Laughter, resistance and ambivalence in Trevor Noah's stand-up comedy: returning mimicry as mockery

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This article explores how to understand stand-up comedy as a form of resistance in global politics, combining discussion of Homi Bhabha’s concepts of ambivalence and mimicry with an examination of Trevor Noah’s stand-up performances, in particular his material on race, disease and poverty. The article builds upon approaches which have interpreted comedy in terms of hidden transcripts, counter-discourses, and counter-conducts to argue that stand-up is serious politics. Notwithstanding his prominence and success, Noah’s performances are an alternative to dominant, white, western and Eurocentric discourses of global politics, and can be understood as a form of ‘ambivalent mockery’ which both inhabit and subvert dominant power relations and discourses from within. In his routines race is reified and deconstructed; disease is tragic and laughable; poverty is lamentable, valorized, and misunderstood. Noah invokes, inhabits and challenges racist and racialized assumptions, performing a racial ‘in-between-ness’ ranging across black, mixed, coloured and white identities which subverts assumptions about stable categories of race and identity. Taking this comedy seriously enables important contradictions in assumptions about race, disease and poverty to be seen more vividly, and demonstrates how global politics is performed and resisted in diverse ways.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
JournalCritical African Studies
Early online date30 Mar 2020
Publication statusPublished - 2020