Comedian pokes fun to provoke discussion


Larry Cortez

Comdian W. Kamau Bell points to the audience during his performance at Skyline College. (Robyn Graham)

An interview with comedian Kamau Bell after his Skyline performance of The W. Kamau Bell Curve: Ending racism in about an hour.


The Skyline View: What did you think of the audience today?

Kamau Bell: This was probably one of the most diverse audiences I’ve ever played, ever. The show works better when the audience is diverse because the show isn’t just talking about white people or black people, it’s talking about lots of different people and when all those people are in the room together, they can all react differently. It also works better because, for example, like the thing about not asking black people about their hair, you could clearly hear black people [in the audience] clapping their hands and going ‘Yeah!’ and then white people were like ‘Is that a thing?’

And then sometimes when I ask the white people [in the audience] to say I’m white and I’m proud, all the other people go ‘Hey, why is he doing this?’ For me this show is fun because I get to play against the audience. I want to make sure people know that [this show] is actually happening in real 3D where you can touch and smell, not fake movie 3D.

TSV: In your show you mentioned news events involving race issues that didn’t get as much news coverage as they deserved. How can that be changed?

KB: I think that people have to stop going to mainstream media for their sources. News is covered well if you go to the right sources. If you go to Democracy Now, which I try to, it will literally make you smarter. Stop going to cable news like NBC or FOX News; CNN is like an entertainment channel. I think that Democracy Now is great place to start your day of news, because Amy Goodman knows exactly what she’s talking about.

TSV: Do you feel you have a responsibility to share those news stories involving race with your audience?

KB: As a comedian, my only responsibility is to make people laugh. The choice is to make it racially, socially and politically relevant. Every comedian chooses what they want to talk about and my choice is no better than any other comic’s choice.

TSV: When did you make that choice?

KB: My mom and dad were always big race people so it’s always been a choice in the back of my head that I struggled with because I didn’t know how to get it out there. In comedy clubs people don’t necessarily want to hear about race for an hour.

So three years ago I started renting my own theatre spaces and running the show myself and built the show myself so I could find an audience who wanted to hear it. Then the show got around enough that I ended up here at Skyline because I was talking about it on the radio.

TSV: Do you ever get called racist because you talk about race a lot?

KB: Sure I do. I get emails from both sides. And it doesn’t mean they don’t have a valid point sometimes. The shows main thing is to promote dialogue and discussion. This show is not meant to be like a Martin Luther King tribute show. I certainly believe everything I say and there are times when I didn’t say that right and there are times when I need to do that better–I need to learn more about that and talk about that again. I’m trying to be righteous and funny, but funny is the number one job.

TSV: Who are some of your favorite modern comedians?

KB: Bill Burr, Robert Hawkins… you see when your a comic you know people who no one has ever heard of…Greg Giraldo, Mitch Hedberg; I worked with Mitch a few times. Whenever people ask this question I go ‘uhhhhhhh.’ Margaret Cho is awesome and Kathy Griffin is hilarious

TSV: When is your next show?

KB: Dec. 30 and 31 at the Phoenix Theatre in San Francisco.


The show was performed on Dec. 1 in the main theater with free admission thanks to sponsorship from ASSC and other campus groups.