his new memoir, "The Daily Show" host Trevor
Noah, the child of a Swiss father and Xhosa mother,
tells a story that perfectly captures the absurdity of
apartheid. Growing up in South Africa when the law
prohibited sex between whites and nonwhites, Noah could
not be seen in public with his father. When the family
went out together, his father walked across the street
from Noah and his mother, staying at a safe distance.
day, his father insisted on accompanying Noah and his
mother to Joubert Park in Johannesburg. He tried to walk
ahead, but toddler Noah ran after him, shouting
"Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!" Terrified, his father
fled ó the penalty for breaking the law was five years
in prison ó and Noah chased him happily, thinking they
were playing a game. "Where most children are proof
of their parentsí love," he observes wryly,
"I was the proof of their criminality."
story is horrifying and funny, but blending those two
disparate elements of his past is something Noah, 32,
has been doing for a long time.
how I process information," says Noah from New
York, where heís taking a short break from a frenetic
production day for Comedy Centralís "The Daily
Show." "Itís how I work through anything
happening in my life. Things are often horrifying. If I
donít laugh, Iím never going to laugh. I find the
funny in everything and go from there. I think when it
came to the book, putting those pieces together, the
stories formed themselves. Life isnít one-dimensional.
Itís horrifying and funny at the same time."
"Born A Crime," the comedian recounts his
childhood, adolescence and young adulthood in South
Africa during apartheid and its chaotic, repressive
aftermath. Despite the fact that the memoir tackles such
subjects as racial injustice, poverty and an abusive
stepfather who eventually shot (but didnít kill) Noahís
mother, "Born a Crime" can be amusing. (On the
fact his mother and grandmother were always afraid his
grandfatherís second family would poison them:
"It was like "Game of Thrones" with poor
people"). But Noahís unique perspective of a
racially divided world sounds hauntingly relevant in
light of our own political and cultural divisions.
bookís subjects are too timely to ignore, says fair
program director Lissette Mendez.
knew he had a lot of fans, but it was very important to
me to bring him here, considering whatís going on this
year when race is part of the national discussion,"
says Mendez, who adds that Noah will be in conversation
with civil rights attorney Robert Weinberg (tickets are
sold out, but there will be a standby line). "Itís
absolutely necessary for us. Ö Weíre trying to
create the space where these conversations can exist.
What better way than to bring in people thinking about
it and writing good books about it so people in our
community can take part in that conversation?"
a Crime" doesnít really cover Noahís
professional life, his years working in South African
radio and TV and his eventual move to stand-up comedy,
which led him to the "Daily Show" gig (a prime
job that comes with more than its share of criticism).
He took over hosting duties from Jon Stewart in
the beloved Stewart was surely tougher than writing a
book, but Noah says "Born a Crime" forced him
to really examine his history.
biggest obstacle I had to get over was discovering the
truth about things, about my feelings, the world I lived
in, the truth about my experience," he says.
"In real life, we donít have to deal with that.
We try to move on from the hard things as quickly as
possible so weíre in a better place.
personal stuff was hard to write because it puts you in
a vulnerable position. How much of myself am I willing
to share? But thereís no point in me writing a book if
Iím not going to give everything. I canít feel like
Iím leaving something out or that Iím trying to
preserve a facade. I came to realize youíre just going
to have to lay it out there. If you want to write the
book, write the book."
he writes about how he was a naughty child who took
advantage of his skin tone (his grandmother had no
problem hitting his cousins but wouldnít punish him
because "I donít know how to hit a white child.
Ö Trevor, when you hit him he turns blue and green and
yellow and red." When times were lean, he sucked
the marrow out of "soup bones" usually
destined for the dogs ("a skill poor people learn
early"). As a teenager, he sold bootleg CDs and
once ended up in jail for borrowing his stepfatherís
up in a world where racial labels ó black, white or
colored ó defined every aspect of life, Noah has a
singular viewpoint about Americaís own struggles with
think if you lived through it, being from South Africa,
it prepares you for this conversation," he says.
"Weíve had them and continue to have them in an
open manner, a more blunt manner than in America.
American conversations donít seem to be happening in a
progressive way. The conversation isnít people
addressing the issues but asking first whether or not
there is an issue, which is a different conversation
than Iím used to. In South Africa, we all acknowledge
there was an issue, and here people are going, ĎIs
there an issue?í "
disconnect, he says, is not something heís only
witnessed in America.
became more aware of this the more I traveled," he
says. "I see how many things people perceive as the
biggest problem in their world, and yet some other realm
sees it as something not important. Think of gender
equality. From many menís perspectives there is no
issue, but women say itís the biggest issue facing
them. Itís the same thing with race. Black people
complain about the issues and white people are going,
ĎThatís not the only thing happening in the world.í
But if youíre black, thatís all thatís
uses the example of Hitler, a kid he knew back when he
was a DJ in high school. The name is shocking in many
circles, but in his neighborhood, he explains, it was
used for simple reasons: "For many black South
Africans, the story of the war was that there was
someone called Hitler and he was the reason the Allies
were losing the war. This Hitler was so powerful that at
some point black people had to go help white people
fight against him. Ö so if you want your kid to be
tough, you name your kid Hitler."
discord has made for an interesting year of material on
"The Daily Show," which has floundered a bit
in the ratings since Noah took over (Forbes reports
"The Daily Show" scores around 820,000 viewers
a night, while in Stewartís 2011-2012 season, his
average was around 1.7 million viewers).
admits that he didnít feel at home in the job until
almost a year into his run.
first time I felt comfortable was when we were on the
road doing the conventions," Noah says. "That
was the first time I was in a space where I was doing my
own show. Itís when I said, ĎThis is how I would do
has, he says, learned a lot during this tumultuous year,
which came with tons of material, thanks to a
contentious election, but also a more competitive
late-night comedy marketplace, with shows from
"Daily Show" alums John Oliver and Samantha
Bee, a move by Stephen Colbert into David Lettermanís
old slot, plus the Jimmys (Fallon and Kimmel) and James
Corden. His biggest fear? Our increasing tendency to
live in an echo chamber.
in a place where more and more, if weíre not careful,
we are going to exist completely in bubbles that are
devoid of information that is unbiased and
neutral," he says. "People base everything
they do on sides, on what side theyíre on. One of the
greatest gifts and curses of our generation is the
internet and social media. This morning I was looking at
a fake CNN site and thinking, ĎI wonder how many
people click on this thinking itís real?í Thereís
no way to stop that. Itís a scary thing."