W. Kamau Bell Curve: The show designed to end racism in about an hour.
I had so much fun at W. Kamau Bell Curve last month at the Sheldon Theatre in San Francisco. It was funny and educational at the same time. I didn’t know what to expect except that it would be about race and that if I brought someone of a different race to the event I’d my guest would get in free or half off or something like that. When I walked into the theatre, it was full. People were scooting over so some of the hopefuls out in the lobby might get in. Kamau, has become a Bay Area phenomena in just four runs, this weekend his first foray into the East Bay. Guest where? The Jewish Community Center of the East Bay on Walnut Street. They don’t bite. No seriously, I worked there as a preschool teacher over twenty years ago before the name change.
I spoke to Kamau Monday evening up to the time he was heading out to the Punchline for a gig. He was the headliner he told me as the clock approached 8, so he didn’t need to rush off. Raised in Chicago, Kamau, which means “quiet and gentle warrior in Kiswahilli,” the tall brother comes across as anything but and his route to comedy through circuitous has certainly been one that the artist has maintained. There is an integrity in his show which includes multimedia, that is honest and unapologetic. From the racism litmus test where one gets to check one’s temperature, to a survey of recent media insults, to images of why the W. Kamau Bell Curve is still relevant, perhaps even more so as black people are disappeared behind walls or walled are erected to keep them distant and out of view, the show is relevant and irreverent and funny.
The show opens with “words you won’t hear in this show,” which are all the racial epithets especially the N-word. Nooses and the racial rubric are inspired moments in the show which is one that changes Kamau said, in the moment—he has his set list, but if the spirit moves him, he’s gone.
W. Kamau Bell Curve could be this nation’s first Truth and Reconciliation Hearing on Race. It’s something his mother, a former Stanford professor in African Diaspora Studies and author/entrepreneur, Dr. Janet Cheatham Bell, wants to happen. Leave it to her son, a child weaned on The Fire Next Time and the Souls of Black Folks to attempt this feat in the San Francisco Bay.
Kamau was a comedic wall flower until his best friend, Jason, invited him to a comedy open mic in Chicago where he sat in the audience for a few weeks before getting up his nerve to try the stage himself. “They weren’t that good,” Kamau recalled, which should have given him courage. Finally he performed, but it wasn’t until his mother suggested he enroll at Second City Conservatory, the place where Saturday Night Live gets it’s talent, that improv became second or third nature-—he kid felt his calling and well, it was on.
Kamau has opened for Dave Chapelle on a number of occasions and counts as one of his heroes Richard Pryor, his book, Pryor Conviction, one he used to perfect his writing and craft, said, as he has gotten older, certain ideas are hard to ignore—one of the them race. As he continues to develop material, he said the other isms: sexism, homophobia, etc. edge towards the chopping board. “It’s not good form to pick and choose,” he said. Even though he doesn’t get up and leave the venue when someone makes a joke about these subjects, as he does when a comedian thinks it’s funny to insult black people, he has looked more closing at his work to see if he is adding to the manucia masquerading as fun. “It’s all linked.” He said.
“There were things I’d accept at 21 when I first started doing stand-up comedy, not just stand-up but to get along with the group that I won’t put up with anymore. It’s not okay. My challenge is to find out why it isn’t okay and communicate that to people.” He’s reached his toxicity level.
“On the racial rubric,” Kamau explains, “I have levels one through five. As much as people believe a four or five is violence. If you’re experiencing ones and twos all day, that stuff is cumulative. It starts to feel like a four or a five.
“I don’t want to be the living example, but I also don’t want to put poison in the world either, “ he said. “I certainly don’t mind being honest and if people find that offensive, I thought about it before I said it. I’m not just cavalierly throwing it out. I respect people’s right to be offended
“Laughter is the soul saying yes.” Kamau quotes Quincy Jones. “This can go either way—good and evil, socially acceptable and otherwise.” So be careful what you say yes too folks it might come back to bite you. After his show, which opened with Paul E. Hunt’s fabulous band, I found myself quoting Kamau: “Black people are only 30 percent of Oakland’s population. San Francisco doesn’t have any black people.
Check him out March 1st & 2nd, 8:00 at the Jewish Community Center of the East Bay, 1414 Walnut Street, Berkeley. Bring a friend of a different race and your friend and your guest gets in for free!
General Admission $20 Visit http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/27298 and visit his blog http://thewkbellcurve.blogspot.com/ For a clip watch http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BeaXzQYs2-M