Netflix UK stand-up review: Trevor Noah: Afraid of the Dark and Son of Patricia
Ivan Radford | On 03, Jun 2020
Trevor Noah has proven a divisive figure ever since he took over from Jon Stewart as the host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show. That was five years ago and, since then, the South African comic has increasingly impressed as his own strengths have emerged. His Netflix specials, Afraid of the Dark and Son of Patricia, from 2017 and 2018, are ideal showcases of him on his own terms, and they work as companion pieces.
Afraid of the Dark, then, is the place to start, and it makes it clear that Noah’s strength isn’t in rapid one-liners, but in his conversational, laidback style. He’s a charming presence behind a mic, strolling back and forth with a laidback air that conceals his precise delivery. He’s sharp at skewering prejudices and presumptions, but does it with an easygoing smile and a chameleonic voice that’s downright remarkable.
His array of accents is particularly impressive here, as he jumps through a rapid string of nationalities in his hour-long set, retelling his experiences of coming from his childhood in Soweto (where he grew up under apartheid) to America, a land of traffic lights and swaggering confidence. But after a brief meditation on US society, he jumps over to Europe where he picks apart Brexit and suggests that Idris Elba would be a bad choice for James Bond in a largely white franchise: “I just heard there was a spy in town. Figured it was you.” “What gave me away?” “Oh, there’s just something about you….”
Nationalism segues into considering the sheer absurdity of colonialism, and Noah’s discussion of why – and how – someone would impose their religion and values upon another culture is a back-and-forth that’s milked to just the right degree of minute silliness. He dovetails neatly into the way that voices colour our preconceptions of other nationalities – and that leads into his central showstopper, an impersonation of Barack Obama that is not only joyously spot-on but is also used to wonderful effect.
This is the eighth stand-up special for Noah, and with his ninth also available – tackling Trump’s wall, stereotypical African languages in Hollywood movies and his mother’s approach to handling racism – the result is a fast-flowing double-bill that manages to be political but also personal, pointed but also understated. Racism, he notes, uses different words in America and South Africa, but the insults hurled still have the same hatred and oppression behind them (“You never forget your first time,” he quips). Heartfelt and thoughtful, climaxing with a moving deconstruction of the “n” word, Trevor Noah’s witty specials are made up tons of voices, but they’re undeniably his own.
Trevor Noah: Afraid of the Dark is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.