Trevor Noah has a gift for language – he can speak eight, including six South African ones, English and German.
As he demonstrated so seductively when he was a recent guest on QI, he is fluent in the Xhosa language with all its mellifluous clicks. Plus he can get his tongue around others including Zulu and Sotho.
The stand-up comic, who grew up in the Johannesburg township of Soweto, admits he likes to imitate the regional accent wherever he goes. But he wonders whether Birmingham’s tones might be a step too far.
“Does everyone speak like Ozzy Osbourne there?” asks the 29-year-old. “Oh dear, that might be tough.
“I will give it a go, though. I grew up playing around with accents and voices.
“I’m looking forward to touring Britain. The only bits I’ve been to before are London and Edinburgh.
“I’ve heard of Birmingham but I have no idea what it will be like. The only thing I have to go on are its football fans – I know of Aston Villa.”
Trevor is playing Birmingham’s Glee Club on Wednesday, preceded by Warwick Arts Centre on Tuesday, and then he’s at Wulfrun Hall in Wolverhampton on December 22.
The reason Trevor is so good at picking up accents is that he has learned the importance of trying to blend in.
The son of a black Xhosa mother, Patricia, and a white Swiss father, Robert, he stood out in Soweto because of his pale skin and suffered racism from both sides. He developed an accent like his neighbours in the townships to prevent himself getting beaten up.
But he admits he had it easier than his mother. She never married his father because it was illegal – and it was even against the law to be seen with him.
That didn’t stop her, though, despite being frequently arrested.
“I don’t really remember it but when I was a boy she would often spend a night or two in prison,” he says.
“She was arrested many times for daring to be with him. She was very rebellious and kept going back. I think it was less to do with the strength of their relationship and more about her not wanting someone to dictate to her. She’s a big part of who I am as a person and as a comedian.
“When we went out as a family, Dad had to walk on the other side of the road. Inter-racial relationships didn’t become legal until 1994.”
His background has given Trevor plenty of comedy material and the title of his forthcoming tour is The Racist.
“I went for a deliberately provocative title because I like to see what people think the show will be about.
“Apartheid is perfect fodder for comedy. It was a sad time but, looking back, it was ridiculous.
“Institutionalised racism is the biggest scar on South Africa. I’ve grown up in a world where it’s regarded as normal and we’re only slowly getting out of that.
“I still experience racism everywhere I go in the world, from the least to the most developed nations. It’s a terrible disease, governed by fear and hatred, and it will always be there.
“We can never abolish it, but we can try to make it as unacceptable as possible – in some places, it is still regarded as acceptable to be racist.
“It’s interesting to see black on black racism in America, while in Britain I’ve mostly encountered liberal racism, people bending over backwards and feeling like they need to overcompensate to show they are not racist. They become inadvertently racist in their patronising niceness.
“I’m not going to change racists through my act, but I can plant a seed in their minds, so maybe they’ll think ‘They’re not all bad. Damn him!’. You don’t achieve that by shocking people, they just go away hating you even more. You achieve it through stealth.”
Trevor still lives in Johannesburg with his German girlfriend but has become an international success.
He’s fronted many TV shows in his native land, getting his first job in broadcasting when someone from a radio station overheard him being funny on a bus.
He was the first African comic to perform on Jay Leno’s The Tonight Show in America and was introduced to British audiences by Eddie Izzard.
Trevor got talking to Eddie at London’s Comedy Store, without knowing who he was, and the older comedian backed his Edinburgh show.
“He gave me something very valuable, his name. Backing my show was a big deal. I remember when we had our photograph taken together, he whispered to me ‘Don’t screw up in the world, because if you do they will print this picture of us’ .”
* Trevor Noah plays Birmingham’s Glee Club on November 27. For tickets ring 0871 472 0400 or go to www.glee.co.uk/birmingham. He also plays Warwick Arts Centre and Wulfrun Hall.