Vulindlela - A South African Voice on TV
For the first time, a South African stand up comic appeared on Leno. On Jan. 6, Trevor Noah, a young comedian from Jozi. Come to think of it, he may be the only South African comic to be on any major talk show.
TREVOR NOAH on LENO
Is he what Zulus once called Pal Simon when his Graceland with Ladysmith Black Mombaza broke through musically: vulindlela - opener of the gate?
Noah may be the only comedian in the world who can really make fun of Mandela in front on a American audience, then take on African Americans ("not really African - but we'll play along with that") and then flawlessly switch in and out of their accents.
He dresses like a young stockbroker and speaks with a plummy accent that sounds almost midatlantic - vaguely American, vaguely British and occasionally South Efrican.
When he does Julius Malema - his Africanisms are uncanny. When he pays Jacob Zuma telling the World Bank that he doesn't have the $150bn he owes them you'll die laughing. "Did you put that money in my hand, no!" When he can't get the IMF off his back ask his assistant for "mashini wami." You might have to explain that to an American friend but somehow they'll be laughing anyway.
Noah's story is that his mother is Xhosa and his father Swiss ("you know the Swiss, they like chocolate"). He grew up at the tail end of apartheid where he was technically an outlaw. He is bi-racial but not culturally what South Africans would call "colored."
That buys him a lot of license to take on just about anyone - which does with great intelligence and rare mimicry. It also makes him a kind of insider-outsider - rather like Obama who shares a similar characteristic of being bi-racial but not of the traditional African-American community.
All this makes Noah the first of his a kind - a biracial African comic that Americans of all races can get their heads around.
The question is - will his insight open the lid on South African culture generally? This really is the new Africa and one that American of all races can relate to.
I'm guessing that sooner or later his managers will put him in a Mandela shirt or at least stick some type of kente cloth in his breast pocket. But he's the new Africa, so who knows?
What I do know is that he is a talent worth watching and he will certainly make American want to know more about the amazing cultures and stories underlying the new South Africa.