Book Review: Teach Me How To Laugh

A fun fact about yours truly is that one of my favorite genres is Comedian Autobiography. If I’m going to read about someone’s life, where there are probably going to be some sad parts (as is true in many lives), I want to at least laugh a little.

Born a Crime is no exception in this regard, but it does change the rules I’d come to expect in the Comedian Autobiography genre.

(Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah (2016) Photo Credit: Google Books)

 

Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood came out late last year. Unlike the other autobiographies I’d read (and am currently working through) by the likes of Amy Poehler, Terry Crews, Tina Fey, and Mindy Kaling, Trevor Noah is still a fresh face. Literally. These other people had published their books after years and years of working usually in a different industry or going to college, usually after having kids, getting married, getting divorced, switching industries, etc. etc. Trevor Noah was not only born and raised in South Africa, but he is also a millennial, a recent 33-year-old. Although he’s been touring the world for years as a comedian, it wasn’t until he got the gig as the John Stewart’s Daily Show successor in 2015 that America truly knew his name.

Trevor Noah takes over the Comedy Central’s Daily Show from John Stewart (2015) (Photo Credit: Sky Valley Chronicle)

Perhaps that’s why the autobiography doesn’t read like others in the genre, with a mostly straightforward chronology of the author’s life with a few interludes and thanks thrown in. No, Born a Crime is more like a collection of interludes and pieces of South African history, of stories from a South African Childhood, with common themes of Noah’s appreciation of his mother, Patricia, his thought-out plans of mischief, and his desire to one day fit in connecting the dots between each tale.

Born a Crime also reads more like a fiction novel than a non-fiction biography. From the the very beginning, Noah sets up an underlying sense of suspense and the importance of his mother in his life despite all of the other characters that weave in and out of his narrative, all with the charismatic and comedic tone we’ve come to recognize as Noah’s unique voice:

To this day I hate secondhand cars. Almost everything that’s gone wrong in my life I can trace back to a secondhand car. Secondhand cars made me get detention for being late to school. Secondhand cars left us hitchhiking on the side of the freeway. A secondhand car was also the reason my mom got married. If it hadn’t been for the Volkswagen that didn’t work, we never would have looked for the mechanic who became the husband who became the stepfather who became the man who tortured us for years and put a bullet in the back of my mother’s head–I’ll take the new car with the warranty every time (Noah “Run” 9)

Whether I was learning  about the apartheid’s effects on Noah’s existence during the 1980s and ’90s, relating to his love/hate relationship with church in a black family, laughing at his many (MANY) misguided pranks gone wrong and the consequences, or crying at moments that just seemed unfair, the back of my mind was constantly begging me to turn the page, “But what happens to his mom? We have to find out what happens to his mom.” The answer to that occurs at the end, the last chapter of the book, titled “My Mother’s Life,”  the telling of which kept me tensed up and silent until I reached the last page…

Another reason Born a Crime seems like an outsider to the comedian autobiography genre is not totally surprising to me, after reading the book, is because Noah, himself, has constantly felt like an outsider. Because his existence as a mixed child of a black African mother and white European father was considered a crime for part of his childhood (because of the apartheid), Noah had a strange childhood–he couldn’t go out to play with the other kids or even with his mother for fear of someone arresting his mother or taking him to an orphanage; even under mild circumstances, such as in a lower-policed area, seeing his father in public or even addressing him as “Dad” was out of the question.

Even after the apartheid is over, Noah has trouble fitting in–whose group does he go to? The blacks? The whites? Noah is like a chameleon, who knows different languages, even as a child, and uses this skill to navigate between different groups of people, people from different tribes, even when he is still on the outskirts.

Nelson Mandela once said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” He was so right. When you make the effort to speak someone else’s language, even if it’s just basic phrases here and there, you are saying to them, “I understand that you have a culture and identity that exists beyond me. I see you as a human being” (Noah “The World Doesn’t Love You” 236)

Anyone who’s seen Trevor Noah’s comedy special Afraid of the Dark will not be surprised by his ability to seamlessly master a variety of languages and accents. But, in the special as well as the book, Noah doesn’t use this ability only to translate or get what he wants; he uses it to understand. A common feature of the comedian autobiography is the author feeling like an outsider and using the gift of laughter as their ticket into the world, the club everyone else seems to be a part of. Here, Noah provides the reasoning behind this, basically saying, “They laugh because they can relate to it. Joy, like sadness, is something everyone can understand, something everyone can express. We all sound the same when we laugh.”

Trevor Noah’s Netflix Comedy Special “Afraid of the Dark” (2017) (Photo Credit: Just Watch)

Speaking of laughter, what is missing from the book, I feel, is a story behind why Noah decided to get into comedy or even the path of becoming a successful comedian. After finishing high school, Noah took an odd path of being a pirate deejay (as in using stolen music, not the “arrgh” kind) as his main hustle. Though the epiphany of turning his life away from the hood where he hung out is implied, the author doesn’t give any indication to what he would be doing next, only:

I chose to live in that world, but I wasn’t from that world. If anything, I was an imposter. Day to day I was in it as much as everyone else, but the difference was that in the back of my mind I knew I had other options. I could leave. They couldn’t (Noah “Cheese Boys” 224)

Perhaps Born a Crime is meant to be an indirect answer as to why Trevor Noah took the comedian route. Despite the pain he’s endured (physical and emotional), from being the result of a crime (as a mixed child during apartheid) to constantly getting caught in his bad behavior as a kid to his first heartbreak (by a dog named Fufi)  to awkward adolescence to spending days in jail to a home of abuse all leading up to the story of his mother getting shot, Noah tells his story like only he can: with honesty, meticulous and ridiculous details, and hints of humor in every situation. In the book, Noah’s mother always finds a way to show her dedication to Jesus or a way to laugh during hers and her son’s many mishaps (sometimes both).

If Born a Crime is a thank you letter from Trevor to his mother, for not only teaching him how to think but also teaching him how to find a way to make life more bearable, more humorous than the bleak moments seem, then Trevor Noah’s career as a comedian and news satire show host is his way of paying her teachings forward, by teaching us how to laugh too.

 

You can find more of my Book Reviews here. Looking for another comedian autobiography? I wholeheartedly recommend Amy Poehler’s Yes Please on audiobook (Poehler’s improv-trained voice telling her own story really gives it that AHMAZING something extra).

Sunday Night Motivation

How do you do a job application?

One step at a time.

At this moment, it’s Sunday night and I’m staring at the computer screen, desperately trying to motivate myself to start the fellowship application I’ve put off for weeks.

It’s due tomorrow.

And the looming deadline gives me a fresh sense of deja vu, of school assignments past when I was in the same predicament. Except one thing’s changed: I don’t have to do this application.

(Originally Posted Nov 2013 AM Montgomery 2016)

The Difference Between Monday and Friday (Originally Posted Nov 2013 AM Montgomery 2016)

From my months of being a college grad, I’ve learned a few things about being an adult–the most important: it sucks.

Adulthood (a lot of it) involves doing things you don’t want to do (i.e. being responsible) and being extremely nice even when the other person is not (i.e. politeness).

For me, it also involves pursuing my talents for tomorrow (unpaid interning part-time) while ensuring stability for today (working part-time). And after all that, there’s not much left of me to give. After a full day of doing what I absolutely have to do, do I have the energy to do what I want to do? What I should do?

That’s the best explanation for my absence over the past few months I can give.

But I’m back because we’re in that transitional period where a swell of change occurs–whether for you that means seasons changing, the semester ending, the new calendar year beginning, etc.–take it as you will, but prepare for it.

As Malcolm X once said, “The future is for those who prepare for it today.” And one that I recite to myself on a daily basis–“In life, you have three choices. Give up, give in, or give it your all” (Charleston Parker).

So even though I don’t have to do this application nor do I want to do this application right now, I’m going to. I’m going to push myself because I know my options improve if I receive this position. I know that the only chance I have in receiving this position is by applying.

And if you’re putting something off that you should be doing and you’re looking for a sign to start, this is it. This is your sign! This is your sign to start, to work, to finish.

Don’t remain where you are if you have a chance to move forward, even if it’s only baby steps. “If you’re going through hell, keep going” (Winston Churchill).

So let’s roll up the sleeves of our sweatshirts, rub the sleepiness out of eyes, and without further procrastination, step one–attach a cover letter and resume: we are looking for a succinct, thoughtful…

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What I’m (Re)Listening To: (Podcast) Millennial on Radiotopia: #16 Double Life  (B/N: hilarious, thoughtful, and seriously relatable)

What I’m Reading: (Non-fiction) Neither Snow nor Rain: A History of the United States Postal Service by Devin Leonard; (B/N: USPS history is trippy! One of the worst U.S. massacres was in a post office)

(Non-fiction) The 250 Personal Finance Questions You Should Ask In Your 20s and 30s by Debby Fowles (A/N: Excellent resource! Actually talks about taxes!)

What I’m Watching Now: (Netflix) Season 4 of Arrested Development (B/N: Kind of a mess. Oh Maeby…)

Senior Summer: Maybe I Can Actually Get Stuff Done This Summer? Maybe?

There’s no good time to make and keep a goal…except maybe during a three-month vacation? Short of launching a multi-billionaire entrepreneurship or being employed as a teacher (and even the former isn’t likely to take breaks, giving how tech is innovated these days), a three-month vacation isn’t likely to ever happen again.

So why not take advantage of it? Some scientists say it takes 21 days to make or break a habit. That pretty much means that you have three tries to get it right this summer.

Keep it simple. Don’t be super ambitious like run 5 miles everyday if you haven’t even broken in a pair of sneakers. Maybe just running three times a week. If you want to enhance your photog skills, learn how to use free apps and take an artsy photo everyday. Tackle a Buzzfeed challenge. Start off small.

And once you have a goal (or goals, maybe you are ambitious!), here are some tips to help you reach it.

As for me, I have been woefully remiss on my leisure activities this year. Surprisingly, being an English major doesn’t allow me a lot of time to read for fun or watch for fun, so I’ll be tackling (fingers crossed) a book and a show a week–either catching up on a current show or finishing the series of a cancelled show. (Below are this week’s:)

That said, I also, finally learned how to use the app I bought over a year ago. You can get Gif Brewery through the Apple Store. I finally had fun with some old videos:

A M Montgomery 2015 Gif

A M Montgomery 2015 Gif

Good luck on your goals, guys!

Season Caught-up/Series Complete: Marvel’s Daredevil on Netflix

(Great series but so violently graphic at times, I had to cover both my eyes and ears)

Book Read: What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen

(Dessen is very predictable when it comes to romance; that said, I wish it would have ended a bit more realistically)