Spotlight: Kamau Bell

Comedy to end racism in an hour

By Julianne Hing Mar 10, 2009

By the time comedian Kamau Bell made it to the Samuel L. Jackson bit in his one-man act, The W. Kamau Bell Curve Show: Ending Racism In About An Hour, he had already managed to touch on Prop. 8, the dearth of men of color on People magazine’s Sexiest Men Alive list and, of course, Barack Obama. And then Bell explained the particular tension of needing to be on his best behavior when he is the only Black man in a room full of white folks. He compared it to acting like Cuba Gooding Jr. (“not full-on Snow Dogs though”) before multiple slights make him feel more like Samuel L. Jackson, mouth set and shoulders clenched.

For the people of color in the audience, the laughs came from knowing recognition. If the whites in the room felt a little uncomfortable, Bell says that is exactly his intention. “Sometimes I don’t want it couched in a joke,” he says. “I want the statement to bounce off their foreheads.”

Bell, who is the cofounder of the Solo Performance Workshop, started his show last year in San Francisco and plans to do another run in 2009. He offers a deal that allows folks who bring a friend of a different race to get two tickets for the price of one. It’s not just a gimmick, though. “Most comedy club audiences are white. But there’s a critical mass of brown people who need to be in the room,” Bell says, “or else there are times when it becomes court testimony.”

Has the ascendancy of Barack Obama changed his job?

“The show needs to be even more specific than before, because people think racism is over,” Bell comments. “I feel the need to say it more directly and more specifically now.”
To see more of his work, go to