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[EXCLUSIVE] W. Kamau Bell Gets Totally Candid About Upcoming Tour, Season 2

[EXCLUSIVE] W. Kamau Bell Gets Totally Candid About Upcoming Tour, Season 2
Angie Frissore

After wrapping up a hugely successful first season on the FX network, W. Kamau Bell is hitting the road this summer with his “Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell” writers in tow for a ten-city tour to celebrate the impending start to the show’s second season.  Moving to the new FXX channel that the FX network is launching in September, the show’s second season will see Bell and his cohorts riffing about current events four days a week, capping each week off with a best-of episode which will highlight the greatest moments of the week.

The Totally Biased Stand Up Tour will feature standup performance by Bell and a rotating lineup of comics from the “Totally Biased” writing team, followed by audience Q&As with the performers following each show. Comics participating in the tour include Kevin Avery, Guy Branum, Janine Brito, Kevin Kataoka, Dwayne Kennedy, Hari Kondabolu, and Aparna Nancherla.

Bell recently took the time to chat with me about the pressures of moving to a nightly spot and how the television industry’s attitude towards stand up has evolved over the years.

AF: Thanks for taking the time to chat with me today. Congratulations on season two of ‘Totally Biased’!

WKB:  Thank you! (laughs) I feel like we haven’t done season two yet – I’ll take the preemptive congratulations but I’ll also knock on some wood.

AF: Now, the pressure’s on as I understand – you’re going to be doing this daily with season two, correct?

WKB:  Yeah, I mean, the pressure has always been on; they’ve just turned up the heat on the pressure.  None of this was promised – I’m not owed any of this so I sort of do each show as if it’s my last one. Now we have four days a week plus the best-of episode, which thankfully I won’t have to be on air for that. But, it will be fun to help curate a best-of episode of the week.

AF: Tell me a little bit about the new network FX will be airing this on.

WKB: FXX. FX has a lot of good programming – apparently they have so much good programming they think they can split it into two different groups, so we’re sort of the out-on-the-edge comedy network. FX has always been seen as sort of a comedy network; I think that they have a lot of the best comedy programming on television, and now they’re just claiming that space more directly. ‘Totally Biased’ is a part of that; we get to be a part of that with ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’, which is probably the longest-running comedy of the FX network, so it’s fun to be a part of. We’re sort of brand new and they’re sort of the gold standard of FX comedy. It’s great to be sort of part of that thing.

AF: That’s fantastic! Are you keeping the same team of writers?

WKB: Yeah, we’re going to hire a few more. We have a fairly robust team – FX was always sort of preparing us for this, and all we could do was let them down (luckily apparently we have not).  So we’re going to hire a few more to get us up and running.

AF: It seems like since we last spoke, which was right before season one aired last year…

WKB: I know!

AF: Time just goes by so quickly.

WKB: And I have felt every second of it, believe me.

AF: I know, it seems like just yesterday we were at the premiere party. It seems like other networks are picking up on the whole comedy-commentary style of show – you’ve got ‘The Jeselnik Offensive’, ‘Deon Cole’s Black Box’ – and honestly, I’m not sure how those are performing.

WKB: I think he [Jeselnik] got a season two so anytime you get to make more…well, as far as I’m aware he got a season two.  Comedy Central has really been aggressive – I think the thing that people are doing which is really cool is giving comics the chance to create the format of show they want to have. Back in the day, it was like, ‘You’re a great comedian – you definitely want a sitcom.’ Now it’s great, it’s like, ‘You’re a great comedian. What do you want?’ Comedy Central and FX are sort of, like, building the show around the person – letting them build the show they want. Jim Jeffries tells a lot of crazy stories; it’s great to see him enact those crazy stories  on ‘Legit’, which will also be on FXX. You know, Louis C.K. always had a cinematic bit to his stand up comedy, so he got a cinematic comedy show.  But for me, I’ve always been in front of screens and yelled about the events from the day (always? Well, for the last couple of years) so it’s just natural that my show would be based on that, you know?

AF: Yeah, that’s awesome that the network is more focused on letting the talent do what they want to do.

WKB: It’s funny, I’ve talked to John Landgraf a couple of times about this and he’s like, ‘We’re different  from other networks; we’re never going to tell you to do less, we’re always going to tell you to do more.’ Aisha Tyler talked about this on her podcast – how FX is the only network whose like, ‘Can it be dirtier? Can it be crazier? If you’re going to be mean, don’t just be a little mean. Be real mean.’ The only time they’ve pulled us back is when they’re like, ‘Uh, we don’t want to be sued.’

AF: And rightfully so. It’s funny, I was listening to the new Bob Saget special today, and – at least in my opinion, anyway – that’s what happens when you get put right into a sitcom. You end up doing dick and fart jokes in front of people.

WKB: (laughs) I think in Bob Saget’s defense, he was doing a lot of those before he had the show. The claim on Bob Saget was, ‘You look like a sitcom dad,’ and he’s like, ‘But I’m not,’ and they just said, ‘Well you look enough like one.’ That was the curse of the middle-America look that he had but he always had sort of a late-night bit. Yeah.

AF: So you’re kicking off the ‘Totally Biased’ tour in Boston – how fun!

WKB: Yes! It’s funny, I’ve certainly been to the city of Boston many times – I lived there, between the ages of like, four and twelve – but I’ve never done stand up there so I’m excited to finally perform there. I celebrated my 21st birthday there – I had a friend that went to Berklee School of Music.

AF: And the Paradise is a great venue for comedy.

WKB: Comedy’s become kind of a thing again, it’s nice to see.

AF: It really is! We lost a club here in Boston a couple of years ago and that was a big hit for us, but a lot of things are opening up – new venues, alternative venues – so we’re starting to see sort of a mini boom these days.

WKB: Yeah, I mean, I don’t think anything’s ever going to rival (I mean, I wasn’t around for it – I was, but I wasn’t a comedian) – the boom of the eighties.  I’ve talked to comics and all you had to say was, ‘I’m from L.A.!’ and people would line up around the block to see a comic from L.A. But I think this DIY, do it yourself, build your brand on the internet thing has really made it come back – comedy’s coming back, but it’s coming back with deeper roots and maybe that held us back before.

AF: Yeah, you don’t have to seek it out if you’re a fan; it can essentially come to you.

WKB: Yeah, comedy’s not doing anything that music hasn’t always done – you can find a comedian who is your favorite comedian.  Everybody can find their own comic genius because the internet will show you that there are many flavors of comics as there are types of music. I think people sort of use it as a generic word – ‘I like comedy!’ And then they show up to the club and they’re like, ‘This isn’t comedy!’ No, it’s just not the comedy you like. But now people understand that you can find and claim your actual comedian like you can your favorite band.

AF: I always laugh when I hear people complaining about hearing the same jokes from comedians more than once. I mean, you hear it all the time with music – you’re not angry that a band plays the same song all the time.

WKB: Yeah I know. People will get mad at the Rolling Stones if they play a track of their new album. It’s a funny thing. People are on Facebook, like, some of the shows I’ve been on fairly recently where people will ask, ‘Is this all new material?’ It’s so funny – they have no idea how obnoxious that question is. I try to steer clear of answering because I feel like I’d just crack my knuckles and write, like, a five-thousand word diatribe of art and how it works. You get to receive the art; you don’t get to curate the art. Really, all they are saying is, ‘Will it be good?’ Yes, it will be good.

AF: Who are you bringing on tour with you?

WKB:  Every city has three different comedians. In Boston, it is Janine Brito, who’s done many pieces on ‘Totally Biased’. She’s our half-Cuban, all-lesbian comedian. Kevin Kataoka, who is our Japanese-American comedian (but he’s more than that), and then we have Aparna Nancherla who is great and has been on the show several times – but has also consistently written up as one of the best upcoming comics in the country. We’re excited to have her on the show and aren’t using her enough. She’s going to get a lot of work.

AF: It sounds like it’s going to be an absolute blast. I know I can’t wait.

WKB: Yeah, it’s cool, we’re going to do the stand-up show, and we’re also going to do a Q&A at the end for people who have questions about the show, and hopefully moderated by somebody from the Boston area (you if you want to do it).

AF: I’d love to!

WKB: Yeah, we want to engage with the fans – ‘Totally Biased’ fans get sort of deeply involved in the thing. We have our own version of Trekkies (or Trekkers, whatever the case may be) so I think it would be a great opportunity to have people asking questions. But also, when we all hang out together, it’s a whole different thing. The writers’ room is a lot a fun, so it’s nice to show people what it’s like in sweatbox that is the writers’ room.

“Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell”, from Bell and Executive Producers Chris Rock, Chuck Sklar and Keri Smith Esguia, stars standup comedian W. Kamau Bell as he hilariously dissects politics, pop culture, race, religion, sex and the media from his own unique point of view.  The show is a mix of Bell’s commentary, live guests, sketch comedy and taped segments.  A half-hour series, “Totally Biased” is produced by FX Productions and is shot in New York City before a live studio audience.

Don’t miss The Totally Biased Stand Up Tour when it comes to your city! See below for a full list of tour dates and ticket links, and set your DVR’s now for the new fall season of “Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell”!

Boston, Paradise Rock Club – Thursday, July 11
Philadelphia, Prince Music Theatre – Friday, July 12
Chicago, Park West – Saturday, July 13
Nashville, Cannery Ballroom – Sunday, July 14
San Diego, House of Blues – Friday, July 19
Los Angeles, Largo – Saturday, July 20
San Francisco, The Chapel – Sunday, July 21
New Orleans, Howlin Wolf – Thursday, July 25
Atlanta, Variety Playhouse – Friday, July 26
Orlando, The Plaza Live – Saturday, July 27


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