Comedian W. Kamau Bell is funny, angry, and coming to Providence this Saturday night. Bell’s socially and politically aware comedy has received sophisticated praise from news outlets all over the country. The ACLU recently named Bell an Ambassador of Racial Justice. Bell currently produces a podcast along with comedian Kevin Avery entitled Denzel Washington is the Greatest Actor of all Time Period. In anticipation of Bell’s visit to Providence, I spoke with him about Ferguson, intersectional progressivism, and his adoration of Denzel Washington.
BlogDH: How did you go from the University of Pennsylvania to stand-up comedy?
WKB: I was there for a year and a half and I realized I didn’t want to be a doctor or a lawyer or a businessman, so I dropped out. Ever since I was a little kid I wanted to do comedy, so when I realized that I didn’t want to take the path that was laid out for me, I started to put my toes in the waters of comedy. Basically, that’s sort of accelerated ever since.
BlogDH: Were you a funny kid?
WKB: [Laughs] Sounds like a challenge. I thought I was funny, but I wasn’t the class clown, so I didn’t have a large sample size. I was an only child, so I was really only funny to me and the person directly to my right. A lot of times that person was my mom, and she thought I was hilarious. When I first started doing comedy, sometimes I would do a show and the only people that would laugh would be my mom and my friend Jason.
BlogDH: How do you make your comedy appeal to larger audiences?
WKB: To make a clumsy metaphor, it’s like a war of attrition [laughs]. You have to keep showing up. I think Henry Rollins said, “The only way you can succeed is not to quit.” I kept being an honest judge of my work, as opposed to certain people who might give themselves a blue ribbon for showing up. I also think the thing that helped me most was trying not to be like anybody else. I may never be regarded as the funniest comic in the country, but I am going to be regarded as the most me in the country.