As a former host of “The Daily Show,” author of the memoir “Born a Crime” — about growing up biracial in apartheid South Africa — and star of three Netflix specials (with another on the way), Trevor Noah (“I Wish You Would”) likely needs no introduction. However, as my brief recap of his accomplishments illustrates, people are still thrilled to celebrate him. Without any cue that I could see, a sold-out Fox Theater audience chanted “Trevor” faster and faster, louder and louder as the lights went up, the cameras swept through the crowd and the man himself graced the stage. I realized then I had made a mistake.
Let me explain. Two hours before, as I tore into the spiciest lamb vindaloo I’ve ever had (shout-out The Himalayan Flames in Dearborn) between gulps of ice-cold water, my father advised against filling my bladder an hour before our show. I brushed him off and extinguished my burning tongue.
Even opener Wil Sylvince (“Cop Show”) incorporated warnings to use the bathroom early on, letting everyone know Noah had chosen Detroit to film his next Netflix special, and catching people running to the bathroom would make for bad footage. Sylvince assured people they should be content to miss the opening set, saying “I ain’t shit.” Out of respect for him and his compelling crowd work (like improvising an entire bit about the multi-step process of shitting with a trench coat on after a trench-coat-clad audience member hustled away), I took his warning at the absolute last minute, running back to my seat alongside my father as the lights dimmed on the venue’s extravagant, almost overstimulating architecture. One chant later, Noah took the stage.
You’ll forgive me if the details of my recollection fade at this point, as my phone was locked away in a YONDR pouch — a device I used to despise as a tool of my high school to curtail phone use, now ensuring my immersion in his set — and I brought nothing else with which to take notes. Also, I was losing my goddamn mind during Noah’s entire set. He kicked himself off with a bit of crowd work, celebrating Detroit as a city he was thrilled to both perform and film in. He delivered the rest of his set at such an expertly allegro pace that I lost some punchline follow-ups between all the raucous laughter, and those who heard them had to hold their sides from splitting even harder.
Noah’s comedic timing doesn’t let the crowd catch a breath, and he aids this tempo with tangents and his tone-shifting talent: letting stories, allegories and jokes head in such widely varying directions that I often forgot what he was originally discussing before he capitalized on his callback, complete with pitch-perfect impressions and sound effects — like using Star Wars to discuss national anthems with Darth Vader and lightsaber sound effects that showed his mastery over imitation and the mic.
National anthems, and by extension, nations, are fitting subject material for Noah’s politically conscious comedy. He used his time in Germany to discuss American textbook censorship and led that burial of history into recontextualizing the bathroom “debate,” all as cannon fodder for the culture war that the current hegemony proliferates to prevent the public from focusing on actual issues: warmongering, wealth disparity and how much French people suck — as evidenced by Noah’s recollections of Paris and Parisian baggage claim.
At first, it was a bit strange to be part of the performance more than usual at a comedy show — in the packed, massive Fox Theater, it was cameras that calibrated my reactions to everything. However, as Noah made clear by leaving behind the perfectly preened suits of “The Daily Show” for the jacket-black-shirt-black-jeans combo that he has apparently sported during every live show on his tour, his aim was to get comfy with this audience. His show confronts the discomfort that comedy means to call out — as opposed to the worrying status quo of some comedians who cause discomfort at best and dehumanization at worst under the faulty pretense of comedic consciousness.
As the show went on, my family and the rest of the audience kept keeling over in laughter — and that camera-caused self-consciousness faded in place of the comfort of Noah’s comedy. This was the kind of comfort I have shared with my family since middle school, when we watched “Daily Show” clips on YouTube and Netflix specials together, the kind of comedy that is so consummate it makes me want to break out my “bits” Doc and contribute again to the craft.
And as I witnessed fellow audience members running back and forth from their seats after because they didn’t listen to the opener, I felt thrilled this set would be on Netflix — not just because my family and I might be in it, but because I can experience that magic again, catch all the lines I missed and be able to press pause to take a piss break.
Digital Culture Beat Editor Saarthak Johri can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.