The Dutch Praemium Erasmianum Foundation has awarded the Erasmus Prize 2023 to South African comedian Trevor Noah (b. 1984). He receives the prize for his inspired contribution to the theme ‘In Praise of Folly,’ named after Erasmus’s most famous book, filled with humour, social criticism and political satire. With his sharp-minded, mocking yet inclusive political comedy, Noah, in the eyes of the jury, upholds the ‘Erasmian Spirit.’
Trevor Noah is a South African comedian of international stature. As a humorist, television presenter, political commentator, philanthropist and author, he has staked his claim in the world of contemporary political satire. In his autobiography ‘Born a Crime’, Noah describes how, as a child with a black Xhosa mother and a white Swiss father during the Apartheid era, he was confronted early on in his life with institutionalized racism and violence. Instead of reacting to injustice with cynicism, Noah exposes its absurdities and combats these struggles with the liberating power of laughter.
Noah made his breakthrough with his stand-up comedy at a young age. His solo shows, among them The Daywalker (2009), Crazy Normal (2011), That’s Racist (2012) and It’s My Culture (2013), quickly became hugely popular in South Africa and beyond. After his early success, he proved himself to be an inspiration to budding talents and a curator of comedy shows in Africa. The emergence of a new generation of socially committed Black comedians in South Africa who explore racism and the legacy of colonialism was soon labelled the ‘Trevor Noah effect’.
Since 2011 Noah has been living in the United States, where his talent for challenging the establishment didn’t go unnoticed. From 2015 on, he spent seven years presenting The Daily Show, the world's most popular satirical television programme. Noah’s time at The Daily Show coincided with the rise of fake news, the presidency of Donald Trump, the Covid-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matter after the murder of George Floyd. With his astute reflections on such issues, he garnered a young, diverse and global audience and, in the process, infused a highly polarized media landscape with a breath of fresh air. Only once before in its 65-year history has a humourist won the Erasmus Prize: Charlie Chaplin received the award from His Highness Prince Bernhard in 1965. The quote “The function of comedy is to sharpen our sensitivity to the perversions of justice within the society in which we live,” is famously attributed to Chaplin, and that observation applies equally to Noah and his work.
Watch Trevor Noah in conversation with his grandmother about apartheid here.