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An Interview With The Racist: Geoff Mills Talks To The Next Big Thing in Comedy

Published by: G.D. Mills on 30th Nov 2013 | View all blogs by G.D. Mills


Six years ago Trevor Noah had never graced a stage. Now he finds himself on some of the most high profile stages in the world. Here in the UK you may have seen him seducing Stephen Fry and Sandy Toksvik in QI, or else firmly slapping down his credentials as a slick, intelligent performer on Live at the Apollo. On the other side of the Atlantic he has appeared on some of the biggest shows around, including The Tonight Show and The David Letterman Show. Still only 29, there are currently rumours proliferating over the web that he is to star in his own US sitcom, which will draw (if the rumours are true) from the circumstances of Noah’s extraordinary life.

As the child of a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa woman in apartheid South Africa, he was, as he puts it, “born a crime”. In the Johannesburg township of Soweto, where he was brought up, the law required him to walk on the opposite side of the road to his father. If a police car approached when he was out walking with his mother, she would drop his hand and temporarily disown him, a response that made him feel, as he says in one of his sets, "like a bag of weed". Of that brand of racism, in that time and place, he reflects with mock wistfulness: “They don’t make it like that anymore…No dogs, no tear-gas.”


His mixed race status and unique biography supply him with a parapet from which to fire at both casual, unknowing racism at one end of the scale (“If you’re, like, from Africa,’ he was once asked by a cerebrally challenged American surfer girl, “have you, like, ever had Aids?”), and at the other side the kind of tight lipped, racial trepidation we are so good at in the UK. Even the title of his current tour, The Racist, is a challenge to those who are unable or unwilling to think beyond the parameters of political correctness. “I chose that provocative title because I knew that that’s what the show isn’t. I also knew that anyone brave enough to come to a show with that title would be the sort of people I’d want in the audience.”

I spoke to Noah just before he was due to appear at the Cambridge Junction, and a day before he ventures into the Midlands. He is laidback and friendly, articulate and insightful, but behind the apparent casualness I sense great purpose and drive. For a man poised on the edge of global stardom, he is impeccably polite.

Can you start off by telling us a little bit about your tour, The Racist?

The tour is really me doing a show I basically made in Edinburgh. The first time I went to Edinburgh in 2012, I had no clue what it was about and I had no clue what I was going to do there, so I just went there and basically started talking, every day talk a little bit more, and people would laugh a little bit more, and slowly created was has now become a show. I then had the pleasure of taking the show to the Soho in London, did that for a month, and then now I’ve come back and I’m doing other cities, other places, everywhere in the UK, which is great.

That was the longest ever run the Soho Theatre’s had, right?

Yeah, that was fantastic. It was a wonderful thing to have done.

You talk a lot about your background and race relations. How much of your material is consciously political and how much is instinct?

I think its instinct to be honest, because it’s something I notice all the time, something that I always see, that’s always in our world, if that makes sense. As much as people try and turn a blind eye to it, it always rears its end in some shape and form. So it’s always something I’ve noticed, and subconsciously, because of the world I’ve grown up in, I’m always very aware of it.

I was watching an excerpt from one of your documentaries, and you said that you come from a background of poverty. How much of that actually drove you to where you are now? Or is that just incidental?

Oh no, I think that’s incidental. In South Africa most people of colour grew up in poverty, that was our reality, so if anything it’s just part of me, it’s my life, it’s what I’ve lived. And I’m glad I shared it with many people because I didn’t suffer alone. I didn’t think it was suffering at the time, I thought that was normal. Now when I look back I go, ‘Oh we were poor,’ but before I was like, ‘yep, this is life!’ So it’s just part of me, but it’s not what defines me.

Do you find there was a noticeable difference between audiences in the UK and in America?

Oh definitely. American audience want jokes, they don’t have time for you to be coming and giving them your opinion on life, just come up with the jokes or go home. They’re much quicker to want the punch line, they want that, they want it to be delivered; it’s a fast food world, whereas in the UK people are a lot smarter. UK audiences are some of the smartest in the world, they’ve seen comedy for a long time, they have a different approach to it, they want to listen, they want to take something away from the show. American audience don’t mess around when it comes to that. They’ll think you’re preaching if you’re not careful.

I watched you on QI, and you managed to seduce both Stephen Fry and Sandy Toksvik. (see clip below) Do you have that effect on everyone?

No (laughs), I don’t think I do. It was just a fleeting moment in time - that I’ll get to look back on fondly. That was a fantastic moment.

I don’t know if this is so much a question as an observation, but you made the comment at one point that we don’t tell each other how we really feel when it comes to race relations. Certainly in the UK we’re almost afraid to broach the topic, and I think your comedy goes some way towards breaking that down. I think if people were more open, more honest, even if they were expressing slightly dangerous opinions, at least people have a way of arguing back, opening up a discourse...

I always feel the most dangerous thing is to bury it, the most dangerous thing is to act like it’s not there. It starts with very small things, a nodding of the head there, a shaking of the head there, just grows from that. I always feel an open fight is better because you can clear the air and you can move forward from there, and so I guess that’s where I’ve come from, a world where I go, ‘Let’s just talk about things.’ It doesn’t really have to be heavy, it doesn’t even have to be taken seriously, but at least let’s talk about it.

Have you got a career plan? Or are you going to see where life takes you?

Oh no, I’ve never had a plan. I always think plans just set you up for frustration and disappointment. I plan to enjoy myself and I plan to do the best I can at what I’m doing, and then everything else falls into place.

Brilliant. Thank you so much for your time, and having discovered what you’ve done I’m going to be one of your biggest devotees now.

Thank you, that’s an honour. Thank you very much. Have a great weekend.


The Racist is on tour in the UK until the end of January 2014  
The tour itinerary can be found at Trevor Noah’s website     
Tickets can be bought at


1 Comment

  • Cameron Lowe
    by Cameron Lowe 4 years ago
    Thanks for sharing this, Geoff. Some really insightful comments and questions here and Trevor Noah definitely seems to be a comedy legend in the making.
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