The host of the CNN show “United Shades of America” is known for exploring tough subjects. In two seasons of “United Shades,“ Bell has spent time with members of the Ku Klux Klan and has sat down with Alexandria-based white supremacist Richard Spencer. The show was nominated for a Primetime Emmy award in 2016.
But although he’s been outspoken about his support of social causes, Bell says his comedy act is not about political affiliation.
“I feel the need to make the jokes about the people who I feel need to have jokes made about them, it could be the left, it could be the right, could be somewhere in between,” he said.
The comedian believes that too many of America’s issues have been politicized even though those issues exist no matter where someone is from. By poking fun at both sides, he believes he helps erases some of the social divides.
“We think of the north and the south and the west and the Midwest, but every town, every city, every part of this country, there are different things going on,” Bell said. He thinks that once people stop focusing on what makes us different, “we’d realize that we all want more money from our job, we all want better schools for our kids.”
In an especially polarized political climate, Bell thinks that his show can be a place for people to unwind. He says his visits to places with histories of racism often turn out to be the best shows, because the audience members need the break more than anyone else.
The author of the book “The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell: Tales of a 6′ 4″, African American, Heterosexual, Cisgender, Left-Leaning, Asthmatic, Black and Proud Blerd, Mama’s Boy, Dad, and Stand-Up Comedian,” released early this month, wants people to leave his show willing to engage with those with different perspectives.
“We are not as strong in our communities as we think we are, we need to get to know our neighbors,” Bell said. “We need to get to know the people two streets over, we need to get to know people outside of neighborhoods.”
And although it can be uncomfortable, he believes it’s an important learning experience.
“Awkward can often lead to a better place, a smarter place and a more joyful and more informed place,” Bell said. “That’s what I’m encouraging people to do, lean into the awkward.”
Bell will perform two shows at the Drafthouse on Friday, an early show at 7:30 p.m. that is now sold out and a late show at 10 p.m. Tickets are $35 for general admission, $63 for general admission and a book.