interview: w. kamau bell on his chris rock produced fx comedy show

July 17, 2012

On August 9 comedian and AP member W. Kamau Bell‘s new late night series “Totally Biased” expands a fresh FX lineup to humorously translate opinions on socio-political issues. The six episode run is executive produced alongside award winning comedian Chris Rock, whom he credits for this opportunity. Bell says: ‘I wasn’t getting anywhere just being a comic and that’s when I started my “Bell Curve” show (“The W. Kamau Bell Curve: Ending Racism in About An Hour”). Chris Rock happened to catch this and decided that he wanted to help an “unfamous black guy get a show” so thanks to modern media mediums, Mr. Chris Rock and FX for taking a chance on me like they’ve done with many other shows on the network.’
Afropunk recently had the pleasure of chatting with W. Kamau Bell and gain a more personal insight of the man that was not offered in any other bio sourced online, in an effort to understand his interpretation of comedic art.

Interview by Alicia Maria Golden

So the point is you’re totally biased? Which side did you land on?
‘I’ve lived in San Francisco [forever] and thus steeped in it like a green teabag and as a result you’d be absurd in thinking that you would ever get me to believe that gay marriage should be illegal or that Mexicans can’t come work here [in the States], or that Islam is a scary religion. Most times on t.v. when people talk about politics [it’s like] you have to believe in what they’re saying but because I’m biased and that’s not what I believe, I can’t be swayed.’

Your entire gig is based on opinion. What are your thoughts on the state or relevance of an opinion?
‘I think we live in a time where all people think their opinion is so important and because of social media we all have a platform to put them out there and there is no limitation to what we can share. This is fed publicly day and night and depending how much and how long you have been putting [opinions] out you have a large audience to feed it to. In the last couple days with the Daniel Tosh rape joke, for example, we see Twitter is a brutal place. My idea of it and my job of a comedian is to see what did I get out of it and how can I push the conversation forward in a different way through jokes. Because I’m totally biased I am pulling these various beliefs out of people so you can see all these different sides [inspired by one topic] and as a comedian I can put it out there and build the expansion on it. So as a father, to a daughter, and a husband I have to be 100% totally against rape so that’s what I’m pushing.’

You present some sensitive topics “comedically”. Any word to the “sensitive”?
‘People think that when you make a joke out of something that you are trivializing it because people are laughing at it and the goal of a comedian is really to elevate it such as Richard Pryor, or Margaret Cho or Chris Rock amongst others. It’s in the eye of the beholder and in terms of something like the”Bell Curve” joke there will be a person from either race that will take it either way . It depends on the individual and also the environment of where the joke is told. The nature and truth of comedy is that the humor is only measured by the people who are laughing. In music, a topic can be taken very emotionally so its translated differently amongst that audience but In comedy it’s a very black and white determination [and to many] that topic should not be joked about if they disagree.
People can have such visceral, rage heavy reactions, and such with the Daniel Tosh rape situation there is a line between that topic and race that shows the severity to which these things will be taken personally or offensively. I think the art form of comedy makes things usable as a baseline for truth and the truth you tell can be absorbed [differently] by some. Comedy makes it a clean line to tell how you feel. We are going to touch upon [the subjects of] gay marriage and rape without with being too forceful.’

Why comedy and When?
‘As a kid it literally is that I wanted to be, or a super hero and that was pretty early in life. [With comedy] you have to learn how to start where to go and what to do. My first show was at a coffee shop in Chicago where I had to pay a dollar to perform in front of about 10-15 people most of which were playing chess and looked up from time to time, that’s the typical auspicious beginning for most comics. You have to keep doing it to improve and get more work and feedback from other comics to develop. There was a point where I wasn’t getting anywhere just being a comic and that’s when I started my “Bell Curve” show.’

What can we expect from this new offering “Totally Biased”?
‘I have this opportunity to put my perspectives out. We are still in the creative stages and putting things together and I want to make a funny piece and make sure ‘the people’ get their point across. Being who I am through life experiences I have a perspective that the average t.v. journalist does not and cannot offer and I’d like to put that out there on this scale.
I’m opening my self up to a big stage and there is a lot of criticism to come and I think it’s best to put my hand down and do the best that I can and see what happens. Unlike a musician, with comedy, you can’t go away and reinvent yourself… your career is unfolding in front of people and you are evolving your opinion in front of an audience and with the 21st Century you have a permanent record of this image and time when you believed this [particular message]. I want to be as responsible as I can. There’s a lot of people who like me and believe in me and that’s what keeps me going and if I fall flat on my face I want it to be on the floor of my own offices… I can only be so much and want I to make something I’m proud of.’

Aside from comedy Kamau is also a solo performance Instructor and Principal Director, and he happened to meet his wife at one of her friend’s shows. You can find out more about this other role he plays and some of the amazing show’s he’s directing at
There is something to be said about a man who makes a way of life doing exactly what they want to do. Give the show a chance it’s worth some laughs to tune in!