W. Kamau Bell Talks Surprising Success of ‘Politically Re-Active’ Podcast, Season 2 Return

By Sameer Rao Mar 29, 2017

As comedian and TV host W. Kamau Bell* tells us over the phone, he and fellow comic Hari Kondabolu did not expect "Politically Re-Active with W. Kamau Bell & Hari Kondabolu," their politics podcast that returns for a second season today (March 29), to achieve acclaim.

"Hari and I had both done podcasts before that people liked but were not hits, but ‘Politically Re-Active’ took off pretty quickly and at one point was in the top 15 podcasts on iTunes," he says. "Nobody ever really said, ‘possibly season two,’ but it was clear to everybody that it was working and getting better."

In conjunction with First Look Media, Bell and Kondabolu launched "Politically Re-Active’s" first season last June with a focus on the 2016 general election. Starting with an episode on discriminatory dogwhistling, the podcast eventually grew in scope to address other racial justice issues like Colin Kaepernick‘s kneeling protest against police violence, private prison expansion and activism in hip-hop. They explored these topics with an eclectic mix of guests including rapper Jasiri X, musicians Las Cafeteras and even Green Party presidential candidate Dr. Jill Stein. The season ended with two episodes featuring culture critic Roxane Gay and CNN’s Jake Tapper that somberly addressed the post-election mood. 

"Every day that the podcast was gone, both Hari and I were asked about more episodes," says Bell. This sustained fan interest convinced the duo to bring back the show. Bell says the second season will keep the first one’s broad issue-based focus while addressing new political realities.

"We will always get into the weeds of policy, and we’re excited to talk about cybersecurity and the electoral college, but we’re never going to be like, ‘This week, we have this congressperson,’ unless that congressperson makes themselves relevant in a certain way," he explains. "We’re always going to be about the bigger conversation and the policy, not about the individual players." 

Bell also emphasizes the need for humor in their conversations. "There’s already content out there that does it [more seriously], but there’s no need for us to be ‘Democracy Now! Jr.’" he says. "Although that does sound like a good show for kids."

To that end, Bell and Kondabolu assembled a slate of guests that include, as mentioned in the season trailer, Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors, CNN commentator Angela Rye and YouTube star Akilah Hughes. Bell also says that he’s working on a recording session with rap duo Run the Jewels. "El-P, you owe me a text!" he says. Bell also says that he is open to audience suggestions for guests. 

Bell and Kondabolu previously worked together on the late-night talk show "Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell." Bell currently hosts CNN docu-series "United Shades of America" and co-hosts the podcast "Denzel Washington is the Greatest Actor of All Time Period" with fellow "Totally Biased" writer Kevin Avery. His new book, "The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell," is published by Penguin imprint Dutton and hits shelves May 2. Kondabolu’s new stand-up album is "Hari Kondabolu’s New Material Night Volume One."

*W. Kamau Bell is a former board member of Race Forward, the organization that publishes Colorlines.