Trevor Noah comes to Zambia — a class act

Sara Drawwater
13 January 2014
So, two priests walk into a bar!… Ignore that, it’s probably the start of a bad joke. I abandoned all my stand-up comedian aspirations after watching

So, two priests walk into a bar!… Ignore that, it’s probably the start of a bad joke. I abandoned all my stand-up comedian aspirations after watching Trevor Noah’s ‘It’s My Culture’ show. After the success of his performance last year, The Straight Up Company thought it a great idea to bring him back like a bad sequel. His performance was anything but! If you’re like me and had never seen Trevor Noah’s work, try shutting your eyes real tight and reading this piece, you might feel like you were actually there!

NOTE: You may actually need your eyes open to read.

You’re at the entrance of the Mulungushi conference centre and people are pouring in like thick syrup — slow, but steadily. You make small talk with one Kapembwa Wanjelani and he tells you he was here for yesterday’s show.

“Nobody tells jokes like Trevor!” he claims excitedly, “He’ll surprise you today and come with some new material!”

As you wait for your shiny press pass from a young lady named Yaya, you wonder, how hard could comedy possibly be? You’ve been the class clown for most of your life; surely transitioning to stand-up wouldn’t be difficult.

Yaya looks like she’s running a million errands at once. She passes, only raising two fingers and saying, “I’ll be with you in two minutes.”

You sarcastically think to yourself that what she means to say is she’ll be with you in 20 minutes; because that’s what comics like you do — think sarcastically. But to your surprise, Yaya tends to you literally in two minutes. A new world record. The joke is on you.

The thick of things is where you want to be. In the middle of the audience where if someone behind you roared with laughter, their snot and spit would hit your back. But unfortunately for you, you had to be ushered to the front row, where people sipped their complimentary cans of Dragon energy drinks with their pinkies up. Comical. This would be great material for your first stand-up show.

It’s 5 past 19:00 and Trevor isn’t here yet, but Tom, Dick and Harry are. And they all came to see him, VIP or not. You expect that after a few drinks and some waiting, the multitude will become restless and blood thirsty. They’ve come out in droves in need of a good laugh. Funny bones will be broken if they don’t get it.

Kapalu Mutenda, a stand-up on the rise, starts the show to applause and whistles.

“I remember when I started out; I’d perform in front of a handful of people. Now Trevor Noah is closing for me.”

You can relate to what Kapalu is talking about. He seems to be enjoying what he does AND making the audience laugh. You can do that, you think. His wit and smart coat, all of the jokes he dishes out, maybe he’s doing that to actually mask some secret. Maybe there’s more to this comedy thing.

He talks about how people look at him suspiciously when he tells them he’s a professional comedian. “People take musicians or other entertainers more seriously in Zambia,” he says, but you still think you can pull it off because you have delusions of ‘finesse’.

Kapalu does fairly well and his act is followed by comedian Robby Collins, who happens to look exactly like a Trevor Noah doppelganger. You wonder if a body double is necessary in this line of work. Maybe assassins sit high up in the boxes in auditoriums at their shows, ready to pull the trigger if you tell bad jokes.

“If your toes look like you were in the freedom struggle, I’m not getting with you,” Robby says and tickles the crowd. He has a certain confidence when he goes on about how he looks beyond a lady’s more attractive features, about how toes are what determine if she really is sexy. Robby has a casual demeanor about him that is also echoed in his clothing. Perhaps one has to act like nothing’s happened when you throw dirty jokes at the crowd and have them in stitches.

The crowd has had their appetisers and they are ready for the funny. The stage lights flash and our man walks on like he’s done this a million times. You can tell Trevor hasn’t even started his act but he still dishes out a couple of freebies at the expense of the paparazzi.

They’ve been continuously flashing their cameras and one of the photographers is almost climbing onto the stage to get a perfect shot. Trevor is amused. “How many pictures do you possibly need? Who are these pictures for? — ZAMTEL? So why aren’t you using a cell phone?”

Stringing the microphone cable along, he paces around the stage, the huge spotlight following him as he makes wisecracks about our president and compares him to the South African president.

“Our president is the coolest, he gives us so much comedy,” he says. “How many wives does your president have? What? One? Ours has five! BOOM!”

Being the class clown, homework was never your strong suit, but you can tell Trevor Noah has definitely done his. He flew into the country around the time some unruly PF cadres were clashing in parts of Lusaka. He pokes fun at how a certain man described what exactly the cadre profession involves.

“I asked who those people were, and the man told me they are ‘cadahs’. I said cadahs? What do they do? He said, ‘Aahh, they fight!’”.

By now Trevor has captured the audience’s full attention. They could laugh even if he only made silly noises with his mouth. You doubt you could do that. Your jokes would probably actually involve making silly noises with your mouth.

The crowd is holding back laughter and trying to be as attentive as possible when he tells the story of how he actually met Julius Malema, former African National Congress Youth League president, and frequent target of Trevor’s jabs.

“The energy in the room changed,” he said in a low voice for dramatic effect, “and the one and only, Julius Malema was there…in the flesh. Lots of flesh.”

As he’s telling his story, there is a clucking of sorts coming from the shadows in the audience. It sounds like a large bird, but it’s actually a lady almost dying with laughter. She is in stitches and it sounds like they were bursting at the seams!

Trevor is amused and also a little worried by this. He asks the audience, “What happens if someone dies at a show? Do you stop the show?”

To which the laughter junkies mercilessly reply, “NO!”

It looks like laughter, the best medicine, is addictive. You realise even with practice, you could never write out as many prescriptions as Trevor has.

He proceeds with his Julius Malema story like he didn’t just take a short intermission or get distracted. He is very composed and is definitely on top of his game. His comedy that night has a busy itinerary. It touches down on everything from mean nurses to Oscar Pistorius and even the farce that is Lusaka traffic.

As you look around, you can see people clutching their bellies, bawling over with laughter. Tears stream down the cheeks of many and tonsils are displayed in glorious cackling. Everybody gets the jokes and this audience is way bigger than a simple classroom. Class clowning is amateur work, and Trevor Noah’s work is admirable.

But it’s still worth a try. Two priests walk into a bar…

Benny Blow is the master of inside jokes only he gets, and was the winner of Last Comic Standing only because all the seats were taken. You can read the comedy of errors that is his literature by clicking here; follow is not-so funny humor on Twitter by clicking here; and throw pies at his face on Facebook by clicking here.