Q&A: Political Comedian W. Kamau Bell discusses race, comedy


Comedian and CNN correspondent W. Kamau Bell will perform his live show, “The W. Kamau Bell Curve: Ending Racism in About an Hour,” Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the SAC Ballroom.

Since 2007, he has used the show to humorously bring attention to racial inequality in the U.S. Well-known for his critically acclaimed talk show “Totally Biased” on FX, Bell has a new show premiering this spring on CNN. Bell sat down with The Daily Texan to discuss his live show and racism.

Daily Texan: How has the “Bell Curve” changed since its conception?

W. Kamau Bell: Well the show is very topical about both the world and my life, so naturally, it’s always changing. When I started performing the “Bell Curve” back in 2007, Barack Obama was just a guy who recently announced he was going to run for president, and we were all like, “Well, that’s never gonna happen.” And now, we’re talking about him finishing his second term.

DT:  With the growing racial tensions of the past year or so, has your show had more drastic changes?

WB: The way I see it, for people of color, every year is a very racially tense year. I think what has been different over the last couple of years is all of the technology we have on hand to document it. For the “Bell Curve”, specifically, there’s a section of the show where I play a video that shows an example of blatant racism. I used to find a video and use it for like six months. But now, there’s some new racist footage like every week. That’s not how I want it to be. I would much rather have no racist videos to choose from. The show would be weaker, but the world would be a much better place.

DT: Does the “Bell Curve” only focus on racism toward African-Americans?

WB: The show isn’t just about black-and-white racism. I talk about Latino-Americans, I talk about Asian-Americans, there’s some Native Americans stuff in there. My material is also dependent on what’s currently in the news. I’m going to be performing for you all in Texas, so I’ll probably talk a little bit about homemade clocks and how that works.

DT: Jerry Seinfeld recently said he no longer performs at colleges because of the culture of political correctness. Can you empathize?

WB: Well in my opinion, there just comes a point when you stop performing at colleges. Seinfeld is like 60 years old. It’s not that he wouldn’t do well, but his material probably isn’t what most college students are thinking about. College students can’t really relate to having a wife at home and raising two kids and Viagra, you know? Having said that, what if colleges weren’t politically correct? Just think about the ’60s. Who was protesting the Vietnam War? College kids. I think when the world becomes a better place, it often starts at college campuses.

DT: You briefly attended the University of Pennsylvania before moving to San Francisco to pursue a career in comedy. When did you decide college wasn’t the right path for you?

WB: Dropping out of Penn was mostly a result of me realizing I chose the wrong college. By my sophomore year, I realized I wanted to go more in the creative and liberal arts direction. I didn’t want to be a businessman or a doctor or a lawyer. And at the time, Penn didn’t really have a big theatre program or television and film department or anything like that. On top of that, it was super expensive. So the decision was also financial. Maybe if I went to a college with a bigger liberal arts program, I would’ve finished school. But I didn’t want to come out of college after four or five years with a mound of debt and no sense of direction.

DT: Aside from the “Bell Curve”, what other projects do you currently have going on?

Bell: Well, I’m also doing a regular stand-up comedy tour in the fall. I also have the new show that will be premiering this spring on CNN called “United Shades of America,” which is essentially a race and culture travel show where I will go places that one wouldn’t expect a black guy to go or maybe places that I absolutely shouldn’t go. In addition to all that, I will be doing a one-night live radio talk show on October 29. It’ll be on KALW, and it’s called “Kamau Right Now.” It’s going to be similar to my former show ,“Totally Biased,” so anyone who enjoyed that show should tune in online.