Politically minded standup comedian W. Kamau Bell has two simple goals — make people laugh and provide a platform for uncomfortable post-show conversations.
“When I was in Portland, there were two friends walking out, and one said, ‘That was the best comedy show I’ve ever seen,’ and the other said, ‘That was the worst comedy show I’ve ever seen.’ Bingo! Mission accomplished. Those two guys just learned something very important about each other that they wouldn’t have otherwise,” said the comic, who will perform at the Bell House in Gowanus on April 15 as part of his “Oh, Everything!” tour.
That mind-set has been the driving force behind Bell’s work both on stage and on screen. For two years, he was the host of “Totally Biased,” a late-night show on FX that featured pointed commentary on race and politics, debates on the existence of God, and segments that talked to female New Yorkers about getting catcalled by men.
The show was cancelled late last year — a disappointing turn of events for Bell, but one that has allowed him to return to the stage, where he is joining a cadre of standups such as Hari Kondabolu and Cameron Esposito that refuse to shy away from tough and funny discussions on hot-button issues.
Bell said being part of this new movement of political comedians is exciting, but it is still in its early days, and it may take a while before their work has a significant impact on the world at large.
“Until someone like Hari is one of the biggest comics in the country, it’s still a very niche product,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we can’t go from, like, Metallica in ’81 to Metallica in ’91. We’re getting our own platform. We just need a much bigger one.”
But at the very least, Bell is confident that the message of “Totally Biased” has not been forgotten since the show went off the air. He said it has found an unlikely new platform — as a classroom teaching aid.
“The thing that I hear most is teachers telling me they use clips of my show in their classes,” he said. “That’s what I wanted the show to be; to show the next generation this is what you’re trying to work towards or what you should be fighting against.”
W. Kamau Bell at the Bell House [149 Seventh St. between Second and Third streets in Gowanus, (718) 643–6510, www.thebel