Review: Trevor Noah at SugarHouse Casino

It was a surprisingly good Saturday night — for both SugarHouse Casino and Trevor Noah.

Trevor Noah - SugarHouse Casino

Photo | Matt Bishop for SugarHouse Casino

I’m not a huge gambler, but I like places where you can gamble. I enjoy the thrill of pretending that next small bet or slot pull will lead me to riches, I enjoy the people watching and I enjoy the complimentary drinks. That includes the sole casino in Philadelphia, SugarHouse. Unfortunately, among my group of friends, I might be the only one to feel that way. So I don’t go much.

I get it. For a while, SugarHouse’s slogan might as well have been: “Sad, even for a casino.” It was just a slots barn at first; only recently is it becoming more of a destination. The casino is in the process of a $165 million expansion. It’s expanded the gaming floor — the casino has an actual poker room now, instead of just a “poker tent” — and the whole place has been refreshed. Hugo’s Frog Bar & Chop House is scheduled to open sometime in the near future. Yes, the expansion included a giant parking garage. Still, the whole place looks nicer.

I realized this as I walked through SugarHouse to go see a stand-up show from Trevor Noah on Saturday night in the casino’s new Event Center. On the second floor of the casino near the new entrance, the space is actually rentable for conferences, weddings, and similar events, and undergoes a hasty reconfiguration for concerts and similar events. It’s a small space, fitting a little more than 700 people into the grand ballroom.

It’s still a weird place to see a comedian’s stand-up set, but no weirder than any other place I’ve seen a comedy show. And, much like SugarHouse did on this night, Trevor Noah surprised me.

I like Noah on the new Daily Show when I catch it; I particularly liked his bit comparing Donald Trump to African leaders. But he hasn’t been much of a hit otherwise. The ratings are soft. Staffers have vented to the press. Even before he debuted, old tweets of his emerged that were both offensive and (worse, for a comedian) unfunny.

But Noah’s stand-up set was superb. It was smart. Without declaring himself one, he came off as a progressive feminist. And, most importantly, it was really funny.

Noah, 32, was born in South Africa. He was born to a Xhosa and Jewish mother and a white father; their marriage was illegal under the apartheid laws at the time. His mother was even jailed and fined by the government. His mother eventually remarried and divorced; in 2009, that man shot his mother. Noah confronted the shooter, who threatened his life. Noah moved from South Africa to Los Angeles after that incident.

Much of his stand-up concerns gender relations, his mixed-race heritage, and his observations the United States as someone who has moved here relatively recently. His funniest material was about learning to “speak American.” Though Noah speaks English — indeed, he speaks multiple languages — English words in South Africa sometimes have a different meaning than ones in the U.S. His long story about “wife beater” shirts (called “vests” in South Africa) was topped only by his bit that diapers in the U.S. are called “napkins” in his home country.

Noah and SugarHouse were both much better than I expected on Saturday night. The casino was packed with guests, and the stand-up show was hilarious. Hopefully, the casino will continue to book acts as solid as Noah.

Follow @dhm on Twitter.