W. Kamau Bell: Comedy Beyond Black and White

The comedian brings some much-needed color to a space dominated by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

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WKB: My favorite joke is one that is both hilarious and engenders that black-woman-in-church response. You know? That “Umm-hmm” sound: It’s a deep recognition that what was just spoken is true.

TR: How are you different from the other guys who do late-night commentary?

KB: This show is different from Kimmel, Leno and the others. They’re all great — especially Bill Maher — and I wouldn’t be here without their example. But I believe in different perspectives. I love to see female comedians, gays, lesbians, Hindus, Arabs, Asians and Latinos.

Americans often start with black and white, but the country is so much, much broader than that, and my show reflects that fact. It’s not just about color; it’s about different perspectives. If you want Kamau, I’m going to come with a band of misfits. And people can see what a wondrous, eclectic, intelligently funny band it is.

TR: You’re a straight, married father of two, but you’re also a vocal supporter of gay rights. Why?

KB: I spent 15 years living in the [San Francisco] Bay Area, where being gay is completely normal, accepted and even admired. I learned a lot just by being quiet and observing the world. I watched my friends who are gay, married and raising happy children. And you know what? Gay marriage is just as boring and loving as any other marriage.

TR: How do you feel about President Obama’s first term, the obstinacy he’s faced from Republicans and attacks that sometimes appear to be racial?

KB: Well, I certainly feel like it’s a part of my job to call that out in a way President Obama never can. And that’s not just my role as a comedian who happens to have a television show … that’s the role of every responsible citizen. The benefit for me is that I get to make it funny.

Some of this language being used against Obama isn’t even coded anymore. It’s just plain racist and stupid. Like the guy who said slavery was a blessing to black people. I thought: “What?” Without jokes it’s painful and disgusting, but at least with humor, it’s seen for what it is: stupid and ridiculous.

I see myself as the campfire for the revolution. We’re not the revolution, but we give you warmth and reprieve, so you can then get up and have ammunition. I love that my work can be educational and hilarious.

Totally Biased airs Thursdays on FX at 11:30 p.m. 

Edward Wyckoff Williams is contributing editor at The Root. He is a columnist and political analyst, appearing on Al-Jazeera, MSNBC, CBS Washington and national syndicated radio. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.