Political comedian W Kamau Bell Interview

Political comedian W. Kamau Bell new CNN docu-series, United Shades of America
Interviewed and written by Aaron Robinson – Editor

During the month of April, political comedian W. Kamau Bell will host his new CNN docu-series, United Shades of America. The new series will follow the comedian throughout the country as he travels and explores different groups and subcultures. He adds humor to the show, as well as highlights many diverse aspects of the human race and cultures that are prominent in America.  

Over the course of Kamau’s career, he has appeared on shows such as Real Time with Bill Maher, Conan, and The Rachel Maddow Show, just to name several. He was also the star of the FX comedy series Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell.

I had the opportunity to interview and speak with W. Kamau Bell regarding his eight-part docu-series United Shades of America and his latest happenings. Here is what the talented comedian had to share with the readers.

Aaron Robinson: Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to pursue this interview with us.
W. Kamau Bell: No problem, thank you for being interested in interviewing with me.

Aaron: You have an eight-part docu-series titled United Shades of America that will appear on CNN. How did this docu-series come into existence?
WKB: I had another TV show that was cancelled and I was sort of going around looking to meet with people that were willing to work with me. CNN expressed interest and they had pitched an idea for something similar to this and we all came together and turned it to United Shades of America. 

Aaron: During your first premier you met with the Arkansas president of the Ku Klux Klan and other members. Emotionally, how was that experience for you?
WKB: (Laugh) I learned that comedy really is my defense mechanism. Because I was funny, people felt that I needed to be funny to make sure that I could maintain control of the situation.

Aaron: Over the course of the series you are exploring and highlighting many diverse aspects of different groups and subcultures.  What motivated you to want to capture these moments and televise them to the viewers and audience?
WKB: Well, as a stand-up comedian I travel around the country a lot. I perform at a lot of colleges, towns and cities. You know a stand-up comedian already sort of witnesses more of America than your average person does easily. I will see them [people] briefly in the audience and I’m sort of on to the next place. I always knew that it would be interesting to settle in to these places and take to people and also put myself in uncomfortable situations where I could learn more about myself and learn more about other people and also learn more about this county.

Aaron: Not to give away the show, what topic or show was the most interesting or intriguing to you?
WKB: When we did the whole episode in San Quentin State Prison. San Quentin State Prison is a prison that houses, for the most part, guys who have life sentences. Not often do you really hear this, I had a really good time in prison talking to these guys and getting to know them. Also, it made me ask them a lot of questions that we put in the show. You know a lot of these guys who were convicted of crimes were young men and now that they are in there 40s and 50s and they did a lot of rehabilitation work and done a lot to better themselves. Then the question is, why are they still in prison?  We sort of got to really put a different perspective out there on the idea of incarceration in America which I think is important, and also we got to show these guys in a sort of fun and funny language you don’t often see with inmates.

Aaron: How do you think the viewers and audience will feel about the show?
WKB: You know, I think it depends on where you start from. I live in Berkeley, so I have a real sort of “let’s all hug it out vibe”, or at least talk it out if we don’t all get alone. It’s like, I think if you came from a place where you are curious like I am, and me and my friends are, it would give you a lot to talk about the next thing and maybe you will learn something. But, if you come from a place of feeling like everybody who is not you is scary, then it’s going to give you a lot of feelings. (Laugh) But you also should be able to talk those out, too.

Aaron: With your comedy, you combine social and political factors, so it’s evident that you are aware and conscious about the issues that are going on in our society. As a comic, what inspired you in wanting to take on these social and political issues as oppose to highlighting the typical and trendy issues that are considered the norms?
WKB: Well, this is where I have to break some news to you, Aaron. I am black (laugh). So, as a black man in America, I think I just come from a family of where we always talk about these issues. So when I decided that I wanted to become a comedian as much as I thought I might talk about stuff that I see a lot of comedians talk about, it was just very natural for me to talk about these issues. I’m also a dad. I have two young daughters. A four and one half year old daughter and a 16-month old daughter, so it becomes really important to try to be like, “can I make the world a slightly better place before I have to hand it over to them”.

Aaron: Over the course of your career, what has been the most challenging aspect in your career that you had to overcome to become the successful person that you are today?
WKB: First of all, thanks for calling me successful. I don’t necessarily feel that way, but thank you. I think the challenges is that a lot of times people think that comedy doesn’t belong in this space. When you look at it, the history of stand-up comedy is built on the backs of comedians who were very opinionated and have opinions about the world and were very political. You know, comedy does well when it talks about the world. We often think that comedy is supposed to be about fun and games and a little bit of fun, which is fine, too, but that’s just not how I roll.

Aaron: Before we close the interview, would you like to add anything that you would like to discuss or that we haven’t covered?
WKB: I just hope that people check the show out and also, every episode is very different. So, if you like one, then you might just like the next one or if you don’t like one you may like the next. I think that there is a wide range of subjects that we get into. Every show has something that I think people would be interested in talking about with other people.

Aaron: Keep up the good work sir!
WKB: Thank you! Thank you for having me.

Keep up with W. Kamau Bell latest happening at http://www.wkamaubell.com/
and follow on twitter at https://twitter.com/wkamaubell



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