East Bay! If you don't have plans this weekend, I suggest you schedule in a night at W. Kamau Bell's show at the La Peña Cultural Center in Berkeley. We profiled Kamau in an Artist Spotlight for ColorLines earlier this year (just before he was named Best Comedian of 2008 by SF Weekly) and I caught one of his shows in San Francisco, in a tiny theater south of Market. The second floor theater was packed, in part because Kamau offers a discount deal for all of his shows. Bring a friend of a different race and you get half-price admission. It's a smart move. He gets the conversation started even before the lights go down... And once he got on stage, he talked about it all: interracial relationships, racial profiling, sweet potato pie, OJ Simpson, Prop 8, imperialism. He relayed his voting experience from November 4, 2008—which he refers to as Black President Day—when a white guy in line at his polling place yelled at him for wearing what he thought was Barack Obama propaganda. It turned out to be a Richard Pryor shirt. When we talked later about race and comedy, Bell reflected on people's appetite for frank conversation about race:
One time I did a show in Chicago, in the suburbs. It’s an all-white room, which is what you get when you go way out of any major city. It’s almost like you’re going back in time. I thought I was in the mid-60s, and I stepped onstage and the tension was palpable. I don’t know how I thought to say this. I said, “Don’t worry. I’m not moving in.” And the room exploded. And the fact that they laughed so hard… Race was on people’s minds. People want to talk about it.
He noted a shift with last year's election.
Before, talking about race, I really felt like the crazy guy yelling at the moon, barking in the wind. In the beginning I felt like Russell Crowe from A Beautiful Mind. People today are interested in the concept of race, but before they had to be convinced of these concepts.
A little snippet from one of his shows: With this new hunger for race talk, and with a juicy selection of daily news to pick from for his routine, you are bound to have a good time. (I would LOVE to hear his take on those infuriating, pathetic Birthers.) Go check out his show. The W. Kamau Bell Curve: Ending Racism in About an Hour Thursday, July 30, Friday, July 31, & Saturday, August 1 La Peña Cultural Center 3105 Shattuck Avenue Berkeley, CA All shows are at 8pm. Friday and Saturday are $20. Thursday's show is only $15! For more information go to www.wkamaubell.com