Trevor Noah thinks he might be able to decipher all of India — the classes it contains, and the behaviour it displays — through its traffic jams. He got stuck in one right before his show so it naturally left a strong enough impression to shoulder a chunk of the New Delhi show of his ‘Off The Record’ tour in India.
Emerging on the stage to the crowd chanting his name, Trevor drew a varied audience in New Delhi, who were all united with him in his lamenting of New Delhi’s traffic, matched in its potential for mental distress only by the city’s climate. For the audience, it was a moment of validation; for Trevor, who had flown in from Germany, it was a moment he liked to bring up often as the evening went on. He had arrived in New Delhi the day before, and standing in Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium’s auditorium the next evening, he drew out massive laughs from the audience when describing the experience of driving on Delhi’s roads as a kind of adventure that is “death-wish adjacent”. He also drew audible gasps when he confidently dismissed any presence of road rage. This more or less defined the kind of interaction that Trevor forged with the audience: learning what he had learnt about us over the two days he had been here.
Trevor rotated through the standard affair of topics that those from other countries are first giddy to observe about India, and then giddier to package into observational comedy: yes, the traffic is bad; yes, we all live by the traffic rules set by “tuk-tuk” drivers; yes, there are more meanings to the Indian head nod, a new one unlocked at each visit; and yes, Bollywood heroes still dance while fighting. Trevor immensely enjoyed observing these, drawing stories from his childhood in South Africa where he grew up watching Bollywood films, stories from the day before when he visited the Taj Mahal at 1 p.m., and stories from a few hours ago when he braved the streets of Delhi after a visit to the Saket malls. And Delhiites were more than happy to welcome these observations.
It was in a way similar to what Trevor has built his popularity and audience on. Most of us got to know Trevor as the host of The Daily Show. Trevor’s persistent shock and mockery at the sheer ridiculousness of the events that unfolded in the subsequent Presidential election in the US and during Trump’s presidency made him stand out, and how! He had arrived on the scene, where a sea of white men had been in charge of scrutinising their white Presidents late at night. He also arrived at a moment when the U.S. Presidency was handed over to Donald Trump. “There’s only one Donald Trump, there’s no one else like him,” Trevor exclaims in the middle of his set when someone asked him if Prime Minister Narendra Modi is like Trump. This then dissolved into a segment that might as well have been out of The Daily Show as he acted out what might happen if Trump ends up going to prison.
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On The Daily Show, Trevor’s early run was marked by his awe at America’s campaign season, as observed by a comedian who was born, brought up, and had his comedic beginnings in South Africa. Trevor tries to bring this feeling to his first show in India as well. An outsider holding up the mirror to the illogical things we have moulded our lives around. Except, this (the traffic jams and the weather) is an image we have seen too often, and in too many lights.
The ‘Off The Record’ tour, which was produced by BookMyShow Live, is also marked by its interactive-ness. Trevor moves away from a prepared set, posing questions to the audience and happily being questioned in return. “Do you miss The Daily Show?” asked an audience member, to which Trevor immediately replied in the affirmative, but quickly followed it up with the fact that he did not miss reading the news. Fair enough, but one cannot deny that a large chunk of the audience has known him for breaking down Trump-ian politics, and then delivering its naked absurdness in a punchline. So, an absence of this boldness in favour of his observations on the many different forms of cricket we have, did not go unnoticed.
It was so noticeable that he was given the bait to imitate an Indian politician, multiple times, which he evaded politely and masterfully. His reasons for refusing being: 1. He has not spent enough time in India to be able to do justice to it, and 2. Mr. Modi’s voice is dubbed on the American channels he watches. Though Trevor did express wonder at the name of the opposition bloc (INDIA) — “it’s slick” — and then wondered whether the pronunciation of ‘Bharat’ might pose a challenge to the white folk, dissuading many of them from their Yoga retreats here.
In his first show in India, Trevor pulled many punches, but did not shy away from what he had to say, except a lot of it was about his experience in India. There is much to be enjoyed here, as Trevor brings his own unique take on the old jokes, but there is something to be missed of the old Trevor.