Using Humor in the Dialogue on Race

Chris Rock and W. Kamau Bell talk to us about comedy, the n-word and doing Totally Biased five days a week.

Chris Rock and W. Kamau Bell (FXX)
Chris Rock and W. Kamau Bell (FXX)

(The Root) — “W. Kamau Bell is one of America’s few leftist black male feminists from San Francisco with his own television talk show, and for that alone he should be treasured,” Salon wrote last year.

He’s also a straight, married young dad who’s an outspoken proponent of marriage equality and gay rights.

Welcome to the new era of African-American comedians.

Last week, stand-up comedic artisan W. Kamau Bell returned to the television airwaves as host of the critically acclaimed late-night comedy show Totally Biased With W. Kamau Bell. After a successful first season that aired on Thursdays on FX, the show has been expanded to five nights a week and will help christen FX’s new channel, FXX.

Totally Biased grew out of Bell’s 2010 solo comedy tour, “The W. Kamau Bell Curve: Ending Racism in About an Hour.” Legendary comedian Chris Rock attended a performance and was impressed, telling the young comedian, “I’m gonna make you a star.” Rock helped develop the platform and pitch it to the FX network and is now executive producer of Bell’s brainchild.

Early on, Bell committed to pushing the boundaries in America’s dialogue on race. In fact, to ensure a diverse audience for his 2012 comedy tour, he offered free tickets to people who brought a friend of a different race.

Totally Biased is no different: delivering colorblind comedy that transcends black and white. The program is a celebration of diverse perspectives, taking on race, religion, pop culture and homophobia with balanced, insightful commentary and humor that challenge stereotypes and encourage critical thinking.

Bell’s supporting cast is a rainbow coalition that includes Kevin Avery, the show’s head writer, whose Web sketch “Black Guys on a Beautiful Day” and short film Thugs, the Musical have won acclaim on the film-festival circuit; Dwayne Kennedy, who operates as the “real talk” correspondent of all things “black”; and Janine Brito, an impeccably dressed, out-and-proud lesbian who could give Ellen DeGeneres a run for her money. Other contributors include Hari Kondabolu, the sharp satirist of Indian descent; the outrageous Guy Branum, a gay comic who first cut his teeth on Chelsea Handler’s E! Entertainment show; and Kevin Kataoka, an Asian-American comedian who brilliantly challenged American stereotypes of Asians as bad drivers by reminding viewers that there would be no transportation system without Asian immigrants who built the nation’s railroad infrastructure in the 19th century.

In The Root’s conversation with both comedians, Rock explained why he was drawn to Bell’s work and why being behind the camera is more rewarding. Bell offered us a peek into the new season and explained why the n-word is the most powerful word in the English language and why he is both offended and unoffended by it in equal measure.