Interview with Trevor Noah: Life, jokes and art

South African comedian Trevor Noah. (AFP)

South African comedian Trevor Noah. (AFP)

Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime and other stories (Pan Macmillan) has just been published around the world. The Mail & Guardian asked Noah about himself, his book, his writing and the art of comedy.

Describe yourself in a sentence.
I’m an introvert with extroverted tendencies.

Describe your ideal reader.
Cosmopolitan in their views of life.

What is your favourite reading matter?
I love reading autobiographies. Getting to share in the inner workings of another person’s life and mind is something I cherish about a great book.

How did you approach telling your autobiographical stories?
To be honest, I just told the stories to people I know.
Then I recorded them, transcribed them and then, with the help of my editor, put all the pieces into the right places.

Did the work of David Sedaris influence how you told your life story?
I read a number of story and essay collections while thinking about the book, mostly by other comedians. Sedaris was one of them, but hardly the main one. It was more to get an idea of what I didn’t want to do, which was to write a jokey humour book. I wanted to tell real stories from my life and from South Africa – to pay tribute to my mother and everything she did for me – and let the humour flow naturally from the characters and the situations, not artificially inserted punch lines.

Which comedians have inspired you most and how?
Comedians inspire me with their talent, not necessarily their style or content. Dave Chapelle inspires me just with how much comedy talent is in one person. Chris Rock’s work ethic is inspiring, Eddie Izzard’s free-form absurdity. So many comics inspire me in different ways.

What is the purpose of stand-up comedy?
Stand-up comedy has to make people laugh, it’s really that simple. Some jokes are benign and merely designed for a laugh, others seek to point out absurdities in norms that society chooses to overlook. But stand-up can take many forms and have many styles. The only constant is laughter.

What is the purpose of storytelling?
To carry stories from generation to generation. To travel another person through time and space. To share a piece of your mind with others.

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