Trevor Noah's tragic real-life story

You likely know Trevor Noah as a hilarious stand-up comic, or maybe as a best-selling author. Of course, he's also the Emmy-nominated host of The Daily Show, having taken the reins from Jon Stewart on Comedy Central's landmark program in 2015. Since then, he's parlayed his fame into a juggernaut entertainment career, which reportedly earns him an eye-popping eight figures a year. 

But did you know that before all of the fame and accolades, he had an unimaginably tough life? Growing up in South Africa in the late '80s and early '90s, the fledgling funnyman survived some decidedly not funny circumstances, including threats to both his and his family's lives. On the bright side, it was this series of hardships and horrific experiences that turned Noah into a hustler, who unapologetically goes after his dreams, and never gives up. Here is Trevor Noah's tragic real-life story.

Trevor Noah's birth was illegal

Born to a black Xhosa mother from South Africa and a white father from Switzerland, Trevor Noah broke the law the moment he was born. Under the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act, instated in 1949, any sexual relations or marriages between interracial couples were illegal, hence, Noah's birth was an act of defiance and rebellion that could easily result in fines, an arrest or even jail time. 

Noah wrote about the realities of growing up under South Africa's apartheid system in his 2016 memoir, which he aptly titled Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood, noting that his mother often kept him indoors, away from the law's eyes, for fear of him being taken away. 

The comedian has also regularly used childhood stories as fodder for his stand-up routines. While reporting on his 2015 show, titled "The Racist," CNN highlighted one of the jokes that best revealed just how hard life must have been for a young Noah. "In the streets my father couldn't walk with us," the comedian told the audience. "He would walk on the other side of the road and wave at me … and my mom could walk with me but every time the police went by she would drop me. I felt like a bag of weed."

Murder was a daily reality for a young Trevor Noah

Not only did Trevor Noah's very existence go against the law, but growing up in South Africa, murder was a daily reality. Even something as simple as commuting could turn into a life-threatening ordeal.  

Noah recalled one such instance in his memoir, revealing what happened when he, his mother and little brother decided to hitchhike when they couldn't find one of the (illegal) minibuses reserved for people of color. "Black people created their own transit system," he wrote, noting there was no official public transport for non-whites. "We hadn't gone 10 feet when suddenly a minibus swerved right in front of the car and cut us off," he wrote. "A Zulu driver got out with an iwisa, a large, traditional Zulu weapon." He pulled the driver out of the car and "it looked like they were going to kill this guy." 

Noah's mother diffused the situation and the family got into the minibus, but the driver started calling her names, yelling and "growing more and more menacing until finally he said, 'That's the problem with you Xhosa women. You're all sl**s — and tonight you're going to learn your lesson.'" The bus began speeding and that's when Noah's mom knew they had to act fact. They jumped out of the moving vehicle and ran for their lives. As Noah noted, "At that point my mother could be raped. We could be killed. These were all viable options."  

As a teen, Trevor Noah hustled hard

You don't build a career as successful as Trevor Noah's by simply sitting still and waiting for things to be handed to you. Rather, it takes a lot of work and determination and, according to his memoir, Noah knew what it meant to hustle hard from a young age. 

Early on he learned English — "If you're black in South Africa, speaking English is the one thing that can give you a leg up," he wrote — and in high school, he started earning serious cash with his entrepreneurial spirit. 

First, Noah would go to the local convenience store and bring back food to resell to his classmates during break time. He then upped the ante and started selling bootleg CDs and videogames to the same kids he had sold food to. He also made his own mixes and became an in-demand DJ for street parties.

Noah earned so much cash that he was able to buy the most coveted shoes in South Africa: Timberlands. When one of his friends convinced him to wear them to a local talent show and pretend to be Busta Rhymes's hype man (he had already gotten paid by the show's organizer), Noah did just that, making up a bunch of lyrics on-stage and convincing everyone that he was indeed Spliff Star. 

Trevor Noah spent a week in jail

While his hustlin' never got Trevor Noah in trouble, he was arrested as a teen and ended up spending an entire week behind bars under the suspicion of having stolen a car. As he revealed in his memoir [via Vulture], Noah took a junk car from his stepfather's mechanic workshop and hit the road, but he was soon pulled over. "Cops in South Africa don't give you a reason when they pull you over," he wrote. "Cops pull you over because they're cops and they have the power to pull you over; it's as simple as that." 

When police went to check the car's registration, they found that it didn't match up with the car's license plates, so they arrested him, thinking he was driving a stolen vehicle. Noah was jailed for a week and eventually released on bail. Upon his return home, he pretended like nothing had happened, and told his mother that he had simply been staying with a friend. Little did he know, it was she who had hired a lawyer and posted his bail. 

Trevor Noah's mother was nearly murdered

When Trevor Noah's mother, Patricia, married mechanic Abel Shingange, she couldn't have imagined the hell he would put her through. Noah's stepfather was reportedly emotionally and physically abusive. He even allegedly beat his wife with old bicycle frames, according to the Daily Mail. The outlet reports that the pair got divorced in 1996, but continued living together until 2003 when Patricia took their 15-month-old son, Isaac, and moved into a shack in the backyard to get away from the abuse. Noah was no longer coming home because he couldn't stand watching his mother suffer. 

In 2009, Patricia finally moved out after becoming engaged to a new man, which sent Shingange into a jealous rage. As the Daily Mail reports, he claimed that he had only learned about the divorce that year and tried to reverse it. He then hunted down his ex-wife and tried to kill her. "'I was shot in the face and back," Patricia told the paper. "The bullets went through the nose and passed my jugular and one narrowly missed my spine." They did however shatter her jaw and go through her skull, nose and ear. 

Noah was also in danger. According to his grandmother, Nomalizo, after Shingange left Patricia for dead, he "went around with a gun trying to find Trevor." Noah's stepfather eventually "[pleaded] guilty to an attempted murder charge," but his sentence merely included "three years of correctional supervision."

Is Trevor Noah's family cursed?

In May 2015, one of Trevor Noah's cousins, Cebisile Happiness Khoza, was reportedly murdered. According to the Sunday Times, Khoza's boyfriend dropped her off at a beauty salon, and agreed to pick her up when she called. She never did, and her body was eventually found with stab wounds and burns in a sugarcane field. 

The Sunday Times went on to quote Noah's grandmother, Nomalizo, as saying, "How do you explain this? It is a curse, I believe the family is cursed." The paper also noted that Khoza was the fourth female in the family to suffer tragedy after what happened to Noah's mother, a relative who was killed by poison, and another who was beaten to death. 

However, both Noah and his grandmother denied the report. The comedian tweeted, "Thanks to some crafty journalism my family and I have spent the whole day trying to figure out if one of us died. #awkward." He continued, "Don't always believe what you read. This is something I learned from aliens when I travelled to Mars last year." Meanwhile, police confirmed Khoza's tragic death, but admitted they didn't know of a family connection to the Noahs.

The paper wouldn't back down, though, and when News24 spoke with editor Phylicia Oppelt, she justified, "We had several interviews with Mr Noah's grandmother at her home in Soweto. We attended the funeral in KwaZulu-Natal at the family's invitation."

Trevor Noah's now hustling in a new way

Following a rough start in life, Trevor Noah's path took a turn in the opposite direction, and he's since become the "busiest man in comedy," according to The Hollywood Reporter. In 2015, Noah was replaced Jon Stewart as host of The Daily Show, despite being relatively unknown in the US, and he did so well that Comedy Central put him under contract until 2022

As The Hollywood Reporter noted in its 2019 profile on Noah, the comedian was also thriving outside of television. His 2016 memoir had sold over 1 million copies, he was already working on another book, as well as a podcast, stand-up tour and Netflix specials, all of which were earning him eight figures a year, according to the outlet.

Never losing any of his childhood drive and ambition, Noah did it all on his own terms. As he told the magazine, "For me, right now, it's head down and grind, and I don't feel guilty like I'm abandoning or deserting anybody because I'm single. My wife is The Daily Show."