Trevor Noah in Son of Patricia.
In his second Netflix special, The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah ditches the suit and tie in favor of jeans and a T-shirt, a comfortable ensemble that pairs well with his onstage ease. Son of Patricia draws its name from a lesson his mother taught him on how to redirect negative energy spewed from the mouths of racists. Race and immigrant identity are the primary themes of the special and are addressed through lengthy stories about Bali snake shows, ethnic foods, and No. 45. When not confined to the 22-minute restrictions of an up-to-the-minute news show, Noah really likes to stretch out, weaving well-rehearsed tales that always end up with a nice little bow on top. Below are seven bits from the new special that would make his momma proud.
Aside from a few opening comments on Los Angeles, where the special was filmed, this take on trap music is one of the only jokes not loaded with sociopolitical commentary. It’s a lighthearted introduction to a special that is about to get very real:
Every trap song to me sounds like a toddler complaining about life. That’s all I hear when I listen to trap songs. Every time a trap song plays on the radio I think about my little brother. He’ll go outside, hurt himself, come back crying, and it sounds like every single trap song ever. He’ll walk in like [crying], and I’ll be like, “Yo, Isaac, what happened?”
[syncopated gibberish à la your favorite SoundCloud rapper]
“I thought you were playing with your friends.”
“All my friends are dead. Push me to the edge.”
Noah opens the bit explaining what he learned about Rochester, New York’s ties to the Underground Railroad, most notably how the area provided a refuge dedicated to rehabilitating people who had escaped slavery. After receiving food, shelter, and any necessary rehabilitation, former slaves were then put on boats and sent to Canada where they could live free:
That’s a fascinating story for two reasons. One, it reminds you that there are a lot of good people, white people, out there. A lot of the time I get angry at white people, and then I’m like, “No, no, there are good ones. Calm down.” The second part of it that was amazing was that they convinced black people to get back on boats. That’s one of the most amazing stories I’ve ever read.”
Bonus points for the act-out that reveals how an insistently helpful white guy was the first person to coin the phrase “N*gga, please,” and this dig on Yeezy:
Maybe one day in a few hundred years one of my descendants named Kanye West will be over this shit, but I ain’t over it right now. So I ain’t getting on no boat.
Tacos weren’t really a thing in South Africa, so Noah never really got on the bandwagon upon arriving to the States. The fact that he never fucked with tacos proved to be quite upsetting to one of his white friends. This is one of several times in the special where Noah shows off his talent for voice work. He has a few white characters, the most basic of which is derivative of Richard Pryor’s white guy voice. But here we get treated to “Dave,” a younger, cooler Caucasian who sounds like an actual person you might know:
Dave was personally offended. I’ll never forget. He jumped up and said, “Dude, I can’t believe you’ve been in America all this time and you’ve never had tacos.”
I was like, “Dave, why is it such a big deal?”
“Because, Trevor, nothing says America like tacos.”
Really? Nothing says America like Mexican food? What’s funny is that in that moment I feel like Dave was being profound. He didn’t even realize it, but that was a profound little nugget that he had just espoused: “Nothing says America like tacos.” I’ve had the privilege of traveling everywhere in this beautiful country. I’ve been to places like Erie, Pennsylvania; El Paso, Texas; Honolulu, Hawaii. I’ve been everywhere and one thing I’ve learned across the board is that Americans love tacos. Even people you wouldn’t expect. I was watching the news one day and there was a guy at a rally. They were asking him about immigration and families being separated, etc. This guy, regardless of his politics, he was being really mean and xenophobic and racist — you know, acting real presidential. The journalist asked him about children and he just went straight in: “Boy, I’ll tell you what. I don’t give a damn about any of these goddamn Mexicans, you hear? They came over here and they ain’t supposed to be here, boy. Woo! It’s our country now, you heard? That’s right, go on back to where you came from. Woo! These Mexicans ain’t done nothing good. They ain’t brought nothing good to America. We don’t need y’all. Now c’mon Bubba, it’s Taco Tuesday!” Get outta here, but leave the recipes.
Continuing on the food train, Noah proposes a food-based compromise for racists. This is an example of Noah’s artful way of preaching without sounding preachy. He lays out a logic-based solution backed by facts and drives the point home with a quick historic act-out. It’s hard in an era of “clapter” comedy to make a point without coming off as pretentious or desperate for approval. Noah deserves credit for the amount of times he steps right over what could be cheap applause on his way to get to the joke:
I think there should be a rule in America that says you can hate immigrants all you want, but if you do, you don’t get to eat their food. That’s a fair exchange for me. If you hate immigrants, no immigrant food. No Mexican food, no Caribbean food, no Dominican food, no Asian food, nothing. Only potatoes. I’m not even saying flavored potatoes. Just plain potatoes, no spice. Because, no immigrants, no spice. Don’t ever forget that. Both figuratively and literally, no spice. I know some people who would take that. I know there are some people right now who would be like, “Well, you know what Trevor? Take your immigrants, take your spice, and get the hell outta here.” You say that now because you’ve never lived a life without spice. But don’t ever forget, a life without spice was so hard, so hard that it made white people sail around the world to find it. This wasn’t regular sailing. It wasn’t a Disney cruise. These people lived at a time when they believed that if you went that way you would fall off the edge of the earth and die. And still, some man was eating some white lady’s cooking and was like, “I can’t do this shit anymore!”
If you wonder what the face of the country’s most popular satirical news show really feels about the presidency, well, it’s complicated. But despite the incongruous nature of logic versus emotion, Noah boils his position down to the ridiculously simple with a good old-fashioned dick joke:
For me, Donald Trump is an emotional paradox. I’m not gonna lie. Logically, I can process him. Emotionally, I struggle. On the one hand, I wake up many days terrified at the notion that he’s president of the most powerful nation in the world. But I also must admit that I wake up many days knowing he’s going to make me laugh. There’s terror and there’s joy, and I don’t know how to feel. It feels like there’s a giant asteroid headed toward the earth, but it’s shaped like a penis. Like, I think I’m gonna die, but I know I’m gonna laugh.
With the recent statements Trump made about how our lack of “raking and cleaning” forest floors likely led to the devastating fires currently plaguing California, this joke about his proposed border-wall solutions feels rather timely:
He said America should build the wall out of solar panels because that way the wall would generate electricity and pay for itself. That’s a good idea, unless you know anything about solar panels, the sun, or walls. The problem with that idea is that the sun is up. Solar panels won’t work because a wall is like [mimics a wall] this, so technically it’s facing down. Unless you have a really swaggy sun that’s like, “Yeah, I shine real low, B,” it’s not going to work. The only way it works is if you take the border solar panel and lean it at an angle to get the sun’s rays. But if you do that, now you’re just creating a giant ramp for Mexicans to shoot into America.”
In the middle of his closing chunk, Noah reflects on the time a guy in Chicago drove by in a pickup truck and called him the N-word. In a special full of longer, heavier stories, the structure here is a refreshing reminder that he hasn’t forgotten the basic tenets of stand-up and knows how to use a subtle misdirect:
I was disappointed, mostly because he was driving a pickup truck. I felt like that was an unnecessary stereotype that he didn’t need to perpetuate. If you’re going to be racist, do something different. Think outside the box. Drive a Prius. It’s better for the environment and it’s quiet. You can sneak up on me. We both win.