The South African comic took time from his off-Broadway show and late night TV appearances to answer the same 10 questions we always ask everyone.
You're in New York for the first time, doing a show at 45 Bleecker – what’s been your most “New York” experience so far?
It’s been great - New York is one of those cities where I don’t think you could go wrong, you know? I mean, in terms of comedy though, it’s been an amazing experience.
Was it intimidating, knowing you had a whole show booked in New York without ever having been to that city?
Yeah, definitely, it always is. But sometimes you have to go do the thing in order for people to watch the show. And that was always the plan - it was actually Eddie Izzard who got me to do it. He told me, “Many years ago I went to New York, nobody had a clue who I was,” and he said he just stuck it out and performed - there were five people in the show, there were 10 people, there were 15 people…and he just knew that if he performed for long enough, people would come, and I mean, look at him now, he’s a world superstar. So he said to me, just go do it. And it is daunting, but I guess if it wasn’t daunting, it wouldn’t be worth doing.
Is there any one place in South Africa where comedy is centered, like New York or Chicago over here?
Yeah, Johannesburg - it’s the home of comedy in South Africa. Cape Town would be the second home. But really, Johannesburg is the place.
What was the last thing you had to apologize for?
It was today, I had to apologize to somebody for using their umbrella, ‘cause when I’m in New York, I like to try and umbrella-hop from one person to another without using my own. And I try and see how many people share their umbrellas with me, but one person – even when they weren’t using the whole umbrella – they just were not impressed, and so I apologized. I said, “I’m sorry I tried to share your umbrella with you,” and then I hopped over to another person.
That’s a brave move in New York.
It’s fun though. It’s actually one of the most fun things I’ve done. You meet some interesting people - you have little umbrella conversations. A lot of people are more willing to speak then you think they are. Maybe some people take it as a compliment that you think their umbrella is share-worthy…
You haven’t been tempted to buy an umbrella from one of the hundreds of little stands that pop up as soon as it rains?
I’m literally, right now, standing in front of a man selling 200 umbrellas. People here have an attitude; it’s almost like the rain is a total shock to them. So when it comes, they buy the umbrella, and then when it’s done they’re like, “Okay, we’re done, this’ll never happen again.”
What’s your favorite curse word?
I think my favorite phrase would be Ohhh shiiit, a very extended, very black-American version – I just think it’s the coolest phrase for everything. OHHHH SHIIIIIT. You can use it for good or bad, I really love saying that. That would be my most versatile and favorite phrase to say.
Are you a fan of The Wire?
Yes! Clay Davis had my favorite one. I loved it.
What’s the worst hangover you’ve ever had?
The worst hangover I’ve had was in Nashville, Tennessee….I rarely drink any alcohol, and in Nashville I got convinced by very friendly people to consume way more alcohol than I should have, and it was absolutely horrible. I think I was drunk for two days afterwards, and I had a hole in my stomach - I’d burnt the stomach lining, so I had to go to a gastroenterologist and have an endoscopy. Since that day, I haven’t drunk alcohol.
That was the time to do a shiiiit.
Yeah, definitely! That is the perfect time.
What was your first car?
It was an original mini; it was a white one with the yellow polka dots. I bought this from a man who was retiring and leaving South Africa, and he just wanted somebody who would appreciate the car. His only condition for buying it was, I had to promise to keep the polka dots on it. So I drove a mini that had yellow polka dots.
Were you ever tempted to just fill it with clowns?
I never thought of that! No, I didn’t. It’s funny, ‘cause it really was a clown car. When you would hoot or honk in the car, it sounded like a clown thing, it would play a tune. It wouldn’t get anybody out of the way, they would just stop and turn around and go, “What is that?”
So you were trying to express that it’s an emergency, but they’re just delighted?
Yes, my horn was not used for emergencies, but rather to instill joy in those around me.
Do you have a scar that tells a story?
There’s one scar broken up into four all the way down the left side of my body, from a series of motorbike accidents, three of which happened in one night. I bought a motorbike and had no clue how to ride it. I crashed when riding it for the first time, and then when I was riding home, I crashed again, and then I crashed for the last time when I went to a friend’s house that evening to tell him about the other crashes. So I have three or four…yeah, it’s one big scar down the left side of my body but it’s broken up into little pieces.
Do you have a party trick?
I don’t think so. I think as a comedian, you sort of are one long party trick.
Your Hitler impersonation is pretty dead-on.
Oh yeah, I love the Hitler impersonation! I genuinely was told though, that the way I would pronounce my German sounded a bit Hitler-ish, and so that’s where I got my jokes from about it.
It’s never good in any context to be told that something you’re doing is “a bit Hitler-ish”.
Yes, absolutely. There’s absolutely nothing you could say that is good.
What’s the biggest thing you’ve ever put in your mouth?
It was a giant hamburger in Oklahoma. The second biggest thing I’ve ever put in my mouth was a hot dog from Pink’s in Los Angeles, and that was giant and overly erotic, which I was not very comfortable with, and so I never ate those hot dogs again. Just because they’re giant, and then you bite them and they have a lot of juice inside them and it sprays on your face. I don’t care how prudish you are, there’s no way your mind wouldn’t go there.
What is the one thing to remember in a fist fight?
Stay away from the fist! Remember, it’s very hard for the other person to punch you if you run, so turn it into a foot fight instead of a fist fight.
So you change it from a fight into a race?
Yes, that’s all you do. Because a person can’t punch you if you’re running. Then they have to focus on running, and if you have more stamina than them, the chances are they’ll be tired, and then you can fight. So either way, you’ll win.
Who was the last person to see you naked?
The woman who was cleaning my apartment. I didn’t know she had a key to come in - I was taking a shower, so she thought I wasn’t there, and so she came in and saw me. I don’t know what she said in Spanish; it could’ve been a compliment, it could’ve been an apology, or it could’ve been an insult, I have no clue. But it’s just a little moment we shared, and we’ve never made eye contact ever since.
Finish this sentence: If I ruled the world for a day, I would…
I would make sure I acquire enough wealth to enjoy my life the next day, because you can’t really change much in a day, and even if you did, it wouldn’t last forever, so I would rather make sure I accrue enough wealth to go about making things happen slowly.
Trevor Noah's comedy show, "Born A Crime," is playing through June 29 at 45 Bleecker, NYC. His first hour-long US stand-up TV special, "Trevor Noah: African American," will premiere July 6 at Midnight on Showtime.