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Stand-up Tue Jun 19 2012

The W. Kamau Bell Curve: Ending Racism in About An Hour at TBS Just For Laughs Chicago

KAMAU BELL.jpg

W. Kamau Bell in The W. Kamau Bell Curve: Ending Racism in About An Hour at The Hideout during TBS Just For Laughs Chicago 2012 presented by State Farm; Photographer: Jeremy Freeman.

This past week, comedy invaded Chicago in a major way through TBS's "Just for Laughs"; with a mix of local standouts, as well as veterans, household names and newcomers from stand-up, television, film, and improv, this annual funny festival had something for everyone.

Saturday night, The Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, hosted one of the festival's highlights via W. Kamau Bell's The W. Kamau Bell Curve: Ending Racism In About An Hour, the comedian's one-man show that explores race and racism from various angles including the world of sports (Ben & Jerry's fortune cookie-laced [Jeremy Lin] "Lin-Sanity" ice cream), pop culture (The Hunger Games) and social media; however, it was politics that hilariously served as the central topic and the crowd pleaser, as Bell compared the GOP primaries to a "parade of 'Batman' villains"--with Michelle Bachman and Rick Santorum as "Two-Face" and "Mr. Frothy," respectively.

The audience was treated to sixty minutes of rapid-fire wit about the harsh reality--and often ridiculousness--of racism and race--and its pervasiveness in just about every facet of society. "Racism is great--it works in all directions--like a Swiss Army knife," he noted.

According to Bell, "Race is not real, but racism is"--and bringing a show fraught with racially-tinged subject matter to the right venue in Chicago, a city well-known for its segregation, didn't come without reservations. "Chicago is a big city and it's very segregated," he said. "I was, in some sense, worried that we might not get enough colored people on the north side..."

The room was indeed filled with "colored people"--of all ethnicities--and the unpretentiousness and intimacy of The Hideout was perfectly suited for Bell's demeanor and delivery, which, at times, was educational (he schooled the audience with a little history and sociology), but hardly professorial, even given its multimedia format. But Bell is so brilliantly funny, that the on-screen presentations merely served as an accompaniment, for example, to show pictures of Dr. Cornel West or The Roots' Questlove, to illustrate how often he has been mistaken for them. (Hint: It's the afro...)

The Bell Curve was interactive, fast-paced, quick-witted and anecdotal, with Bell, the self-professed "interracial dating comedian," even incorporating humor about his own interracial marriage: "My biggest fight with my wife isn't [about] race--our biggest fight is over the fact that my wife is Catholic--and I'm sane." His usage of recent events, such as the firestorm over Gwyneth Paltrow's recent use of the "N" word or reporter Neil Munro's testy press conference exchange with President Obama about immigration, showed Bell's effort to always keep the show fresh and current.

Bell, with his socio-political style of humor and the astute way he confronts racism, will inevitably be compared to Dave Chappelle--or Chris Rock (executive producer of his new FX series, "Totally Biased"); however, he is definitely changing the face of comedy--and changing attitudes about race--even if it's only "an hour" at a time.

 
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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »

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