In 2010, I was the lead curator for terraNOVA Collective’s soloNOVA Arts Festival, which celebrates a variety of solo genres. It presents magicians, burlesque, storytellers, dancers and comedians. One of those comedians was W. Kamau Bell, a funny, smart, social activist from San Francisco.
If you haven’t heard of W. Kamau Bell, he recently procured a late night talk show on the FX Network by means of another little known comedian, Chris Rock. Mr. Rock (who seems to be everywhere these days), is executive producer on Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell. It premiered two weeks ago after one of my favorite shows, Louie.
Whenever someone I know gets a break, I really hope they knock it out of the park. I was eager to see what Kamau would do with this golden opportunity, and I’m pleased to report the show is wonderful. It’s not because the show is funny. It is, and if it weren’t, Totally Biased would be totally dead in the water. It’s great because at the center of his show is truth. The adage, “It’s funny because it’s true,” is elevated by a heart we haven’t seen in late night comedy for a while.
On the second episode, Rachel Maddow came through and talked about comedy entering a golden age. She emphasized how humor opens avenues that lead to important issues.
And that is precisely why “Totally Biased” is brilliant.
The strongest segment from the two aired episodes is Kamau’s man-on-the-street segment, “Stop & Frisk,” where he interviews people, including a representative of the ACLU, about the NYPD’s stop and frisk strategy, which violates individuals’ civil rights.
Kamau sheds a light on this racially charged strategy and ends the segment with a list of impractically funny items to put in your pockets “to make it a little more awkward for them, and a little more fun for you.” It’s truth mixed with absurdity as only W. Kamau Bell can do.
For me, a white man who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn – or someone who never gets stopped and frisked on the street – W. Kamau Bell pushed me to research the issue. The New York Times has a great analysis of the strategy, along with a documentary short featuring the neighborhood of Brownsville.
It’s super to see Kamau simultaneously making it in TV-land and making a difference. Here’s to many seasons of thought-provoking, hilarious comedy.
Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell – Thursdays at 11:00pm, after Louie.