Comedian Bell is 'Biased'

RAGHAV META | Updated 12/20/2012

W. Kamau Bell on 'Totally Biased' politics, race and Chris Rock.

W. Kamau Bell
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W. Kamau Bell didn't believe it was Chris Rock when he initially called.

The two had only briefly met in New York a few months prior. Rock was attending one of Bell's solo shows incognito and was so impressed by the performance that he went out of his way to introduce himself backstage at the Upright Citizens Brigade (UCB) Theatre.

But this time Rock wasn't reaching out just to offer more generous praise. He wanted to do a show and he wanted Bell to be involved.

"I call him the foul-mouthed Yoda," Bell said of Rock earlier this week over the phone. "He has all these pearls of wisdom, but I can't really repeat them in polite company."

A seasoned veteran of the Bay Area comedy scene, Bell is the host of the FX series "Totally Biased With W. Kamau Bell." Coming off the heels of a successful debut season, he is making a return to the standup circuit that includes a stop at the West Bank's Cedar Cultural Center on Saturday.

The show, which was recently picked up by FX for a second season, is produced by Rock and operates in a similar mold as late-night political satires such as "The Daily Show" and "Real Time With Bill Maher." While much of the material hits on topical news items, Bell acts more as a social critic than a political one on "Totally Biased" and he's regularly accompanied by like-minded guests that so far have included progressive talking head Rachel Maddow, comedian Lewis Black and rock-star astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Despite the show's swift ascent, Bell, who struggled as a standup for years, doesn't take any of it for granted.

"I'm just happy I can be me," Bell said. "Every time they let us do the show I'm like 'Yay, we won this week.'"

Not unlike Bell's standup, which can be downright uncomfortable at times (not to mention hysterically astute), the series manages to address the racial politics of America in a much more direct and sophisticated manner than some of its predecessors. "I don't mind the crowd dividing up. That's when you know we're getting to shit," Bell declared following a particularly biting critique regarding the racial subtext of the Tea Party protests on his stellar 2010 album, "Face Full of Flour."

Bell spent the past five years touring and showcasing his acclaimed one-man show "The W. Kamau Bell Curve: Ending Racism in About an Hour" and has never been reticent about his feelings regarding "White America."

That's not to say Bell harbors animosity. He said he's really just hoping to spark some meaningful dialogue.

"I'm married to a white person. I'm a big fan of white people," Bell said with a laugh. "I think if white Americans talked about what it is to be white more often and white privilege and when it's scary to be white ... and had that discussion more openly and regularly [within their households], we would have a much more advanced discussion of racism in this country."

While Bell and his team of writers have a clear vision for "Totally Biased," it's a show that still needs some fine-tuning. Fortunately, Rock, despite being one of the biggest comedians in the world, is never more than a phone call away.

"He's as involved as we ask him to be involved," Bell said. "We're trying to figure out how to do this and don't want to rely on him too much but when we call him, he's right there. As valuable as he is to the show, I think the stuff he's given me for my life and my career is going to stay with me forever."