Illustration by GARY TAXALI©
BY JONATHAN VALANIA Comedian W. Kamau Bell has been fighting the good fight in the stand-up comedy trenches of San Francisco since the phat pants ’90s. It was there that Chris Rock discovered him and eventually brokered a deal with FX for Bell to have his own TV show. In 2012, Totally Biased, a much-buzzed-about late night sketch comedy show starring Bell and produced by Rock, debuted to strong reviews and a big enough viewership to justify a second season until its ill-advised migration from FX to FXX, subsequent plummet in audience share and ensuing cancellation in November of 2013 after 64 episodes. His response to the bad news was both reasonable and entirely logical: Make a baby and go on tour, in that order. A few weeks ago, Bell became a father for the second time in three years. And on Sunday, his Oh Everything Tour stops at Underground Arts. All of which is easier said than done. Much easier. “I guess I thought two kids would only be twice as hard,” he recently blogged. “Two kids isn’t twice as hard anymore than getting hit by a second train right after the first train is twice as hard.” To mark his return to the City of Brotherly Love, we present this encore version of our 2013 interview with Mr. Bell. DISCUSSED: His days at Penn, the first black president, Trayvon Martin, Edward Snowden, Paula Dean and if and when white people can drop the N-bomb.
PHAWKER: I am calling from Philadelphia, as you may or may not know.
W. KAMAU BELL: Oh I know, I got it written down on a piece of paper. [laughs]
PHAWKER: It’s my understanding that you went to University of Pennsylvania for a time…
W. KAMAU BELL: I was living in The Quad, which is probably the Penn-est part of the campus. I was eating Wawa hoagies. My major was Asian Studies, which I picked because I was a big fan of Bruce Lee. Surprise, surprise that did not work out. I would have liked to have stayed if it was not so expensive and I’d realized I wasn’t going to do anything with the degree. I realized I didn’t want to be a doctor or a lawyer or a businessman, so this is probably not the school for me. But you can let them know that I will accept an honorary degree at any time.
PHAWKER: Next time I see the dean I will mention it. So, I thought we’d talk about some current events since your comedy is very sociopolitical. My first question is do think that the election of Barack Obama aggravated race relations in this country or in fact improved race relations in this country in that it sort of lanced to boil on a lot of thinly veiled racism that’s been seething under for a long time and that all this nonsense about socialism, birth certificates and he’s a secret Muslim is sort of the pus that comes oozing out when you lance that boil…
W. KAMAU BELL: Absolutely. I think you said that very well. Just say I said what you said. As I said before, what’s a better recruiting tool for the Klan than a black president? That’s a lightning rod for racists. Before Obama they didn’t have anything to rally around and then Obama came along and they’re like ‘Now we have a cause! It’s so much better to be a racist now!’ Racists love Obama, despite what they say. They LOVE him! Because it gives them a discussion point with every other racist in the world. They’re like ‘The president is black, isn’t that the worst?!?’ ‘I know!’ Before that is was, ‘Um, that Michael Jordan is kinda annoying.’