appearance at UConn came at a controversial time, in midst of the Trump presidency, which Noah, as with his show, touched heavily upon in his routine, highlighting both the dire consequences of the administration’s actions and the comedy inherent in the administration’s cluelessness.

“(Trump) is almost like an asteroid headed towards earth,” Noah said. “But it’s shaped like a penis.”

While Noah lobbed a few riffs about the current president, he also discussed the impact of the Trump presidency on increased involvement in the political process.

“I don’t think that (Trump) will make America great again,” Noah said. “But, I think America will become great. Young people are participating in politics like never before. I was in an airport...I saw Americans standing in a circle around Muslims praying. Donald Trump has shocked people into compassion.”

Being an immigrant himself, Noah brought the topic to the table in how food enjoyed by Americans was brought in by immigrants.

“I’ve visited 44 states, and one thing I’ve learned is that Americans love tacos,” Noah said. “But, for some reason, they don’t love the bringers of tacos.”

This leads to a conundrum, Noah said, based in the disparity of values, for which he proposed a solution.

“If you choose to hate immigrants, you may not eat the food of immigrants. Only potatoes,” he said. “Immigrants (brought) spice. Don’t forget that. Everyone is an immigrant in some way, shape or form. It just depends on the time.”

Modern-day issues made up the main highlights of Noah’s routine, incorporated with his sense of adaptation and experiences with racism from living in post-apartheid South Africa.

(Amar Batra/The Daily Campus)

Born to a Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother (a union which was illegal in South Africa at the time under apartheid law), Noah was raised by mother and grandmother.

His father had moved back to Switzerland as a result of Noah’s mother spending time in and out of jail as a consequence of their interracial relationship.

As such, one of Noah’s main points in his routine was on the topic of racism, and the word “black” in conversation.

“For some strange reason, white people whisper the word “black,”” Noah said. “There’s nothing wrong with saying “black” because there’s nothing wrong with being black.”

One of the key steps in reducing racism, Noah reflected, is being able to discuss it.

“Don’t worry about seeming racist. Worry about being racist,” Noah said. “I prefer people who stumble through racial conversations and make a few mistakes. What I don’t like is people who act like race isn’t a thing. There’s nothing wrong with seeing color. It’s how you treat color that’s important.”

Noah’s experience of being raised in South Africa was the fuel for many of  his jokes. Noah moved to the United States in 2011, which led to some culture shock, Noah said, when a friend of his suggested getting tacos.

“I’ve never had Mexican food,” Noah said. “In South Africa, we don’t have Mexicans. They never came over. It’s not my fault.”

This led to some cultural miscommunication, especially when he was offered a napkin with his tacos.

“This is where it gets awkward. Where I come from, napkins are what babies use to hold their shit,” Noah said. “I was traumatized. I love tacos now, but still. That was extreme.”

As he closed the show, Noah gave an anecdote on the time he was called a racial slur while jaywalking. In this, he reflected on the power that words have, when fueled by malicious meaning.

“Don’t focus on the word. Focus on the intent,” Noah said. “The word can change. The intent is always there.”

Through both lighthearted and controversial topics, Noah filled the hall with laughter, easing tensions and bringing his unique point of view to modern-day issues.

“He breaks traditional comedy,” said Andrej Antic, a sixth-semester accounting major. “He did it like a rollercoaster ride… he balanced comedy with being politically active.”

For others, Noah’s relatability and thought-provoking comedy were the draw.

“I enjoyed how stimulating is point of view is, because that’s not shared enough,” said Lisette Velasquez, a New Britain, Conn. resident, who attended the show with her son. “As a Puerto Rican and the mother of a son who is half-black, race comes up a lot in family conversations. It was very powerful. His mother raised a good boy.”

After the show ended, as Noah exited Jorgensen, a throng of fans ran up to the comedian, shouting encouragements and applauding him. One student asked Noah for a piece of life advice, to which Noah replied:

“Do everything you can to the best of your ability.”


Marlese Lessing is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at marlese.lessing@uconn.edu. She tweets @marlese_lessing.