Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Trevor Noah Tricks White People Into Singing in ‘Where Was I’


As someone with possibly undiagnosed ADHD, “Where Was I” is an all-too-relatable title. Trevor Noah’s work often reflects the stream of consciousness of the neurodivergent, except his jumpy stories always tie back together in the end. Much like the rest of his work, his new comedy special joyfully unearths the ironies of our current political and social climate. Noah’s ability to weave the ordinary aspects of life with the more socio-political ones allows his audience to breathe between the sometimes heavier bits without seeming too preachy. 

Noah opened with how he’s been enjoying America recently, maybe because it’s almost the end. This pessimistic joke was like a gut punch to the audience, whose laughs reflected more of an “oh-ho” than a “haha.” 

According to Noah, history in America is a tense subject. On the topic of changing the name of Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day, Noah joked he heard a man on the news say, “Well, how would you feel if someone just came around and tried to change the name of something that’s been around for a long time?” And in true Trevor Noah fashion, he points out the irony: “But sir, isn’t that the spirit of Columbus Day?” 

After saying he liked how specific Columbus Day was compared to Indigenous Peoples Day, Noah’s tone landed on the other side, making fun of Columbus for refusing to accept that he did not, in fact, find India — he didn’t even reach America. “That, my friends, is the inspiring story of how white men can fail up,” Noah joked. His political commentary on this common debate is a signature of Noah’s specials.

From there, Noah seamlessly transitioned to talk about Floridian parents trying to ban textbooks with slavery in them, which he thinks is a futile debate because “kids don’t read textbooks.” Noah paused, giving the laughter the time it needed to ruminate, and then said, “They watch TikTok.” His suggestion of how to teach kids history: a faux TikTok dance while talking about history, breaking the socio-political rant with a more mundane aspect of life in the 21st century.

Noah’s jokes were so effective because he interspersed them coherently with social commentary — here arguing that the textbook issue is manufactured, a made-up issue politicians have raised to distract us from actual problems. My father’s enthusiastic reaction to Noah’s commentary — “Yes! That’s what I’ve been saying!” — indicates how effective his comedy is. Generationally, Gen X and Gen Z both hope to see through the fog of political polarization. 

Noah next riffed on the topic of American patriotic symbols. From pointing out that the people who most fervently urge others to “respect the flag” are also those who wear the flag as underwear, to comparing the national anthem to gangster rap: you could add “bitch” at the end of every line and it would still make sense.

However, as Noah acutely observed, the one song white people like more than the anthem is Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.” Noah starts to recite the song, slowly pointing out how white audience members never really expect to start singing “Sweet Caroline,” it just starts to creep out. Once he reached the chorus, Noah paused as the crowd uncontrollably blurted out, “bum bum bum… Did you feel that? That was your whiteness coming out,” Noah said. “See, I didn’t tell you to join in. That was pure, uncut Caucasian joy.” 

In his previous work, Noah had been known for his vulnerability. Granted, vulnerability is above and beyond in the standup world, but it’s what made Noah a household name. Yet unlike “Son of Patricia,” where Noah shares the dark parts of his past, and “Afraid of the Dark,” where he shares his cultural breakthrough since moving from South Africa to America, “Where Was I” did not have the same sort of intimate connection between comic and audience.

As Noah left the stage, “Sweet Caroline” started to play. As Noah goes into a car with Neil Diamond and begins singing, we see footage of the audience members dancing and singing along as they leave the theater.  If comedy is all about knowing your audience, Noah has that nailed down.

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