Trevor Noah reads from his memoir at MSU on Friday, March 31. Courtesy Montclair State University.

By GWEN OREL
orel@montclairlocal.news

Thirty-three years old may seem a little young to write a memoir.

But it depends on the life.

Trevor Noah, host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” was born in 1984, during Apartheid in South Africa, and miscegenation was illegal.

His mother was even jailed and fined.

Noah appeared at Montclair State University on Friday, March 31, to speak about his memoir “Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood” with editor Chris Jackson.

The event kicked off the new Montclair Literary Festival, a program of Succeed2gether, a one-on-one after-school tutoring program for students in grades three to eight.

At the sold-out event, Noah discussed his New York Times bestselling book, occasionally reading from it. Noah did all the voices, making the audience laugh.

Jackson told the audience that Noah had said that Donald Trump could win. Noah said he recalls that he understood “how much cachet fame has in America.” He said that President Trump connects with people.

There is “no dictator I’ve come across who isn’t a charming person,” Noah said, adding that being ingratiating is a requirement of the job.

Noah said that when he first joined the satirical news show “The Daily Show” in 2015, he wondered “what are we going to talk about every day?”

Then Donald Trump was elected. The audience laughed.

Noah said that former Daily Show host Jon Stewart invited Noah in, although the two were very different, saying, “our mathematical formulas are different, but we come to the same answer.” Stewart told Noah he was too angry and couldn’t find the news funny now.

Chris Jackson, left, and Trevor Noah share a laugh. Courtesy Montclair State University.

The memoir is really a series of vignettes, said Jackson, that explores race and family and South African history. Noah said that in writing it he came to understand his mother’s story.

His own story is unusual. His being a mixed-race child was such an anomaly in Soweto that, he said, people gave directions using him as a landmark: “Turn left where you see the light-skinned boy.”

At funerals, where only family would eat inside and guests ate outside, he was always invited in. People would say “You can’t let the white child sit outside.”

Noah also talked about how language creates and crosses boundaries, giving examples of his mother speaking Afrikaans to a suspicious shop owner, and how he spoke the same language to two boys about to mug him, who then stopped and apologized.
Speaking their language, Noah said, was a way of belonging to the tribe. English was the language of money.

His mother always encouraged him, and would take him to look over the fences of rich people to describe what was inside. He realized that “the highest rung of what’s possible is far beyond the world you can see.”

His mother showed him how to look, but nobody showed her. “She did it through sheer force of will.”