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Woah Noah! SA comic aces it

Woah Noah! SA comic aces it

Jan 9, 2012

Woah Noah! SA comic aces it

ROWAN PHILP | 08 January, 2012 00:13
Johannesburg comedian Trevor Noah on The Tonight Show on Friday night, watched by actress Glenn Close and host Jay Leno Picture: COURTESY, NBC UNIVERSAL

COMEDIAN Trevor Noah scored a career-making belly-laugh from US talk-show host Jay Leno by daring to tell Americans "You have the credit rating of a black man" on their famed TV show.

Standing in front of his fellow guest, actress Glenn Close, and a global TV audience, the Johannesburg stand-up became the first African comic to win a coveted spot on Leno's The Tonight Show.

The show launched the careers of superstars like Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock - and has ruined careers for those who have bombed.

Noah gambled with a provocative routine on apartheid and race for his six-minute slot - praising African-Americans for "having no regard for punctuation whatsoever" - and earned a rare standing ovation.

Then Leno slapped him on the back and uttered the words local comedians believe could help boost all South African comedy: "Come back and see us again, man!"

After "shaking a lot of hands" following the show, Noah told the Sunday Times: "I'm still coming off the high!! It could not have gone better. And Jay asked me to come back again, which is as big as it gets in show business. All the legends [of comedy] were made right here, on the big American late-night talk shows."

From performing in front of an audience of just six in Los Angeles six months ago, the 27-year-old comic was treated "like royalty" ahead of the performance.

He said he, his girlfriend and manager were whisked from his small Pasadena apartment to Leno's southern California studio in a limousine, and escorted by a "personal handler" to a dressing room stocked with champagne and fruit platters.

Then, he said, Leno came backstage and "chatted with us for a long time: we talked about comedy and about weird three-wheeled cars, which I'm into. Of course, Jay has a passion for every great car in the world.

"The thing that struck me was that he didn't treat me like some novelty act from Africa, but as a comedian who happens to be South African," he said.

Comedian John Vlismas said Noah's sharp rise in South Africa had trigged resentment among some local comics "with the speed he was able to fill big venues, from nowhere".

But he said Noah was "a real talent; an excellent impressionist", and that his achievement represented a breakthrough for all South African comics: "It's such a big deal for all of us - for South African comedy. In fact, it could even create a new image in American minds about the level of sophistication South Africans have in general."

Noah kicked off by describing the apartheid ban on mixed marriages, and the problems faced by his white, Swiss father and black African mother, adding: "But for my dad, it was like, well, you know how the Swiss love chocolate."

He made fun of black Americans for calling themselves "African-American", then launched into a series of fluent raps, including an inner-city Shakespeare take-off that drew whoops from the audience.

Noah said of Close: "She was exactly as you'd expect her to be: calm, well-spoken; all class. We got to chat in the breaks."

Referring to Close's famous bunny-boiling scene in the movie Fatal Attraction, Vlismas said it was a good thing Noah hadn't frozen in the spotlight "because around Glenn Close, you'd better not be a bunny".

Noah said: "Apparently, Glenn Close and Jay were laughing their heads off behind me . .. those five and half minutes seem to bend the laws of time and space - first it seems super long; then it seems crazy short. "

Noah said he'd cracked the coveted invitation after being talent-scouted at his regular LA club, then selected from 20 comics at an NBC showcase event. He had moved to California in June last year after the release of his hit DVD Crazy Normal in Johannesburg.

"I had a comfortable life in South Africa, with great fans; coming here wasn't easy; I was literally a nobody. It's been very hard work. But it's about comedy for me: I want to come back to South Africa a better comedian."

  •  The show will be broadcast in South Africa on Tuesday at 9pm on CNBC Africa.