Have you ever heard of the Just For Laughs Festival? It’s a multi-day festival that has multiple comedians invading a city (usually Montreal, but last summer, it expanded to Chicago) and performing.
Well, the city of Grand Rapids, MI has a similar thing: Laughfest. Running from March 7 to 17, it’s had all sorts of comedians like Joel McHale and Wayne Brady.
Calvin College, my school, got into it too, playing host to nationally recognized comic W. Kamau Bell, host of FX’s awesome talk show Totally Biased on Monday night. Bell, a renowned stand-up from the San Francisco area and a protege of Chris Rock, performed the latest iteration of his one-man show The W. Kamau Bell Curve: Ending Racism In About An Hour.
Bell has been performing this show for years and it was a performance of this show that convinced Chris Rock to become his champion. So how was the show?
In a word: amazing.
If you’re not familiar with Bell or his show (and you should be; this YouTube channel is quite fun), you should know that he focuses on politics and race in stand up; the latter should be evident from the title of the show.
Bell opened off-stage with a PowerPoint, which he used throughout the show, explaining that while we would never hear “the ‘n’ word,” we–an audience consisting of mostly white people–would definitely hear…the n word.
Bell also showed a clip of himself on the Comedy Central show Premium Blend from 2005 talking about how Barack Obama would never become President because “that name is too black.”
Throughout his set, Bell was provocative, uncompromising and hilarious. He also incorporated the audience into his bits; during a segment on the census, he took time to talk to a Puerto Rican American audience member about what her life is like. He also, during a bit on this recent news story about a white businessman who slapped a black infant on an airplane, encouraged the white audience members to speak up until one person admitted it made him feel ashamed as a white man.
One of the other big points Bell made was that white people, in his view, need to accept that white is in fact a race, not the absence of race. Those bits have been swirling around in my head ever since.
It only cost me $5 as a student to attend this show and I’m glad I went. Bell forced a serious conversation in through humor and I’m glad he did it.