Comedian W. Kamau Bell Wants You to Join Him Around the Campfire

Categories: Comedy, Interviews

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Matthias Clamer

In this week's print edition we interviewed W. Kamau Bell, a standup comic who is back on the road after FX cancelled his show Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell after just two seasons. Bell is a man of many well-chosen words, and it was impossible to fit the entire interview in the paper. He explains the source behind "AMURI-CAH's" way of thinking and how his standup tour is one way to spread a different line of thought.

W. Kamau Bell will be in town this evening to perform at Blueberry Hill's Duck Room. Doors for the event are at 8 p.m.; seating is limited and on a first-come first-served basis.

See also: W. Kamau Bell May Have Lost His TV Show, But He Hasn't Lost His Edge

Kelsey McClure: When you started doing comedy and realized it was the thing that you wanted to do, did you have an end-game in mind or a point where you would feel like you've made it as a comedian?

W. Kamau Bell: You keep those end-games in mind, and either you reevaluate what your end-game is and then you go, "Oh, that's dumb. Why would I have wanted that?" Or you go, "Oh, I got that job. What's next?" I think, when I started, it was just the idea of "I'll have this" or "I'll have a sitcom with my name on it," which is basically what the industry was when I started. And then at some point along the way you go, "They don't really do those sitcoms the same way they used to. So I don't think I would want a sitcom at this point. I think that's going in the wrong direction."

Were you able to bring your own personal writing routine into the writer's room with Totally Biased, or was that more of a group effort?

It was like the writers were there to support my personal writing routine, but we were sort of in the middle of a learning curve. Sometimes that worked and sometimes we were still figuring it out. I think that whatever Totally Biased could've been, I think we were on our way there. I don't think, "We went out at the top, we can't do that anymore!" We were still in the process of working it out. I hope to continue that process elsewhere in other situations.

Do you think it's better to think of America as a collective or as the individuals that create that collective?

I think for me, when I se Yahoo!'s home page I think, "This how 'AMUR-ICAH' thinks."This is what mainstream "AMUR-ICAH" either is thinking about or being told to think about.
If you're only getting your information from Yahoo's homepage then you have a very sort of specific take on the world. But then, if you are only getting your information from MSNBC that's another take on the world.

For me, if I had to choose one, I would probably say MSNBC. But because I don't, I like looking at as many pages as possible.

Would you consider your standup tour a type of news source for people?

I don't know. For me, it's like a campfire. You sit around the campfire and tell stories. I'm just the one that's doing most of the talking. For some people, it'd be like, "Oh, I didn't know that," and for other people they're like, "You're getting that wrong, negro!"

It just depends on who you are and where you come from. Certainly I find that when I perform for audiences, I come across a lot of different ages and ethnicities and groups and some people tell me, "That's Totally Biased." And that's pretty much keyed in, but some people tell me they know me from The View and I get a lot of older white women who are like, "You are so adorable with Joan Behar." Some people know me from doing standup for a long time because they're just into standup comedy. For me, that's the best audience to have, to have different groups in one. Some people come out because I'm black and they're black and they're like, "It's good to see a black person."

With the last tour you primarily did alt rooms, as opposed to comedy clubs. Are you continuing with that again for this upcoming tour?

Yes, for the most part. I think there's one dedicated comedy club on this tour. I love comedy clubs, but whenever you take it to a different venue, you have a different audience. There are people that don't think to go to clubs, or wouldn't go to comedy clubs because of whatever they think a comedy club is.

For me, if I go outside of that, I sort of feel like have access to more people.

Right. Do you change up your sets at all? Would your set at a comedy club be different than your set at an alt room?

Yeah. In an alt room you have a little more breathing room, a little more room for contemplation and thoughtfulness, and in a comedy club you can do that, but you better have a joke every three seconds. "I'd love to hear your contemplation, but it better be funny soon." Whereas in an alt room, people are there to see you. So then it's like, "Well, let's see what's happening here."

For the people that saw you the last time you were in town, are you going to have completely new material? Will you be recycling anything?

There are things that just sort of advance. Last time I was in town, I had a daughter. This time when I'm in town, I still have a daughter. There's still a relationship that's being talked about. Somebody may recognize that theme, but as far as the jokes go, they've certainly changed. It's certainly going to be a lot different from the last time I was in St. Louis. The world has changed since the last time I was in St. Louis, and a lot of my act is about things out in the world.

No shit?

Yeah there will probably be a few less Sarah Palin jokes. But there's going to be 100,000% more George Zimmerman jokes.

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