Comedian W. Kamau Bell performs 'Ending Racism in About an Hour' at Livingston Student Center
Discussing topics ranging from U.S. Census forms to Colin Kaepernick and the Black Lives Matter movement, W. Kamau Bell brought his socio-political comedic act to the Livingston Student Center last Thursday.
Bell presented his act, which is titled "W. Kamau Bell Curve: Ending Racism in About an Hour," and said the name of the show was based on a social sciences book from the '90s.
In one chapter, the book theorized that black people were not genetically capable of learning at the same level as white and Asian people, he said. When he wrote his show, this theory immediately came to mind.
"The book, 'The Bell Curve,' was this totally racist book about black people’s inability to learn and now I can sort of reclaim it,” he said.
The show addressed a number of racial and social issues, which shaped the second part of the show's name, Bell said.
“And then the 'Ending Racism in About an Hour' is just a way to explain what I was doing because not everybody knows “The Bell Curve” is a racist book. It’s also tongue-in-cheek — you know it’s about racism but you also know it’s comedic so it’s hopefully not going to be some sort of dry lecture but that really depends on who shows up. Before you even walk it lets you know what you’re getting into and I think that’s important especially when I wrote the show,” he said.
Bell’s act included jokes on a variety of things, from touching black people’s hair to Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the National Anthem. He used a multimedia presentation as a background, referencing photos, videos and quotes.
Bell said the goal of his jokes is to encourage the audience to leave the show having different conversations than the ones they previously had.
In turn, he hopes the audience will walk out feeling differently about racism, he said.
“You can’t really hope for ending racism in about an hour, but as long as the conversation is different, then mission accomplished. Even if the conversation is ‘I hate that and I’m going to write the school and I hope he never comes back again,'” he said.
Bell is also the star of CNN’s "United Shades of America," which dives into various subcultures and groups in the country. He said the discussion of racism is something society should have had a long time ago.
Bell said the discussion was not had when Christopher Columbus landed in the West Indies or when black people were brought over to produce free labor, or when Chinese people were put to work on the railroads.
“It’s a discussion I think we have had versions of it ... Like the civil rights movement in the 1960s was just a big ‘hey, America, can we talk?’ and it worked on some level but certainly, (Dr.) Martin Luther King (Jr.) and Malcolm X didn’t die because they were like, ‘I feel like we did it all,’ they were taken out," he said. "The fact that we have elected President (Donald J.) Trump shows that we really need to have a conversation.”
Overall, Bell said the main purpose of his show is to make people laugh with humor that is relatable to the audience.
“Certainly the subjects I choose to be funny about are more politically charged and certainly if you get it wrong the stakes can be a little higher, but every comic gets nitpicked by the audience they play in front of,” he said. “Kevin Hart is just better at it than I am, but it doesn’t make what any of us are doing, really on some level, all we are just going for the laugh and if the laugh isn’t there then it doesn’t matter what the work is about.”
As the show came to an end, Bell provided what his show's title promised.
"How to end racism? Keep a sense of humor. Racism is now over," he said, pausing. "Just kidding that's your job."
Chloe Dopico is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in political science and journalism and media studies. She is the Associate News Editor for The Daily Targum.