Trevor Noah: Comedian? Cultural Critic? Damn fine storyteller? A leader of the social commentariat? Yes. What really shines in this book is Noah’s skill at structuring a story so that the suspense is consistently taut. Even with the few stories I didn’t like, I could. not. wait. to hear what would happen next. That made this listen very enjoyable, and one I heartily recommend. I also recommend it for Noah’s uncanny ability to treat heavy, complex subjects with a light simplicity and to infuse them with a vividness that paradoxically makes them mundane and thus incredibly relatable. In Noah’s telling, poverty, racism, and violence are not exotic, incomprehensible tragedies; they are a mundane set of everyday experiences that accumulate relentlessly over time. The western reader therefore cannot use outrage or pity to shield themselves from real engagement.
This is less a comedic memoir than a memoir written by someone who happens to be a comedian. You’ll definitely laugh, but don’t expect belly laughs. Noah’s upbringing took place on either side of apartheid in South Africa, and includes some of the worst of what people can be and do, so it is unsurprising that there isn’t a whole lot to laugh at. Noah delivers the audio version himself, and it does come with the same cadence and timing as his comedy routines, and a bevy of delightful voices. There is humor sprinkled throughout (generally dark with splashes of light), and he has more hits than misses, though there are also a handful of stories told as if they’re hilarious, that simply aren’t. (i.e. not realizing for weeks that your date doesn’t speak any of the languages you speak is not endearing teenage cluelessness to a humorless feminist like me.) But this is a wonderful memoir that reads like a series of short stories and lives up to Noah’s reputation for whipping up the perfect blend of humor and social commentary.