Almost everyone in the world has a story about a time that they had the opportunity to meet someone they admired, only to embarrass themselves deeply. One joke from Trevor Noah’s latest comedy special Son Of Patricia, which debuts on Netflix on November 20, suggests that no matter how embarrassing your experience was, his was way worse. Noah dedicates time in his special to spin a tale about meeting President Obama and making a mix-up that left him feeling like the "dumbest person in the world," but this story isn’t just a funny anecdote — it clearly illustrates the divide that Noah feels between his own upbringing and the American culture he’s living in now.
While addressing the audience at the Orpheum Theater in Boston, Massachusetts, Noah recalled a story about the time he went to the White House to interview the president for a segment on The Daily Show With Trevor Noah. Noah tells the audience that after the cameras shut down, Obama and Noah had a conversation in which Obama mentioned to Noah that he was putting together a show "for his aides" and that he wanted the Daily Show host to perform. Noah, in response, genuinely inquired if Obama had AIDS. "You, you, have AIDS," he stammers, obviously shocked.
While anyone who has seen enough stand-up comedy (or just existed in this world) has encountered a lazy joke at the expense of HIV/AIDS before, Noah places his knee-jerk response in to context by explaining that in his home country of South Africa, which has the largest HIV epidemic in the world, it’s far more likely for someone to be talking about AIDS than aides.
These types of seemingly inconsequential cultural clashes make up the majority of the subject matter on Son Of Patricia, which finds Noah telling stories about white savior selfies, snake charmers and masculinity, and the reaction that most Americans have when they encounter someone who has not yet a supposedly universal food item. ("You’ve NEVER had a TACO? NEVER?") Noah describes being a tourist, both literally and figuratively, among privileged Americans, starting with a story about visiting Bali and being roped into having an "authentic Balinese experience" by visiting a poor old man’s actual home.
Late in the special, Noah’s examination of culture takes him to dissect the shock and awe a friend of his was met with when Noah admits that he up until that point in his life, he had never eaten a taco. Noah’s American-born friend could not believe that someone had made it into their thirties without having a taco — despite the fact that Mexican food isn’t as ubiquitous in South Africa as it is in America. The sheer popularity of tacos in America is an example of cultural cross-pollination, as Noah points out when he argues that people with anti-immigrant views shouldn’t be allowed to eat tacos, curry, or anything else that doesn’t have spice.
The journey that Noah and his friend go on to have an "authentic" taco involves yet another culture clash when a miscommunication over what a napkin is — say "Napkin" in South African and it sounds like you’re asking for a "diaper," which you shouldn’t need after trying a new food — locks Noah and a taco truck owner in a humorous, semantic exchange. Much like the one he had with Obama about having "AIDS" or "aides."
If there is a larger point that Noah is making with Son Of Patricia it is that attempting to fully understand a culture that is not your own is, inherently, a foolish and arguably absurd goal — but a goal that is worth aiming for, even if it does end with snake attacks or embarrassing yourself in front of POTUS.
While there are sure to be mix-ups that involve embarrassment and even the occasional snake attacks, Noah’s special suggests that the world is better, or at least more interesting, because of cultural exchanges large and small. Noah himself admitted to Obama that he felt like the "the dumber person [Obama] has ever met," after mistaking "aides" for "AIDS," but Noah’s story does have a happy ending. Obama calmed Noah by explaining that he wasn’t the dumbest person the then-sitting President had even met given that he had met, well, you know, Trump.
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