Get All Access for $5/mo

10 Insightful Lessons From 'The Daily Show' Host Trevor Noah's Memoir 'The Daily Show' host shares the poignant story of his South African childhood.

By Stephen J. Bronner Edited by Dan Bova

Courtesy of Audible
Trevor Noah

When Comedy Central announced that Trevor Noah would replace Jon Stewart as the host of The Daily Show in 2015, many long-time viewers expressed confusion. Noah, then 31, had only appeared on the satirical news show three times during Stewart's 16-season tenure.

To answer the question, "Who is this guy?" Noah wrote Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood, published on Nov. 15.

Related: 7 Enduring Leadership Lessons From 'The Daily Show's' Jon Stewart

In the memoir, Noah shares a series of entertaining and enlightening anecdotes of his early life. He was raised by his loving and wise mother, a black woman who made a deal with a white Swiss-German to have a child. (Interracial relations were illegal, by the way, hence the title Born a Crime). It's a first-person account of the end of Apartheid -- a time when the South African government systemically treated non-white people as second-class citizens -- and the years following. Along with displaying his thoughtful worldview, Noah shows off his entrepreneurial side in the book.

I listened to the audiobook version of the book narrated by Noah. Here are 10 insightful lessons on life and business that I picked up from Born a Crime.

1. People will listen if you speak their language.

Noah is biracial -- his father is white and his mother is black. This made his early life complicated as he grew up in post-Apartheid South Africa. While on a walk one day, Noah overheard a group of guys say, in their native tongue, that they wanted to mug the light-skinned guy. Noah then started speaking to them in their language, and they all became chummy.

"Language, even more than color, defines who we are as people," Noah writes. "Maybe I didn't look like you, but if I spoke like you, I was you."

2. Stay true to yourself.

During Noah's elementary school days, classes were split into two groups: one for whites and some groups of minorities (which included Indians, Asians and mixed children) and another for black kids. Feeling more comfortable with his black peers, Noah chose the "B class" against the warnings of his teacher.

"I decided I'd rather be held back with the people I liked than move ahead with the people I didn't know."

3. Think beyond your current circumstances.

Apartheid made certain activities, such as skating, nearly impossible for black people in South Africa, but Noah's optimistic mother, Patricia, didn't let oppression stop her from showing her son the "things for white people."

"There was no reason to think it would end. It had seen generations come and go. Yet she was preparing me to live a life of freedom long before we knew freedom would exist," Noah writes. "'Because,' she would say, 'even if he never leaves the ghetto, he will know that the ghetto is not the world. If that's all I've accomplished, I've done enough.'"

Related: 11 African Entrepreneurs Who Are Changing the Business Landscape

4. Focus on new experiences, rather than pain.

Noah says that he was a naughty child growing up. One time, he even set his stepfather's garage on fire, which then spread to a nearby house. Even after enduring "hidings" (South African slang for beatings from your parents), Noah would continue his mischievous behavior.

"I was blessed with another trait I got from my mother: her ability to forget the pain in her life. I remember the thing that caused the trauma, but I don't hold onto the trauma. I never let the memory of something painful prevent me from trying something new. If you think too much about the asskicking your mother gave you, or the asskicking life gave you, you'll stop pushing the boundaries or breaking the rules. It's better to take it, spend some time crying, then wake up the next day and move on. You'll have a few bruises and they'll remind you what happened, and that's OK, but after a while the bruises fade, and they fade for a reason -- because now, it's time to get up to some shit again."

5. Use your natural abilities to create opportunities.

In school, Noah said he was fast and had "no pride," so he would run to the food line as soon as lunch started so he would have the first pick. His classmates then started to approach him to buy them stuff. Noah turned this into a business, charging people a percentage and then choosing the customers who offered the best price.

"That's when I learned: Time is money. I realized people would pay me to buy their food because I was willing to run for it," Noah writes. "I was an overnight success. Fat guys were my number one customers. They loved food but couldn't run."

6. There's nothing worse than regret for what you didn't do.

The following poignant passage -- which followed an anecdote about Noah missing an opportunity to ask out a girl he liked -- speaks for itself.

"I don't regret anything I've ever done in life, any choice that I've made. But I'm consumed with regret for the things I didn't do, the choices I didn't make, the things I didn't say. We spend so much time being afraid of failure, afraid of rejection, but regret is the thing we should fear most. Failure is an answer. Rejection is an answer. Regret is an eternal question you will never have an answer to. 'What if?' 'If only?' 'I wonder what would have?' You will never, never know and it will haunt you for the rest of your days."

7. You have to invest in your business to make it grow.

During high school, Noah had the opportunity to take over a friend's business selling bootleg CDs. It started small, but eventually, he was earning more than some South African maids make today, he says.

"When I started, I had a dial-up connection and 24K modem. It would take a day to download an album. But technology kept evolving and I kept reinvesting in the business. I upgraded to a 56K modem. I got faster CD writers, multiple CD writers. I started downloading more, copying more, selling more. That's when I got two middlemen of my own. … I started making mix CDs. Those sold well. … I started making party CDs, and those started selling like hotcakes, too. Business was booming."

8. Money is an avenue.

Here are Noah's wise words on having cash.

"The first thing I learned about having money is that it gives you choices. People don't want to be rich, they want to be able to choose. The richer you are, the more choices you have. That is the freedom of money."

Related: Tim Ferriss: If You're Not Happy With What You Have, You Might Never Be Happy

9. The hustle pushes you forward.

Noah and a friend would act as middlemen in their neighborhood, buying and selling secondhand goods then flipping them for a profit.

"That's the hood -- someone's always buying, someone's always selling. The hustle is trying to be in the middle of the whole thing."

10. Make sure you have a back-up.

Noah tells a story about a time when he was DJing a party and the cops showed up. A cop demanded he shut off the music, but Noah was too slow to respond and the officer shot at his computer.

"I lost the hard drive. Even though the cop shot the monitor, the explosion somehow fried the thing. The computer would still boot up, but it couldn't read the drive. My music library was gone. Even if I had the money for a new hard drive, it had taken me years to amass the music collection. There was no way to replace it. The DJing business was over. The CD selling business was done. All of a sudden, our crew lost its main revenue stream. All we had left was the hustle, and we hustled even harder, taking the bit of cash we had on hand and trying to double it, buying this to flip it for that. We started eating into our savings, and in less than a month, we were running on dust."

He quit hustling soon after and got into comedy.
Stephen J. Bronner

Entrepreneur Staff

News Director

Stephen J. Bronner writes mostly about packaged foods. His weekly column is The Digest. He is very much on top of his email.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Editor's Pick

Business Solutions

Increase Productivity with This Microsoft 365 Subscription, Now $25 Off

It can make the entrepreneur life a lot easier.

Business News

Apple Pay Later Is Ending. Here's What's Taking Its Place.

The program was available for less than a year.


This Artist Answered a Businessman's 'Powerful' Question — Then His Work Became 'the Poster Child for Juneteenth': 'Your Network Really Becomes Your Net Worth'

Reginald Adams was the executive director of a Houston-based art museum for more than a decade before he decided to launch his own public art and design firm.


Harvard Business School Professor Says 65% of Startups Fail for One Reason. Here's How to Avoid It.

Team alignment isn't nice to have -- it's critical for running a successful business.

Business News

Here's What Companies Are Open and Closed on Juneteenth 2024

Since it became a holiday in 2021, Juneteenth has been recognized by some major corporations as a paid day off.

Growing a Business

I Hit $100 Million in Annual Revenue by Being More Transparent — Here Are the 3 Strategies That Helped Me Succeed

Three road-tested ways to be more transparent and build relationships that can transform your business — without leaving you feeling nightmarishly over-exposed.