Review: Trevor Noah at JFL NorthWest

Trevor Noah’s performance at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre left me very uncomfortable, but not in the way you might think. My face hurt from all the laughing and smiling. Frankly, I couldn’t wait to get out of there and consult with Google on whether ibuprofen would help with aching cheeks.

The venue was gorgeous and the house was packed. Now and again, a lone piece of confetti would fall from the ceiling. It seemed that everybody—judging by the hoots and hollers—was there. Trevor Noah’s comedy really is the kind that unites. He addresses racial prejudice and the differences between places and peoples in a way that highlights the absurdity of it all, while still making it okay for everybody in the room to laugh, together without guilt.

I was unsure of what to expect from Trevor Noah, a comedian who, from what I know of him, tends to focus on race and his experiences in America as a mixed race South African. I wondered if his set would change for this mostly white Canadian audience, or if he would assume Canada to be similar enough and bring his usual material. We’re used to our entertainment always being about our neighbours to the South and would, of course, understand and laugh at jokes about America and Americans. There was some of that. For example, he addressed the inconsistency of Americans loving Mexican food, but not Mexicans. These jokes landed. It was refreshing however to see him bring to the stage his observations about Canada, in particular what makes it different from United States and his native South Africa.

Perhaps not surprisingly, he was quick to note how polite and law abiding Canadians were. He went on to say that he found our blind faith in traffic lights troubling, pointing out that people in Vancouver didn’t check for cars at all when crossing the road, bolting into the street because the white man told them to. This joke landed too. In fact, they all did.

On the whole, his set was hilarious and thought provoking. The set ups were long and at times left me wondering if after all the time that passed he would remember where he was going with this. He remembered; while he set the scene, the audience remained absolutely attentive. In fact, it was strange to be in a room so large and so packed with people and hear nothing but the person on stage speaking. The audience laughed so hard when each punch line did eventually come that he sometimes he had to wait for us to be done before moving on to the next bit. Other times, he paused to compose himself after laughing with the audience at his own joke. I appreciated that he wasn’t so stiff or serious as to be straight-faced the entire time.

Trevor Noah owned the room. He was animated, worked the stage and brought with him an impressive arsenal of accents. His jokes had substance and left me thinking tomorrow would be the day that I finally start paying attention to the news.

JFL NorthWest is ten-day comedy festival running February 18-27 at venues across Vancouver. The festival features stand-up, improv, sketch, podcasts and all-ages events. Check out our top picks for the festival or visit JFL NorthWest’s website for full event listings.