Film Review: You Laugh But it’s True

This is a documentary film following South African comedian Trevor Noah, as he nervously prepares for his first one-man comedy show. The film was made in the early stages of his career when he was aged 25 years old. Noah faces various doubts and challenges leading up to the show and reflects back on the path that led him to comedy. He describes what it was like to grow up during apartheid as the child of a racially mixed union, and how he draws on material from such experiences for his comedy shows. The film also examines the South African comedy scene and the difficulties and joys of life in South Africa in general. It is a real strength of the film that a large amount of detail is provided about Noah’s background and how this informs his work as an artist.

This film will be of interest to comedy lovers, particularly fans of Noah’s work, and those who have an interest in racial politics. As a mixed race woman from the UK, (my heritage is black Jamaican, Nigerian and white English), I found it particularly interesting to hear about the lives of mixed race people in South Africa, who are referred to as ‘coloured’, and were historically grouped together and separated from living with both black and white people. Noah managed to avoid this fate as a child due to the strategic behaviours of his family. Although I’ve grown up in a completely different context to Noah I still felt I could relate to many of his thoughts and experiences as a mixed race person.

Noah explicitly states that he doesn’t carry any anger about how he was treated in South Africa as someone with parents of different races, or in relation to life during apartheid. He makes jokes about how no-one would believe his black grandmother was really his grandmother, and how he wasn’t allowed to be seen out in public with his black mother, unless it looked like they were not really together. He also states that he enjoyed growing up in apartheid because his living environment, although cramped, was actually a lot of fun for him as a child. Noah comes across as genuine when he makes light of past issues, however it’s clear that he has struggled with his racial identity and life in South Africa at times, and he doesn’t hide from this. There is a strong sense that he took it badly that he did not have any contact with his white father throughout much of his childhood and the film shows how important it was for Noah to re-unite with him in his later life.

It was also interesting to hear the obvious racism and ignorance of some of the white South African comedians interviewed for the film, who feel that black comedians need to stop talking about apartheid. They agreed that Noah was arrogant and overly ambitious about his talents. Those in the United States obviously disagree though, as Noah has moved there in recent years and so far is enjoying great success. Despite the criticism his attitude, hard work and commitment are paying off. He is definitely one to watch and I am looking forward to seeing his latest film on life in the US; ‘Trevor Noah: African American’.

You Laugh But It’s True is directed by David Paul Meyer

Day 1 Films, 2011 (G; 80 mins).


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