fri 21/06/2024

Trevor Noah: Off the Record, O2 review - welcome return to standup for the polyglot motormouth | reviews, news & interviews

Trevor Noah: Off the Record, O2 review - welcome return to standup for the polyglot motormouth

Trevor Noah: Off the Record, O2 review - welcome return to standup for the polyglot motormouth

Back on tour, the former TV host has lost none of his charisma and charm

Trevor Noah: the most gymnastic mouth in the business

The O2 has to be the K2 of comedy peaks: a vast ovoid drum of a place where those right at the back have to be content with watching magnified images on screens. And for a standup, there are no electric instruments to drown out the echoing acoustics.

So it’s a measure of Trevor Noah’s charisma and charm that he cut right through these handicaps. It’s not the worst place he has played since his return to live comedy from hosting The Daily Show on US TV. That would be the giant tent his promoters booked for him in India, which had to have a score of air conditioning units on the go: there was no masking the whirring and humming and whooshing of those (we know what they sounded like as Noah always provides every sound effect), and eventually that part of his tour had to be cancelled.

Even so, he is clearly relishing being back on the road, especially doing three nights in London, so clean and safe after New York, he claims, where Covid trapped him for more than three years. London, clean and safe? Noah has a South African mother and Swiss father (and these days an embryonic afro). Did he really travel to docklands that night on the tube? Walk down dark back streets unperturbed? And as a rather famous face now, was he really bumped from business class on his flight over, because of a faulty seat? 

This is the only flaw in Noah’s 1hr 45min set, the slightly too obvious way the material has been massaged into being Comedy. There’s a core truth to it, but it’s essentially observational comedy that’s been embroidered and manipulated, its context possibly even invented. 

Who cares when the material works so well? The business class seat problem leads to a terrific section on armrest-sharing, complete with the regular sound of the suction toilet just behind him in operation. Even better is his English captain’s clipped, breathless chat over the PA system, which he imagines is happening while the man is being fellated by a crew member. 

Trevor NoahA stream of treasurable set-pieces follows, all involving foreign accents and impressive sound effects – Darth Vader versus Yoda with light sabres; insouciant French workers who know their jobs are safe and customers are not king; daft Indian businessmen who think that because they recognise Noah, he must know who they are; the Mexican man who insisted Noah was Dominican and of course must speak Spanish. It surely must have helped Noah that he grew up in South Africa, a country with 11 official languages.

Each accent – Spanish, French, Indian – is a hilarious approximation of the real thing, often descending into a slurry of words with just the right tonality to identify what it is. Only his English accent needs help here and there: he’s okay at cheeky, ducking-and-diving Brits, with only a hint of Dick Van Dykery, but less accurate in nailing Boris’s peculiar vowel sounds, excelling only when Boris descends into his trademark wibbling-waffling wordless head-shaking. 

Then there is Noah’s supreme achievement: his Donald Trump. This is a gurnathon beyond your wildest dreams, where the man’s nonsense pronouncements are projected through a face distorted into a mask that is unmistakably Trump’s, eyes closed, mouth stretched into an unfeasible-looking parallelogram. Magic.

The Trump section is a rare venture into the political comedy with which Noah made his name and got his TV job. This is a people-pleasing set that would probably land with most of the audience – he checked out the ethnicities there at the start, and it was a pretty global showing. He got a round of applause for his comments on the Germans’ attempts to keep their transgressions in full view, for fear of making the same mistakes again, and possibly could have earned more claps with more pointedly political material. His South African section could also be beefed up, especially the linguistic acrobatics of Xhosa, the clicking language his mother speaks.

But Noah is a top-tier act, a man with the most gymnastic mouth in the business. He is sharp and direct, strong on his feet, and even in that barn of a venue fielded questions and made his 20,000-strong audience feel they were in a much smaller room. I first saw him in one such room at the Edinburgh Fringe: thankfully, the vibe (a favourite word of his) of his act hadn’t changed. 

A word for his excellent warm-up act, Wil Sylvince, an American whose family emigrated to the US from Haiti. He too deserves a more intimate room, and a longer set.

Noah's supreme achievement is his Donald Trump, a gurnathon beyond your wildest dreams


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters