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Trevor Noah’s Las Vegas stand-up act revisits life before Trump

Trevor Noah had quite a life before the “The Daily Show.” Weekends help remind him.

The 33-year-old host of the satirical news show has been flying out on weekends to revisit the stand-up comedy career he had before taking over “The Daily Show” in 2015.

His Comedy Central gig has “a lot of preconceived notions that come with it,” he says. “I have people come to the (stand-up) shows for a multitude of reasons, so it’s nice to have that where people don’t know what to expect.”

But to see him live, he says, “you don’t have to know anything about politics. We may not even spend much time talking about politics. This is a show that looks at the world through a different lens, and I perform it in a way that’s designed for the stage. It’s where I came from.”

Noah’s often hair-raising memoir “Born a Crime” is another reminder of a life that didn’t revolve around Donald Trump jokes.

“I almost feel like there’s three different strains of thought that are always going through my head, and I’ve been able to divide them between book, show and stand-up,” Noah explained recently in a phone interview.

“Daily Show” fans had some catching up to do when Noah was tapped as a left-field choice to succeed Jon Stewart. The South African had been in the United States only three years. His lone Las Vegas performance, he remembers, was a friend dragging him up to do 10 minutes at the bygone Playboy Comedy Club at the Palms.

“A lot of people, rightfully so, had no clue who I was, where I was from, what my life was like. And I grew up in a world where a lot happened in a very short space of time. And not just for myself but for many South Africans,” he says of post-apartheid Johannesburg, and being among the first wave of comedians testing new boundaries for free speech.

Noah’s book stitches together a complicated society through details, but surprisingly few of them devoted to his rise as a comedian and TV personality. It’s more about his search for identity as he grew up the light-skinned product of a biracial marriage.

The title refers to the union of his black Xhosa mother and white Swiss-German father, which was still illegal in the final decade of apartheid. Noah could spend time with his father only indoors, and if the family left the house, his father would walk on the other side of the street.

His mother, a devout Christian who would drag him to three church services in one day, was unwavering in her aspirations for her son. She insisted he learn several languages and got him into private schools in white-majority neighborhoods.

Noah says “every single person” who reads the book tells him they want to meet his mother. “I don’t think I expected it, but I’m really happy that it happened,” he says. “It’s nice to know that your adoration for your parents is something that comes across without you specifically trying.”

The climactic story of his mother being shot in the head by her second husband and her miraculous recovery — the bullet missed her brain, spinal cord and eye — is balanced by the more comical trouble in young Noah’s life: starting a house fire with a magnifying glass; escaping a shoplifting arrest because the security camera made him look white compared to his darker-skinned accomplice; doing a jail stint at age 19 after getting pulled over in a car he borrowed from his stepfather’s garage.

“Everyone has a unique story if they dig in deep enough,” he says. “As much as my story for some may seem more exciting, I always think other people’s stories are more exciting because I’ve only lived my life. Getting to tell those stories is fun, and it adds a dimension of uniqueness to my shows and how I see the world and how I connect with an audience.”

Noah says he is still growing into “The Daily Show,” and he’s in no rush to reach that place where fans quit comparing him to Stewart.

“Luckily, Jon is still around,” popping up in cameos in the late-night TV world. “But also there’s still the DNA of the show that reminds you of Jon’s era. What’s nice is getting to grow something new, getting to change and evolve it,” he says.

“But I don’t realize it happening. It’s so gradual, every single day, like the progress of working out,” he adds. “You don’t necessarily appreciate it if you look at yourself every morning. But if you look at yourself a year later in photos, you go, ‘Wow, I’ve actually changed quite a bit.’ ”

Contact Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288. Follow @Mikeweatherford on Twitter.

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