Trevor Noah‘s harrowing memoir touches on his experiences with abuse, poverty and segregation growing up in South Africa — but, of course, the comedian included some more light-hearted material in there, too.
The Daily Show host show recently sat down with PEOPLE and Entertainment Weekly Editorial Director Jess Cagle for the latest episode of The Jess Cagle Interview, and he dished all about one of the most memorable anecdotes from the book, Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood — that time his mother believed a demon was in their home when in fact, Noah himself had just done something very bad.
“It’s a very difficult story to tell without making me look bad,” says Noah, 33, who at the time was living in a two-room house with eight other family members.
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“Essentially what happened was I think I’ve always seen myself as pioneer — someone who’s solution-driven,” he says. “And the one thing we didn’t have in the house was running water — no ablution facilities, so no toilets. The toilet was outdoors and it was shared amongst four or five houses that were connected on that piece of land. So to go to the restroom, you had to leave the house.”
“One day, it was raining outside, and the mud was everywhere. I didn’t want to go to the toilet because I didn’t want to get wet,” he continues. “In the house, I was by myself with my great-grandmother, who at the time was blind. And I realized that I could go to the bathroom the way a puppy would, on some newspaper.”
“So I laid out the newspaper and I went to the bathroom on the newspaper, but in my haste, I didn’t realize my great-grandmother was in the house — she was a very quiet person who would just sit in one spot until someone was talking to her,” he says.
“So I forgot that she was there and I did my thing, and while I was doing that, she called out — because she could hear the gentle plopping of something onto paper,” he continues. “So she called out, and I didn’t respond. I managed to disguise my sin, and I put the paper in the bin and carried on [with] my life.”
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Unfortunately, the smell gave him away, and when his mother returned to the house, she sniffed it out.
“My mom found where it came from — she dug it [out of] the bin,” he recalls. “And because nobody could for the life of them fathom that a human being would defecate onto a piece of paper and then throw it into a bin, the only assumption everyone could come to was that this was a demon.”
“There was a demonic spirit in the house, and so the night that followed was one of vigil and prayer because there was a demon — and in many ways, there was,” he adds with a laugh. “In many ways, there was.”
—With AURELIE CORINTHIOS