South African comedian Trevor Noah will be presented with this year’s Erasmus Prize for his contribution to combating polarisation by king Willem-Alexander at a special ceremony on Tuesday.
The Erasmus Prize, named after the Dutch philosopher and satirist Desiderius Erasmus, is awarded annually to a person or institution that has made an exceptional contribution to the humanities, the social sciences or the arts. The award consists of a cash prize of €150,000.
According to the jury, Noah, who, at 39, is the youngest recipient of the award and the first to come from the African continent, exemplifies the spirit of this year’s theme In Praise of Folly which centres on social criticism and political satire.
“With his huge talent for mockery, clever language and unifying political humor Noah is the embodiment of the Erasmian spirit,” the jury wrote.
Noah rose to fame in the United States when he took over of from Jon Stewart as host of the American talk show The Daily Show in 2015. In 2022, he quit the programme to concentrate on touring .
“But people forget he was already a huge star in South Africa,” Erasmus foundation director Shanti van Dam told the NRC. Van Dam said she is fielding numerous phone calls from South African journalists who she said are “emotional” about the prize, which usually goes to western writers or philosophers.
Noah told the paper in a telephone interview that “humor is the anesthetic necessary to perform the operation.”
“It enables people to engage with subjects and ideas that may otherwise be too painful for them to talk about,” he said.
Noah’s mother is black and his father white and the strains of not completely belonging to either of the two communities made him stronger, he said. At 21 he was appearing at comedy clubs across the country and inspiring many others to do the same.
In 2017, Noah warned about the dangers of right-wing populism and included Geert Wilders in the list. “In the Netherlands it’s Geert, in the UK it’s Boris and in the United States it’s Trump. It’s obvious happening, we have been invaded by mind controlling aliens who look like bad hair!”
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