Trevor Noah brings laughs to Pittsburgh


Image via Wikimedia Commons

Trevor Noah at a “Loud and Clear” performance in Ohio.

By Elizabeth Martinson, Staff Writer

Following a slickly produced video that was a cross between a pump-up video and an ad, Trevor Noah walked on stage to raucous applause from the audience at the Petersen Events Center Friday. The large crowd filled the floor and lower bowl of the Pete with a few people dotted around the upper level.

Noah, a South African comedian known for his deadpan satire and observational comedy, has been the host of Comedy Central’s long-running The Daily Show since September 2015, when he took over for Jon Stewart. He, along with opening acts Vince August and Josh Johnson, traveled to Pittsburgh as part of his Loud and Clear Tour. They began in Toronto in January and have spent the weekends since then travelling around the United States and Canada.

At their Pittsburgh show on May 31, the crowd was energized and excited as Noah took the stage and began his hour-long set. He opened the show with a poignant look at the top five things white people love. On this list was his recent visit to the Andy Warhol Museum, where he toured the museum’s extensive collection. During the tour, Noah said he felt chastised by his guide for not spending long enough contemplating the artworks, asking, “How long should you spend looking at each piece, anyway?”

His takes were a mix of biting and poignant observations and throwaway laughs, including one of his picks for “things white people love,” being white, as an example of the latter. Nevertheless, Noah showed the audience the differences he has found between black and white people in America without once vilifying or disparaging either group. For example, Noah explained that white people might look better swimming, but that doesn’t mean that black people are bad at it.

Taking the top spot on Noah’s list was Neil Diamond’s hit song “Sweet Caroline” — a song near and dear to all Pitt fans.

After his top five list, Noah moved on to discuss lightweight topics such as Donald Trump’s presidency, abortion and women’s rights.

Noah used his perspective as an outsider and immigrant to reframe America’s highly politicized abortion debate. The question of pro-life versus pro-choice is inherently ridiculous and, according to Noah, you’d be hard pressed to find someone alive who isn’t “pro-life.”

The discussion should not be a simple dichotomy — it is possible to be both. As Noah explained, he was flummoxed by the question “Are you pro-life or pro-choice?” when he first was asked. “Both,” he replied. “I’m pro-life and pro-choice.” Supporting a woman’s right to decide what happens within and to her body does not mean that you don’t support and value a newborn’s life. The conversation is not that simple.

In addition to Noah’s rousing performance, his opening acts brought laughter to the Pittsburgh audience. Vince August works as a “hype man” for The Daily Show, performing a set for the show’s audiences before each taping. August once again took the job of warming up the crowd and came on stage waving a Terrible Towel, a sure-fire way to ingratiate himself to a Pittsburgh crowd. The Hackensack-native Steelers fan reminisced on the simple joys of life as a kid in the 1970s and ’80s — going to parks and playing on remarkably unsafe playgrounds, using pay phones and street lights to make sure you were home in time for dinner.

After this trip down memory lane, August moved on to talk about hunting — a popular pastime in Pennsylvania — and, by extension, guns. Adeptly avoiding the issue of the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms, August observed that if you need an AR-15 to hunt something that doesn’t know you’re there, maybe you aren’t very good. In a further blow to the hunter’s ego, August argued that hunting can’t — or at least shouldn’t — count as a sport. How can it if one side doesn’t even know that they’re playing?

After August’s energetic set came Josh Johnson, a young comedian and Daily Show writer who routinely performs in New York at The Comedy Cellar. This experience was apparent as there was a stark difference between Johnson and August. Although August was the older comic, Johnson was clearly more comfortable as he moved through his set before the large crowd. His set flowed better and he understood more adeptly when to pause for audience reaction and when to carry on to let the energy build.

By the end of his set, Johnson had the audience in tears as he recounted a fight he had with his ceiling fan trying and failing again, and again and again to turn it off. No matter how many times he pulled the cord, the blades wouldn’t stop spinning. They might slow down a tad, but despite his verbal chastisement they’d be off again. The fight got so out of hand the cops were called to put an end to the domestic dispute — his neighbors, hearing two voices, assumed the argument was between Johnson and his (nonexistent) girlfriend.

Throughout his set, Noah held the audience in the palm of his hand. He knew when and how to “ratchet up” the tension and crafted a vivid picture in the audience’s mind’s eye, only hitting the punchline when the whole crowd was seeing the same image.

After bringing up the energy with the story of his first period, which was actually a urinary tract infection, and delving further into the different worlds occupied by men and women, Noah brought the audience to the edge of its collective seat when he talked about losing his voice. The room went from taut and giddy to subdued and concerned in the blink of an eye.

The show did not end on such a low note, as Noah found the humor in his vocal cord operation and showed the audience how he finds the funny in every situation — serious or otherwise.