While nearly every comedian is infusing their sets with politics these days, few can boast W. Kamau Bell’s track record as a champion of progressive liberal issues.
Long before President Trump took office, the Bay Area-based comic was taking on racism in America and other hot-button social issues on stage with his stand-up routine and on TV, first with FX’s “Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell” (2012-2013) and again with CNN’s “United Shades of America” (since 2016).
He’s keeping his sharp, boundary-pushing commentary going when he comes to New York’s Capitale on Thursday to tape his next special. amNewYork caught up with Bell before the show.
Why did you choose New York City to film the special?
I live in the Bay Area, but my last special was shot in Brooklyn, because I wanted to go to a place that would approximate the kind of response I get in the Bay Area. This time I thought a lot of the special is about the current political moment and where we’re at as a country. I thought I need to do it in the president’s city, on the island of Manhattan. Let’s do it the right way. If there’s any group of people that are most aware of how horrible things are going right now it’s New Yorkers who have known him his entire life.
What drew you to Capitale?
It’s this great old [venue]. It used to be a bank a long time ago, so it still looks like one with vaults everywhere. If we’re going to talk about American power gone wrong we might as well be in a place that used to be a bank.
Is the show mostly about Trump, or politics outside the White House?
A lot of it is about the stuff we’re thinking about: the frustration with the daily news cycle and how things that seem totally ridiculous just keep going unchecked. A lot of it is about how this current era affects my personal life. I’m married and my wife is white and I have two mixed race kids. So this era means a lot in terms of the Trump era and the #MeToo era. It’s a lot going on, with my take on race and racism, so it’s gumbo, an awful and hilarious gumbo.
You’ve been mixing political commentary with comedy for years now. Is it challenging to create new material in a field where everyone seems to be bringing a political edge?
Yeah, even the most mainstream, middle-of-the-road, prop comic is doing political jokes now. And everybody, whether you’re a comedian or not, is funnier now. Even people that are Trump supporters are funnier than they were before he was president. People who don’t like Trump are funnier now. So I think it really becomes a challenge as a comedian — if everyone is going to be funny, then I really need to dig deeper and work harder. It’s like the California Gold Rush, everybody came to California looking for gold and some found rocks, so I think as comedians we have to make sure we’re separating the gold from the rocks.
If you go: W. Kamau Bell performs at 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. on Feb. 1 at Capitale, 130 Bowery; $20, wkamaubell.com