Comedian W. Kamau Bell Tackles Oh, Everything
Photo by Matthias Clamer; Courtesy of FX
There's no telling what topics comedian W. Kamau Bell will tackle during his Houston show on Sunday night. That's probably why he called the tour Oh, Everything. An acclaimed standup comedian, writer, actor and television host, Bell often comments on politics, race relations and pop culture. Exactly what aspect of those topics he'll discuss is always up for grabs.
The former host of the critically acclaimed FX & FXX program Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell, he was once described by the late, great Robin Williams as "ferociously funny." Houston fans have been waiting for his Houston debut. When asked why he had never visited the Bayou City before, Bell is quick to correct. "I've been to Houston before, but I've never done standup comedy in Houston before." The San Francisco Bay area-born funny man visited the city many times in his younger years, Texas road trips being a favorite pastime of his father. Bell recalls fond memories of "skating at an ice rink at the [Galleria] mall." (Upon finding out that the rink is still operating, Bell exclaims, "Boom! So, I got old-school Houston credit now!")
For those less than familiar with Bell's unique brand of biting cultural commentary and daring satire, refer to a bit from his previous one-man show . Bell observed: "There was an issue that after we got a black president, we were [suddenly] living in 'post-racial' America. Now, I first heard [the word 'post-racial'] the night of the election. I went to a dictionary and looked [the term] up. And I found out what it means...nothing. It's not a real word. If you meet anybody who actually believes we are living in a post-racial America, I can disprove that in just two words: Washington Redskins."
A featured performer on Comedy Central for years prior to being handed the keys to his own half-hour variety program, W. Kamau Bell made memorable appearances on radio and TV shows like Real Time with Bill Maher, TBS's Conan, Fresh Air with Terry Gross, The View and WTF with Marc Maron. But after a fortuitous Fringe Festival meeting with comedy legend Chris Rock (who became the executive producer of Totally Biased), Bell became the funny face of FOX's new comedy network, FXX, where his show aired nightly until late 2013.
Despite "loving" the time he spent helming his own cable talk show, Bell has enjoyed the process of refocusing on his stand-up career. "[It's great because stand-up's] also a more personal experience -- I get to talk more about my life more than I was able to on the TV show," the NAACP Image and GLAAD-nominated comedian ruminated. "But it can present its own [set of] challenges."
Unlike other popular club performers, Bell dislikes the idea of pandering to an audience. "I'm not your DVR!" Bell explains, saying that the main appeal of a performance with a live audience is the fact that he can't be "fast-forwarded" through. "[If you don't like a bit], you can't Spotify your way into making it work for you."
Following in the steps of fellow politically charged talents like "Mort Sahl, Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor" (a comparison made by former Totally Biased writer Vernon Reid), Bell believes in delivering both a laugh and a message. "[Comedy comes down to] wanting to share a story," Bell decides. "Wanting to come up with a way to get people to actually look at [a topic] a lot of times over."
With plans to record a new hour-long special and comedy album (which will follow his successful 2010 comedy album Face Full of Flour) in the next calendar year, how Bell approaches the microphone has evolved. "I can't just be doing the stand-up for the people in the room anymore," the funny man admitted with his tongue firmly in his cheek, "I gotta create a legacy. I have gotta leave something behind for the next generation of [the Bell family]."
See W. Kamau Bell at 7 p.m. Sunday at Warehouse Live, 813 St. Emanuel. For information, call 713‐225‐5483 or visit warehouselive.com. $15.
Get the Theater Newsletter
Get a rundown of upcoming theater events and ticket deals in Houston.