Trevor Noah's departure from "The Daily Show" was a huge loss to late-night TV. But it might have been the best thing to happen for stand-up in years.
After leaving the Comedy Central series, the South African-born comic embarked on a world tour, showing off his greatest gift — brainy, brilliant observations that would never be on the radar of his peers. He wraps up his four-night stop in Minneapolis on Saturday.
Thursday's performance at the Orpheum Theatre kicked off with an airline joke. He also made obligatory nods to Prince and our cold weather. At one point, he promised to try a Juicy Lucy before leaving town.
But most of Noah's act revolved about subjects you don't hear much about in live comedy shows. The heart of his current act consists of stories about Martin Luther King Jr., German history, Columbus Day and national anthems. One bit hinged on knowing at least a little about Andrew Jackson's treatment of his slaves.
Noah assumes his diverse fans brought their brains. Based on the enthusiastic response, he's right.
They may seem like highbrow topics, but Noah has the ability to make them relatable, even if it means incorporating a Darth Vader impression.
He also manages to get personal without turning his show into a therapy session.
This was not the Noah who spent eight years on TV chastising the media and politicians. This was the Noah who wrote "Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood," a memoir that dared to see the world through a global lens. (He confirmed that there's still a movie version in the works, with Oscar winner Lupita Nyong'o playing his mom.) It was also the Noah you can get to know in the Spotify podcast "What Now?" that launched earlier this month.
His delivery is as gutsy as his choice of material. Most comics panic if they go 20 seconds without getting a laugh. Not Noah. He' s willing to dedicate more than a minute to setting up a joke, a risky stunt that paid off over and over again.
What may have been most mind-blowing about Noah's performance Thursday was that we may have only seen 0.06% of his arsenal. During a lengthy Q&A session at the end, he responded to questions about his love life, Donald Trump's legal troubles and his decision to wear an H&M shirt with fully formed routines that were as impressive as the prepared bits.
Before taking over "The Daily Show" in 2015, Noah was largely unknown in the United States. But he was already celebrated in other parts of the world as a stand-up genius. Minneapolis — and the rest of America — is just catching up.
If you're going to compile a list of the top five comedians working today, Noah must be part of the conversation.