Laughter Can Make a Movement Go Around, Too

Aug 08, 2012

Comedian [Kamau Bell’s new show "Totally Biased"]( premieres on the FX channel this Thursday at 11 p.m. EST, and I want everyone who has a TV and basic cable to watch it. If you don’t have a TV, crash over at your friend’s house and make her watch it too. [Bell]( is a board member of’s publisher, the Applied Research Center, which makes him my boss, and we recruited him because he’s a politically dedicated, very smart, very funny man. Some of our community saw him perform at Facing Race 2010–our national conference, which [we’re convening again this November in Baltimore](– and those who took the last reader survey got a free download of his CD "Face Full of Flour," which was named a Top 10 Comedy Album by iTunes and Punchline. Some people found a friend of another race, required for the 2 for 1 ticket promo for his show "How to End Racism in About an Hour." He’s been working out of the Bay Area, where he wrote a blog for the San Francisco Weekly. His new show made him move to NY, where we are very happy to have him. The FX show’s multiracial writing crew includes many others who have been featured in Colorlines, as well as on my Twitter feed. Janine Brito and Nato Green, who traveled with Bell to make the tour documentary "Laughter Against the Machine"; South Asian American comic Hari Kondabolu; and Kevin Avery, Dwayne Kennedy, Kevin Kataoka, and Danny Vermont. Green and Kondabolu used to be organizers in the labor and immigrant rights movements respectively. When was the last time former organizers got to put stuff directly on TV? And no, sorry, I don’t include POTUS. Love for Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart aside, political people often worry about comedy. Too much cussing. Might trivialize my issues. Can’t laugh over death and destruction. And comedy can, in fact, go very badly. Comedy Central’s current golden boy, Daniel Tosh*, made news recently by "joking" that an audience member should be gang raped. The incident generated a debate over whether rape jokes can ever be funny. I say, yes, they can, if they skewer the perpetrator rather than the victim. There’s so much clueless, mean-spriited, conservative "humor" on TV that I’m thrilled to have some funny that represents our values and stories. After this weekend’s [tragic gurdwara shooting in Wisconsin](, I thought it would be hard to write about a comedy show. Some weeks, I don’t feel much like laughing. But then something will make me smile and I’ll remember that laughter is a little bit involuntary. It’s like advice magazines give to longtime couples who can’t find time for sex, or for people who have stopped exercising. You might not think you want to, but once you’re doing it, you’ll want more. In politics too, it’s important to get our bodies involved, not just our minds. I come from the school that says your beliefs and habits embed themselves in your body. So even when someone isn’t all committed to the cause, if they’re laughing or crying their body remembers it and primes the brain for acceptance. I’m kind of making that up, but I think it’s the same principle as getting people to march. The act of walking together solidifies commitment. But not everyone is going to march. Some people are just going to repeat great jokes at the water cooler, and that’s good too. So humor can illuminate, and laughter can heal. Get some of that for the next six weeks, and maybe we’ll get more Kamau Bell, and less Daniel Tosh. "Totally Biased," Thursday night at 11 EST, on FX. **A previous version of this post incorrectly identified Daniel Tosh’s show as on FX. *