Noah was strong, but the two supporting acts were the night’s real treats
Despite his nightly gig as a political/social satirist on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, he didn’t just spend his hour or so on stage cranking out one-liners about Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell and other favorite targets of his. Instead, Noah spent most of his time in more traditional, observational-comedy mode, although his subjects and material were several cuts above—and much smarter than-- typical standup fodder. For instance, when was the last time you heard a comedian riff on the German word schadenfreude (which means deriving pleasure from the misfortune of others)?
The South African-born comic also scored with an extended routine about Japanese culture, which included him pointing out that Japanese people don’t eat with chopsticks: “They use their hands! You know why? Because it makes sense!” And likewise with bits on the 20,000-character Chinese alphabet (which, he suggested, must make for the “world’s worst ‘Sesame Street’) and how Africa is never the target of movie-alien attacks.
He also mined comedy gold talking about how singers constantly rework the “Star-Spangled Banner” and with a super-silly piece utilizing three ostensibly unrelated Chinese sentences.
It took Noah until the set’s final segment to get to more political subjects, but even then, he steered clear of jokes based on specific occurrences or news stories, opting for more general topics, including, of course, Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, for whom he saved some of his most savage barbs (he noted that he prefers Trump over Pence as president, because the former is “crazy but fun” while the latter is so extreme in his religious beliefs that he would likely “kill you in the name of Jesus”).
It was during this part of the presentation that Noah hit some speed bumps by forgetting the jokes and getting preachy about subjects like sexual harassment of women and abortion. Not surprisingly, the audience generally had no problem with this soapbox-climbing, but it did serve to slow down what had been, to that point, a non-stop laugh-athon.
Then again, the audience was certainly in a jovial mood well before Noah hit the stage, courtesy of his two wonderful supporting acts.
Despite a rather slow start to his turn, show-opener Vince August (who left his gig as a municipal court judge in North Jersey to pursue a show biz career) ultimately proved hilarious with his riffing on the differences between the childhoods of those who grew up in the 1970s (and, by extension, the ‘50s and ‘60s) and the kids of today, especially when it comes to playtime. August brilliantly described the playground equipment of his youth (including metal sliding boards that could create third-degree burns on sunny days) and spoke of telephone booths that were incubators of various infectious diseases.
But it was middle-act Josh Johnson, who was the real revelation.
A former Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon writer, Johnson consistently hit the ball out of the park with his profanity-free material about such subjects as playing Monopoly with his family, his hapless uncle and elderly women who wind up inflicting physical harm on their significant others (he noted that someone who takes a knife to her husband after five decades of marriage should be celebrated for “50 years of not stabbing”).
Johnson’s universal subject matter, family-friendly approach and polished delivery mark him as someone for whom the sky is the limit. Here’s hoping he’s back at Borgata as a headliner before too long.