Have charisma, will travel. A handsome, effortlessly engaging polyglot who speaks four languages fluently, and retains a puppyish enthusiasm for Japanese and his seductive, Spanish-accented satnav, Trevor Noah was nevertheless born an outsider; a crime indeed, that of being a mixed-race baby in apartheid-era South Africa.
Trevor Noah: The Racist
Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33)
Star rating: * * * *
Based on this fascinating and frequently hilarious show, his might be a comedian’s ideal upbringing, straddling race, class and nationalist fault lines. Yet it’s a damning indictment of that poisonous, divisive system. Assured observations on the laxity of Irish passport control, Edinburgh’s “summer” and the religious supremacy of Google offer little hint of the absorbing tale to unfold, yet subtly lay the groundwork.
Noah was the child of a black South African mother and white Swiss-German father, and the three couldn’t step out in public together. The twisted colour hierarchy of the time ensured his caramel skintone was regarded as superior to those he lived with, his waggish grandfather ferrying him to school in a manner reminiscent of Driving Miss Daisy. Never quite fitting in, he moved to America to be regarded as black.
Evoking Alicia Keys, Mariah Carey and Tiger Woods as exemplars of America’s status-based blindness to miscegenation, with success guaranteeing blackness acceptance, he is sage on the elevation of Barack Obama from political no-hoper to president in Black America’s eyes, assuming the brash holler of the Def Jam school of shallow African-American stand-up. He’s playful, deconstructing the stereotypical black rolling gait and pleasures of the phrase “nar’mean?”. His delight is infectious, the light-hearted cultural analysis still sharper than the norm.
The often subtle obstacles he encounters at every integrating step – from US customs, to opening a bank account and his unwanted adoption by another ethnic group – are as eye-opening to us as they must have once seemed to him.
The Racist loses some focus towards the end, no doubt because he’s still discovering himself to an extent. But there are some excellent routines here, irrespective of their place in a narrative. For someone so persecuted by language’s prejudices and limitations, Noah demonstrates a mastery of it, standing out chiefly for his considerable talent.
• Until 27 August. Today 7:15pm.
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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