W. Kamau Bell, Comedian and Social Commentator: Interview on The Sound of Young America

W. Kamau Bell

W. Kamau Bell is a San Francisco-based comedian who soaks up politics and pop culture and filters it through a racial lens, using his irreverent thoughts and critiques as fodder for his comedy.

He's released several comedy albums, including Face Full of Flour and One Night Only.
He recently ended a run of his one-man show, The W. Kamau Bell Curve: Ending Racism in About an Hour. His television appearances include performances on Comics Unleashed and Comedy Central, and he is a co-founder of The Solo Performance Workshop.


tired of racism

I'm just wondering when we can finally realize that this whole institutionalized racism thing has been fully mined and played out so we can stop talking about it.

But, honestly, I urge the author of the previous comment to listen to the interview again with an open mind. 10 minutes into the interview Jesse and Bell specifically discuss that Bell's work isn't "white people--they're so uptight and nerdy!" (or, like tracy jordan's bit on 30 rock, "white people dial a phone like this...black people dial a phone like this"). Not that there's anything inherently wrong with that style: it may not be the above author's taste because it makes him feel like the Other, but both the mainstream and alternative comedy scenes are traditionally very Othering to black audience members. Back to Bell, though, his style pushes the reality that we don't live in a colorblind society, so let's talk about it. Let's feel a little uncomfortable for the sake of growth, and let's laugh as we go along.

I think Bell is doing important- and hilarious!- work. Also, thanks to Jesse for bringing these conversations to the airwaves. I am a public radio supporter and former employee, but still I often find my local public radio station to have that San Francisco "but we can't be racist, look how progressive we are!" racism Bell describes in the interview. But here: Great discussion, great interview.

tired of the schtick

I just listened to most of your show about W. Kamau Bell. I'm just wondering when we can finally realize that the whole black self-awareness comedy schtick has been fully mined and played out! White people don't understand black people, and white people are uptight, and all white folks talk nerdy, and we don't get what it's like to be "from the streets." OK, we get it, now let's move on! Richard Pryor already covered this material over 30 years ago, and then Eddie Murphy rehashed it, along with countless others.

I have been to comedy shows where this "style" was employed, and all it did was create nervous (but not real) laughter, which is the cheapest kind. It's the same reason that some comedians can't seem to get a laugh without using profanity; they know that shock value will always guarantee a cheap laugh. One of the funniest comedy routines of all time is Bill Cosby: Himself, because he deals with topics that are relevant and humorous for everyone, no matter what race you happen to be. Chappelle's Show was funny because it dealt with racial subject matter in a self-effacing kind of way that acknowledged the awkwardness of the topic. He also poked fun of everyone, including himself. His show sort of brought it all out in the open and let us all get a final laugh at the absurdity of racial comedy.

I thought that Chappelle's Show would finally signify the end of that old fall-back technique, but sadly there are some who think that it's still funny.

Maybe racial issues are

Maybe racial issues are continuing to be 'mined' by comedians because racism/prejudice/bias in various forms still fucking exists? That might be tough to comprehend for a lot of people, but it IS true, regardless of whether or not it's something that affects you personally. Just because you don't find the topic or treatment of the topic funny doesn't make it irrelevant.

I mean, if the fact that stuff has been discussed in comedy before by other comedians of generations past, then jokes about marriage and kids and dating and sex and the DMV and airplane food and how women and men are different would be considered off-limits and played out as well. And yet...we know that's not the case. And it shouldn't be. Comedy is about someone giving their specific take on life, and if race is something that affects your life (more than likely on a daily basis), you're going to want to talk about it. It's just sad that talking about racism/racial issues is seen as the problem, instead of the actual issues themselves.