“You know what South African mothers tell their kids? ‘Be grateful for what you have, because there are fat children starving in Mississippi,’” comedian Trevor Noah said in his first appearance on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” in 2014.
Considering his comments on the South, students may be surprised to hear Noah is performing a set at the Orpheum Theatre in Memphis Friday night.
Noah was born in Johannesburg in 1984, when the country was still under apartheid, to a black mother of Xhosa ethnicity and a white father of Swiss German ethnicity. At the time of his birth, Noah’s parents’ relationship was illegal in South Africa.
Noah’s bold sense of humor and his ability to use his life experiences as an avenue to comment on political and social issues have earned him a plethora of awards, including MTV Africa Music Awards 2015 Personality of the Year.
In late April, Noah did an episode of “The Daily Show” about Confederate Memorial Day, which is celebrated in Alabama and Mississippi. In the video, Noah joked that “some people support the (Confederate) monuments, while other people are black.”
“For context, if the monument of a Confederate general must stand, then they should have to construct a statue of a slave right next to it,” Noah said.
Michaela Watson is a sophomore international studies major whose parents lived in South Africa under apartheid rule.
“His take on the Confederate memorabilia issue is spot-on,” Watson said. “His experiences with race in South Africa make him able to see it more clearly and realize the harm that comes from keeping these relics without contextualization.”
Watson was born in England and spent most of her life living in California and Australia. She said her parents and whole family are South Africans of British origin who watched Noah’s comedy before he reached global fame.
“Everyone would always talk about him at barbecues,” Watson said. “My dad’s a big fan, so he’d put Trevor Noah’s videos on when I was a kid.”
When she was younger, Watson said Noah’s political and social commentary went right over her head, but now she appreciates how he “points out really uncomfortable truths.”
“A lot of politicians who try to be funny with irreverent stuff turn out being mean, whereas Noah is just poking fun at people,” Watson said. “And it’s funny because it’s true.”
Some of Watson’s cousins were raised in South Africa and she said they consider Noah a symbol of the country.
“They think he’s really funny, and they’re really proud of him, that he’s in America on this massive talk show,” Watson said. “He’s a source of national pride for a lot of South Africans.”
Noah will undoubtedly share his opinion on the South loudly and clearly at 7:30 Friday night on the Orpheum Threatre stage.