Review: Trevor Noah gets political, but not before laying into a woman on her cellphone

Comedian Trevor Noah — shown performing on stage at the Theater at Madison Square Garden in 2017 in New York — brought his tour to Charlotte’s Spectrum Center on Saturday night. Press photographers were not admitted to the show.
Comedian Trevor Noah — shown performing on stage at the Theater at Madison Square Garden in 2017 in New York — brought his tour to Charlotte’s Spectrum Center on Saturday night. Press photographers were not admitted to the show. Brent N. Clarke/Invision/AP

It’s difficult to say which of the various impressions “Daily Show” host Trevor Noah did during his stand-up show at Spectrum Center on Saturday night was the most audaciously hilarious.

There was his impression of an overdramatic singer doing a wildly self-indulgent and drawn-out rendition of the national anthem.

There was his impression of prayer-crazy African Americans saying grace over everything from a Popeyes chicken dinner to a brand-new car.

There were, ahem, multiple impressions of his penis, though we’ll leave the rest to your imagination.

And while he left his famous Donald Trump impression at home, Noah did trot out his equally popular Barack Obama impression, in this case imagining what 44 would have sounded like if he were a commercial airline pilot giving an in-flight announcement to every citizen in America.

All of these elicited guffaws from the arena crowd — none was necessarily more or less funny than another. But the most spot-on-accurate of his impressions? A much easier call, IMHO.

After predicting that humans are bound for some sort of reverse evolution from an anatomical perspective, thanks to our predisposition to spending most of our waking hours hunched over our cellphones, he mused:

“If you think about it, you’re exactly like an ape. Have you ever dropped your phone? You literally turn into an ape. You’ll be carrying your phone, it’ll be like ...” and then he mimed accidentally dropping a phone, his eyes going wide as saucers as he goofily chased after it while making crazed-sounding wild-monkey noises.

In fact, Noah — wearing a burgundy-brown tee, military-green pants and white sneakers, looking much more relaxed than he does in his suit on Comedy Central — spent the first eight minutes of his 73-minute set lamenting modern society’s addiction to cellphones, particularly the obsession with using them to take photos and videos of everything.

Right after stepping onto the stage, the comedian zeroed in on a woman in the front row who greeted him by holding up her phone to try to get a good shot — in spite of a soft no-phones rule that more than 99 percent of the crowd seemed to be obeying.

“Alright, take the picture; let’s be done, let’s be done, let’s do the thing,” Noah said, before launching into his riff.

“Remember when we used to just look at things and just be like, ‘Wow, look at that.’ Now some s--- happens, you’re like, ‘I got it, hold on, hold on, hold on,’” he said, pretending to fumble with an invisible phone. “Doesn’t matter what it is. Someone could be, like, drowning in a hurricane with water coming down a street, flooding, (screaming) ‘Help me!’ You’re like, ‘Oh, s---! This is gonna be big on Instagram, hold on. I hope the police follow me so they can help him.’”

A few minutes later, the same fan was back at it again.

“You’re still taking pictures, ma’am,” Noah said, sounding incredulous. “Have you not got the picture? How long is this taking you?” he said, as he went on to carefully explain to her that she would have better luck just taking an image of him off of Google.

And then he was off, bouncing from topic to topic, mixing observational humor with political jokes that lean a little to the left and progressive social commentary that leans a little to the feminist.

His most incisive observational bits were, of course, informed and colored by his observations of the U.S. as seen through the eyes of a foreigner (he is, as most people know by now, a native of South Africa).

For instance, he correctly pointed out — and this is why he did an impression of a singer making “The Star-Spangled Banner” their own, so to speak — that America is “the only country in the world where you can remix your national anthem.” He also mocked the basis for Columbus Day: “It’s like if Trevor lands in Charlotte, North Carolina, and people are like, ‘Is that really where you (were trying to go?’ And I say), ‘No, I’m trying to get to Alaska,’ and they’re like, ‘Damn, we should name a day after this guy!’”

The best of his political stuff involved making presidents analogous to commercial airline pilots — and this is why he pulled out an impression of Obama — calling Clinton “really popular” but “naughty in the cockpit” and George W. Bush “sweet, but he didn’t like flying, so Cheney flew that plane into wars it shouldn’t have been in.”

As for Trump? Noah was arguably as hard on the woman trying to take photos with her cellphone as he was on the sitting president. There were a jokes that painted 45 as fairly petulant and rather dopey, but no particularly deep-cutting attacks; Noah instead took a much stronger stance against Vice President Mike Pence. (“I would take Donald Trump every single day of the week over Mike Pence. ... Donald Trump might be crazy, but at least he’s fun.”)

But the comedian reserved his toughest criticism for male lawmakers who feel entitled to govern women’s bodies, and men who regard the #MeToo movement with skepticism.

In the most sobering moment of his set, Noah told a dead-quiet arena:

“If I did a survey here ... if I said, ‘All the men who have been falsely accused of sexual assault, raise your hand,’ I would be shocked ... if 50 hands went up in this room. But if I flipped that question and I said, ‘Every woman who has been the victim of sexual harassment or assault — or if you know a friend who’s been ... a victim of sexual harassment or assault — if I said, ‘Raise your hand,’ I’d be shocked if 50 hands stayed down.”

He quickly got back to goofing around, though, joking that while a woman gets anxious or scared when she sees a group of guys walking toward them on a dark street, a man would get excited if he saw a group of women coming at them in the night — perhaps even hoping that they might jump him.

And then he closed his set with one more impression, this time of his surgeon performing a recent procedure on his vocal cords while he was unsedated, with the doc narrating the play-by-play — in a gentle voice with a thick Chinese accent — as the medical device entered Noah’s mouth and started going down his throat.

We’ll leave the rest, once again, to your imagination...

Théoden Janes has spent 12 years covering entertainment and pop culture for the Observer. He also thrives on telling emotive long-form stories about extraordinary Charlotteans and — as a veteran of 20-plus marathons and two Ironman triathlons — occasionally writes about endurance and other sports.
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