W. Kamau Bell: "I Need to Prove I'm Funny"

It was one year ago this week that W. Kamau Bell's late-night talk show, Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell, aired its final episode on FXX. Since that day, Bell says there's one question fans ask him more than any other.

"People ask me when I'm going to be on TV again," he says during a phone call from his home in San Francisco. "But the thing is, it hasn't even been a year since my last show ended. Let me recover from the crippling depression of losing that one first."

While his tone implies that he's at least partially joking, Bell hasn't let his exodus from television slow him down. With a successful podcast, a packed touring schedule, and a brand-new baby, the comedian is busier than ever. 

This week, he brings his Oh, Everything! Tour to the Turf Club for his first Twin Cities performance in his post-Biased life. Before his visit this Friday, we caught up with the sociopolitical standup to talk about comedy, the late night landscape, and why he isn't afraid of Ebola.

You just relocated back to San Francisco after spending a couple of years in New York. How has the transition been for you?

I love the Bay Area. Don't get me wrong, New York is probably the best city in the world, but it's definitely not the easiest city to live in. Being back in the Bay Area lets me breathe and stretch out, which I felt I couldn't ever do in New York.

What have you been working on over the past few months?

I'm planning to record a new CD or special in 2015, so this tour is really to get ready for that. 

It's interesting that you're talking about doing a CD when a lot of other comedians are doing their own independent releases. Have you considered doing something similar?

A lot comedians tried the $5 download. The thing with that is only a few comedians can do it and make it work. Even Louis CK; he did the $5 download, and then ended up going back to HBO. So as for whether it's HBO or Netflix or Showtime or whoever, I'm not really sure just yet. Chris Rock told me one time that HBO is great because people get home and turn it on and you're already there without anyone having to look for you.

That's true, but you also have a loyal and unique fanbase. It seems like anytime something happens in the world, people are curious to hear your opinion. Do you get that at shows?

Sometimes during shows people will ask my opinion on certain things happening in the world at the moment. They aren't necessarily looking for a major statement or anything; they just want to know what I think. It's almost like the show turns into a mini town hall meeting. 

Do you feel like you can talk about things more freely now than you could when you had your show?

I never felt like I was holding back when I was on the show, I just had to make sure there was a joke in whatever I was talking about. There are guys like Colbert or Jon Stewart who have that ability to break from comedy during their shows and deliver their opinions in a very straightforward way. For me, I need to have a joke or a punchline. I'm still proving myself to the audience. I need to prove I'm funny.

Any regrets or bitterness about the way your show ended?

Not at all. The thing I learned a long time ago is that you can't please everyone, especially if you want to be a late night talk show host. That's a job that like, 10 people have ever had. I once had someone tell me that I wasn't a "Letterman comedian," and that my comedy wouldn't work on his show. That's totally fine with me; most comedians aren't Letterman comedians. And that's okay. I respect every single late night talk show host out there, I just realized long ago that maybe I needed to have a plan B for my career.

During your live shows, how much do you feel the need to be topical?

I think it's important for me to be topical, but I'm also not going to talk about something unless it affects me personally. Sometimes if there is something topical that I'm sharing my thoughts on, it becomes funny over time.

So then we probably won't be hearing about your feelings on Ebola anytime soon? 

I'm not worried about Ebola, unless that's a new chokehold that police are using in urban neighborhoods.


W. Kamau Bell
Friday, November 14
Turf Club
9 p.m., $15