A personal and political account of what it’s like to grow up in South Africa.
Born A Crime
by Trevor Noah
It is sometimes weird to see him at the desk where Jon Stewart used to slay conservative politicians and pundits alike. In all honesty, I’ve never really acclimated to seeing him there. I’m a big fan of Jon Stewart. He is the one who got me interested in American politics after all. Satire or not, The Daily Show was even more educational than any other cable news on air.
When I learned that Stewart was quitting and was being replaced by this unknown comedian, I was saddened. Because I knew things will never be the same. I’m not gonna lie, I have not watched a single episode of the show ever since he left. Aside from snippets shown on their Facebook page, I’ve never actually sat through a full episode. So when the opportunity to read and review this book came my way, I had to grab the chance. Because I wanted to know a little about this man. I wanted to know how a South African comedian charmed his way into the annals of a sometimes entertaining, more often frustrating American political satire arena.
During the presidential election campaign, he’s become more prominent because he assumed Jon Stewart’s role with great gusto. He was funny and candid; harsh and honest. But as I observed him during the few moments that I’ve seen his shtick, there’s still a bit of him that’s a little uncomfortable. Like, he couldn’t fully play the role of a man commenting on the absurdities of the American politics and life. Like he doesn’t belong.
I’ve never seen his comedic act before hosting The Daily Show, but it is more or less in this book where he recounts the tales of growing up during and after apartheid. And the stories are funny, sometimes bleak, and in turns, alarming. He tells us that because he was born out of wedlock and a “half-white”, “half-black”, he didn’t really find acceptance.
The only way he could spend time with his Swiss-national father was away from the scrutiny of the public. And because he’s light-skinned, they sometimes resorted to pretending his mother was his nanny. His world was inside the gates of their home because his grandmother feared he would get abducted. He spent most of his time alone but he claimed he was never lonely. He read a lot of books and was perfectly comfortable being in the company of himself. Language, he learned early on, was the key to hiding the fact that he didn’t belong in either white or black community. Because if he could speak a variety of languages, kids could respect him.
If you spoke to me in Zulu, I replied to you in Zulu. If you spoke to me in Tswana, I replied to you in Tswana. Maybe I didn’t look like you, but if I spoke like you, I was you.”
His mother was, by all accounts, the constant figure in his life that made him the man that he is. A woman who never lost faith in her God no matter the odds. The woman who took her kids to three churches on Sundays, whom at one point, threw Trevor off the bus, then jumped with his brother in her arms, to get away from an inevitable rape, and worst, death. She was a woman with conviction who knew what she wanted even if it meant a lifetime of ridicule and persecution because she’d “born a crime”, a half-white child whose Swiss-German father could never really own him. And amidst poverty, hardship, and violence, raised Trevor and his brother with the same dreams and hopes as any loving mother would do.
“For my mother. My first fan. Thank you for making me a man,”
he writes in his dedication. It is true that without his mother and her defiant spirit, he’d never be where he is right now. One of the biggest South African exports, a boy who grew up in small towns and one who was always looking for a place to belong.