W. Kamau Bell hopes more than 10 people attend his show
Photo: Matthias Clamer
At this time last year, W. Kamau Bell wasn't exactly a household name. In fact, he had never even done a national headlining standup tour. But one year later, he's the host of one of the hottest new late night talk shows, Totally Unbiased with W. Kamau Bell, the protégé of Chris Rock, and one of the most outspoken names in comedy.
Known for his racially and politically charged material -- along with his strong feelings on sweet potato pie -- Bell is finally checking that headlining standup tour off of his to-do list this winter, including a stop in Minneapolis as part of his "The Kamau Mau Uprising" tour at the Cedar this Saturday (which features a special "bring a friend of a different race, get a 2-for-1 ticket discount" offer, no less).
Before he hits the Cedar, the comedian and host had a deep conversation with City Pages about Twitter, sweet potato pie, and why he's okay with playing for 10 people.
Have you ever been to Minnesota?
Nope. My only experience with Minnesota is Purple Rain. But I've seen it a ton of times, so I think I'm ready.
Now that you're kind of known for being a talk-show host, is it tough to get back into that standup mindset?
I love standup. The talk show is fun, but I love the stripped down, almost dirtiness of doing live comedy. This is my first official tour as a headliner going all over the country, so I can't wait to get out there and perform.
Speaking of the talk show, how has that experience been so far?
It's a process. I'm still learning to be a talk-show host. Thankfully, the show has introduced me to a much larger audience, and I think I'm starting to find my groove. But just like any talk show, there's going to be a learning curve. If I'm lucky enough to still be on the air in a few years, I don't think you're going to be looking back and seeing a "greatest hits of season one" package. But thankfully people have enjoyed it to this point and we'll keep on building.
Being your first national tour as a headlining comic, do you find it harder to play places bigger venues like the Cedar? Would you rather be doing comedy clubs?
The thing I love about playing in places like rock clubs or bars or other non-traditional venues is that the people who come to your show are coming to see you specifically. At a comedy club, you get people who just want to see a comedy show. At a show like this, however, if we get 10 people in the audience then I'll know those 10 people are excited to see me and we'll have a great time. But I hope more than 10 people show up.
A lot of standups talk about Twitter and how it has both helped and hurt them as performers. I'm sure you get even more of that being on TV too. Do you think Twitter helps or hurts you as a television host or a comedian?
The thing I like about Twitter is that you can get instant feedback. But I always say that of all the feedback you get on Twitter, about 90 percent is good, 10 percent is bad, and about half of that bad feedback is true. The thing with the internet is that people lose their patience a lot quicker. Back in the old days of late night TV, people just had to watch the show and then they'd turn to the person next to them after it was over to say if they liked it or not. Now they can tell the world, including the performer. So it's good to get real feedback as it's happening, but you can't listen to all of it; good or bad.
With the show and your new role as an interviewer, do you ever get sick of answering the same questions over and over?
Not really. I mean, I get it. I'm so new to everyone that they immediately go to the broad stroke questions like 'Who are you?,' 'How did you meet Chris Rock?,' and 'How did your get your own talk show?' I feel like it's my responsibility to answer them.
Looking at the other side, do you ever try and mix it up so you aren't asking your guests the same questions everyone else does?
I do, but I also understand my role as a host. When Wanda Sykes came on the show, I had to ask her about gay marriage. I mean, she's in a gay marriage, so how can you not ask for her opinions about it? But then I also asked her about her thoughts on sweet potato pie, because I love sweet potato pie. You ask one for them, then one for you.
IF YOU GO:
W. Kamau Bell
Cedar Cultural Center
416 Cedar Ave. S., Minneapolis
Saturday, December 15
Doors 7 p.m., show 8 p.m.
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