Trevor Noah: Where Was I? was definitely not the comedian’s best work. The writing was clever, the trolling was excellent, and the way to prove points was effective, yet there were no great laughs. Essentially, the point of the special is to say that Trevor Noah has a perspective because of his travels, and he has found that people across the world are not really different. The enigmatic ‘differences’ almost always boil down to the most basic human nature, and that is the singular answer to any mystery.
Trevor Noah doesn’t break new ground with his special. He starts by talking about how politicians distract the public with inconsequential stuff to prevent talking about real issues. From there, he goes on to talk about white privilege with the example of Columbus, takes a turn to address Germany’s performative guilt, and finally comes around for some friendly fun at the expense of white people. The comedian wasn’t boring in the least, but we did not find ourselves laughing out loud even once, and that was a hard strike.
Trevor Noah is one of the most recognizable faces of American media and the talk-show culture of the country. His life and history also prove that he is a well-intentioned man and a comedian. However, he insists that he is neither left-leaning nor right, which is translated to ‘apolitical’ in clearer terms, which is a red flag in itself. That shows in some of the jokes he makes on stage in Trevor Noah: Where Was I?. The joke about the bathrooms did not work at all. Trevor Noah tried to draw a correlation that bathrooms have always been the subject of an unnecessary debate, but his attempt at equalizing the topic for all groups shows that he probably has a little bit more studying to do. Bathroom access for trans people is rooted in prejudice and violence, which is the result of what they deal with in society on a regular basis. This was a harmful joke to make, but thankfully, it was the only harmful one.
His joke about Germany was better suited to the joke format that Trevor Noah was adopting. His approach was to deny a problem or make a sweeping statement and then dissect it to reveal the actual truth behind it. There was pin-drop silence in the room when Trevor Noah announced that Germany had made progress in terms of teaching and learning from history, because that is not the global opinion. Trevor Noah goes on to explain the changes that the country has seemingly brought and finally declares why they are simple, performative, and armor against real criticism. The way he reached the conclusion was funny.
When Trevor Noah talks about Columbus, we have to admit that he echoes the thoughts of the rest of the world. Basically, he proved that white privilege existed even before white people found their way everywhere, but in hindsight, it was the delusion of privilege that allowed them to conquer as much as they did. It is the guilt of that very delusional privilege that is making them so interested in museums in the present day.
There is a bit in Trevor Noah: Where Was I? in which the comedian talks about how much white people love swimming. We agree that they look good doing it, but we don’t really think it is a funny joke. This was an unnecessary filler joke for the set. Could he really not find other avenues to make fun of? The white guilt-filled audience was ready to laugh at themselves, so maybe talk about their bad food, their insistence on ‘basic’ fashion, or their insistence that ‘they don’t see color.’ He could have made fun of celebrities as well. Gwyneth Paltrow always makes for a good joke. Essentially, when Trevor Noah was not trying to be different, why not pick funnier avenues for possible jokes? Why go with ‘swimming versus running’ when it is decidedly dull?
On a different note, we certainly enjoyed the bit about France because that is what summed up what the man had been trying to say for so long. Essentially, all people want is to have their basics taken care of and ensure that they don’t have to beg, borrow, or steal for a decent quality of life. France guarantees that which is why people are more authentic. America demands otherwise, and that is why people are nice without wanting to. We are not sure how we feel about the argument that all niceness is forced, but we also know what it feels like to get the wrong opinions while shopping, just so that a sale is made, so maybe we will check our privilege with our feelings. Either way, this was the mystery of the French attitude—that their basic needs are taken care of, while the American leaders would rather have their population argue about textbooks and bathrooms.
Either way, we were expecting more from this special. Here, we have a seasoned comedian who is used to tapping into the pulse of a huge audience for a living. Yet he couldn’t identify that most of his jokes weren’t too funny. It wasn’t lost on us that he got a standing ovation at the end of his set. But we are positive that it wasn’t because the jokes were good. It is because, despite everything, the man was interesting, and the audience liked hearing about their own silliness, perhaps as a result of their aforementioned guilt. Trevor Noah’s genius lay in identifying this one facet and the fact about the Neil Diamond song. We are not white, so we had to look up the song. It is catchy, but Trevor Noah is right that you have to be white to be obsessed with that. Maybe if there is an Indian Neil Diamond in the future, we will find something like that. On that note, Trevor Noah missed the chance to talk about the time India made singing the national anthem compulsory before watching a movie in the theaters. We wonder how the go-soothing analogy would have gone with it.