Comedians whose material is about social issues often have to walk on eggshells for them to not be deemed offensive (just ask Dave Chappelle). Perhaps it’s the reason why comedians like Kevin Hart only make their personal lives the topic of their jokes. However, Trevor Noah proved it’s possible to make jokes about social issues without being offensive during his relatable and inclusive stand-up show at the Lied Center Saturday night.
Before his set, the anticipation for “The Daily Show” host to take jabs at the nation’s current political climate was budding. It was also likely, given that the comedian often talks about being South African, that Noah would joke about his “Coming to America” moment. But the anticipation was eased as his opening act, Angelo Lozada, took the stage.
Although Lozada had never visited Lawrence, the Bronx, New York, resident was instantly welcomed by the crowd as he talked about his observations in coming to the city. He joked about Lawrence not having any homeless people and mentioned how it would be a rare day for him at home in New York to not interact with one. Lozada also engaged with several audience members, most of whom were students, as he joked about the University’s rivalry with Kansas State and his disdain for Spirit Airlines.
However, Lozada’s set wasn’t welcoming for some people in the audience. Isabel Carttar, a junior studying sociology who attended the show, said she thought Lozada’s set was a bit offensive.
“There were some parts where I thought was a little bit racist,” Carttar said. “The way he was imitating the voice of an African-American male was kind of too stereotypical, and [he seemed] a little anti-homeless. I know it was a comedy act, but I felt that he could find comedy in other ways.”
After Lozada’s set, it was Trevor Noah’s turn to grace the stage. Noah, like Lozada, opened his set by talking about his observations of Lawrence. He joked about not being able to find a black barbershop in town and the University being deemed the Mecca of basketball.
He also talked about being in Rochester, New York, and how that place was a site for escaped slaves to be transported to Canada. Noah joked about the level of persuasion it would’ve taken to convince a person who had just escaped slavery to get on another boat.
He also recounted visiting the White House and meeting former president Barack Obama for the first time. He compared how Obama’s presence made him feel at ease to how President Trump gives him a sense of terror and joy every day. The terror, as Noah describes, is that Trump is responsible for the most powerful nation in the world; the joy is that Noah finds comic relief in almost every action Trump decides to take.
But it was after those two segments that the aesthetic of Noah’s stand-up was introduced to the audience. Noah effortlessly used comedy as a lens for understanding seemingly complicated social and political issues. Such was the case when he introduced the topic of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh being accused of sexual assault to talk about the broader issue of male privilege.
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Growing up in South Africa, Noah talked about how it was hard for him to understand the concept of patriarchy when he came to America because he was raised by powerful women. He mentioned how his mom would always give him spankings for getting in trouble and how that dynamic made it hard for him to fathom the idea of men having any kind of privilege.
But he provided examples to the audience of how male privilege easily seeps into the grain of society. He mentioned the hypocrisy of men deciding if it’s legal for women to get abortions, women having to fear for their lives while walking late at night and society’s discomfort with women being on their periods. All examples were met with applause from the audience.
Shelby Huggins, a Lawrence resident who attended the show, said she liked the way Noah uses comedy for highlighting different issues.
"I thought he was really funny, and I like the way he makes you think," Huggins said. "He made complicated issues seem real and thought-provoking and funny at the same time, and I really enjoyed that."
Noah ended his set by talking about the time he was called the N-word while jaywalking in Chicago. It’s during this time that Noah offered commentary on the racial dynamics in America and tied it to the Rochester, New York, joke he made earlier in the show.
Noah’s stand-up was a reminder of his ability to fuse politics with personal experiences, which is something that sets him apart from other comedians.