The Current

Trevor Noah on growing up mixed race in South Africa, 'a product of my parents' crime'

The Daily Show host Trevor Noah's book Born A Crime talks about growing up in apartheid South Africa when the relationship between his black mother and white father was illegal.
'Fundamentally, myself, my mother and my dad were considered different types of citizens under the law,' says The Daily Host Trevor Host on living in a mixed race family in South Africa. (Brad Barket/Getty Images for Comedy Central)

Read story transcript

Trevor Noah began his career to great success as a stand-up comedian in South Africa. The Daily Show host has travelled a long way since then, but his humour is as biting as ever.

He brings that humour — along with candour — in Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, a new book about growing up mixed race in South Africa, facing prejudice and learning about survival and a mother's love.

Noah was born in 1984 to a white father and a black mother during apartheid, which meant his family initially had to hide the truth from the outside world. He was largely kept indoors during the early years of his life, and when he did venture into public with his mother they had to pretend she was his caretaker. His father could never be seen with them in public. 
Trevor Noah says humour is powerful, 'when people are laughing, they're agreeing.' (Jason Kempin/Getty Images for Comedy Central)

"I was a product of my parents' crime," he tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti. 

"I was a product of them disobeying the law. And there were prices that we paid for that but at the same time I feel like the rewards have far outweighed those and that's thankfully partly due to circumstances because the country changed so much."

Noah says one of the biggest impacts of apartheid, which came to an official end in 1994, was separating people and convincing them that they were different.

That is one of the easiest ways to control human beings is to convince them that they are different — even black people by the way — and separate them into groups that now spend more time trying to fight each other than realizing that they all share a common goal.- Trevor Noah, comedian and host of The Daily Show

Noah recounts how he grew up very poor and had a penchant for shoplifting as a teen — often for food. But one of the biggest challenges, he says, was living in a world where he self-identified as black but was regarded by others as mixed-race. As it turns out, humour was a way to bridge those divides.

"Humour is a powerful tool," he tells Tremonti.

"When people are laughing, they're agreeing. It's an implicit agreement, isn't it, when you laugh with someone? Because it means you share something without even realizing it."

Noah says he shares a love of humour with his mother. A fearless, independent woman, she went from living under one kind of oppression — apartheid — to another in the form of domestic abuse while married to his step-father. She eventually left him but was later shot by him in a vicious attack which she survived.

Today, Noah says his mom is "as fantastic as ever." He credits his mother with teaching him the most important lesson in life: "Try to be more than you think you can be, try to do more than you think you can do, try to exist in a space that is always slightly uncomfortable because that is truly where you'll find your growth."

"I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for her."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Howard Goldenthal.

now