Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘W. Kamau Bell

 

On Being a Black Male, Six Feet Four Inches Tall, in America in 2014

Just like Michael Brown, comedian and commentator W. Kamau Bell is six feet four inches tall. And he knows it.

I am afraid of the cops. Absolutely petrified of the cops.

Now understand, I’ve never been arrested or held for questioning. I’ve never been told that I “fit the description.” But that doesn’t change a thing.

I am afraid of cops the way that spiders are afraid of boots. You’re walking along, minding your own business, and SQUISH! You are dead.

By Cassie Wright/Getty Images for SXSW

Simply put, I am afraid of the cops because I am black.

To raise the stakes even further, I am male. And to go all in on this pot of fear, I am six foot four, and weigh 250 pounds.

Michael Brown, the unarmed Missouri 18-year-old shot dead by police this summer, was also six foot four. Depending on your perspective, I could be described as a “gentle giant,” the way that teachers described Brown.

Or I could be described as a “demon,” the way that Officer Darren Wilson described Michael Brown in his grand-jury testimony.

I don’t engage in any type of behavior that should place me in a cop’s crosshairs. I don’t live in “one of those neighborhoods,” or hang out with a “bad crowd,” (unless you count comedians).

I am not involved in felonious activity. I’m not bragging. I’m just boring. But the fact that I’m not involved in any of that stuff doesn’t leave me any more confident I won’t be killed.

That’s because I’ve been endowed with the triple crown of being killed for no good reason: big, black, and male.

On Monday night, I went out for ic 000019F2 e cream at 12:30 A.M. I walked a while because I live in a pretty sleepy neighborhood in Berkeley, California.

I had my hoodie up, because it was cold and it made it easier to listen to the podcast in my headphones.

By the time I found a late-night convenience store, I had passed a few—by my eye—unsavory characters of all races. So, as I walked in the store I had to take some precautionary action.

For starters, I took the hood down. I took it down even though my afro had become a flat-fro from being squashed underneath. I didn’t touch anything that I wasn’t absolutely sure I was going to buy. (Just like my mom had taught me.)

I kept my hands out of my pockets with palms clearly visible so the clerk behind the counter could easily see that I wasn’t shoving things in—or maybe more importantly about to pull something out of—my pockets.

And as soon as I decided on an It’s It ice-cream sandwich, I went directly to the counter and gingerly placed my selection down, again keeping my palms visible and only making the movements I needed to get the money out of my wallet.

All seemed to be going well. But I was so preoccupied with not seeming unsavory that when the clerk said “two twenty-five”, I thought he said, “one twenty-five.” As he wordlessly stared at the two bucks I had given him without looking me in the eye, I realized my error and simultaneously had a tiny jolt of adrenalin.

“Uh-oh!” I thought. “He’s going to think I’m pulling some sort of scam!” I envisioned him getting loud, “WHAT ARE YOU UP TO HERE?” Then I imagined myself trying to calm him down . . .

He misunderstands, and pulls out a gun. I run out of the store. He calls the cops. Since I live in a good neighborhood they show up quickly. They cut me off as I’m running home. They leap out of their car, guns drawn. I start to truly panic, “YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND! IT WAS A MISTAKE!” I put my arms up in the air. At this point I realize I’m holding the It’s It, which I never paid for. I wave my hands frantically and say, “I DIDN’T MEAN TO STEAL THIS!” The cops take in all my hand waving, crazy talk, and B.B.M.-ness and then, POP! POP! POP! POP! POP! POP! POP! I’m dead.

The next day, it comes out that earlier that night I’d had a fight with my wife . . . and that I had recently written a blog about comedians and depression . . . and that in my standup act I have jokes that are critical of police.

The media reports that when I was in high school I was an assistant instructor at a kung-fu school. Headline: Black Comedian, a Martial-Arts Expert Who Hated Cops, Fought with His Wife, and Was Clinically Depressed, Demonically Steals Frozen Treat From Local Merchant.

That all went through my head—in about a second.

And I was just trying to buy ice cream. I don’t live in a socio-economically deprived neighborhood. I haven’t been denied a good education by my local government. I don’t generally feel trapped by my circumstances. But I do feel every bit of my six-foot-four-inch, 250-pound body, and every bit of my black skin.

And lest you think I am exaggerating in the above scenario, know that it contains elements of the deaths of Michael Brown, Oscar Grant, Kajieme Powell, Eric Garner, and others.

The fact is that being a B.B.M. has consequences. Being a B.B.M. is why I smile quickly. It’s why I don’t usually stand to my full height. I slouch and bend.

When acquaintances haven’t seen me for awhile, I often hear, “I forgot how tall you are!” I know you did. It’s because I’m trying to make you forget. This is what being black in America has done to me, to others like me, and in some sense, even to you.

It’s not that I think that I will be killed by a police officer. It’s just that if I am, it won’t be a surprise.

W. Kamau Bell’s “Oh, Everything!” Comedy Tour runs through the end of January 2015. He is also the co-host of the new podcast Denzel Washington Is Greatest Actor Of All Time Period with his longtime collaborator Kevin Avery available on Wolfpop.com.

Is the Joke in “Explaining The Joke”? And Hari Kondabolu

Posted this April 21, 2014
The son of Indian parents, Kondabolu grew up in Queens, N.Y., and a lot of his comedy is about race and ethnicity. The title of his new album, Waiting for 2042, is a reference to the year the Census Bureau projects that whites will be in the minority in the U.S.
On why he doesn’t do accents in his comedy anymore

It’s hard having an accent in this country and you are judged based on it.

I can imagine that it must be hard for my folks to work twice as hard to communicate and also the idea that when maybe my father says something and he walks away, the idea that people are laughing because what he said is funny to them because of how he sounds crushed me when I thought about it. And the idea that I was contributing to that was hard.

At first, Hari Kondabolu’s comedy was mostly about catharsis:

“I was doing some work in detention centers and meeting families who had family members who were going to be deported,” he tells Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross. “It was really powerful work … but it was incredibly hard and performing at night was a relief. It was cathartic. It was just a way to get things out.”

Waiting for 2042

was working as an immigrant-rights organizer in Seattle and performing standup at night.

In 2008, he got his M.A. in human rights from the London School of Economics. He was surprised when his standup career took off.

Kondabolu was a writer and correspondent on Totally Biased, W. Kamau Bell’s FX political comedy series. “It was my first writing job,” Kondabolu says, “so … I have a very probably skewed vision of what writers’ rooms are because ours was so diverse and I think most of television doesn’t have that.”

Bell describes Kondabolu as “the comedy equivalent of a punk rock concert that breaks out at a human rights rally.”

Comic Hari Kondabolu's album Waiting for 2042 is a reference to the year the Census Bureau projects whites will be the minority in the U.S. "Don't worry, white people," he says. "You were a minority when you came to this country. Things seemed to have worked out for you."

Comic Hari Kondabolu’s album Waiting for 2042 is a reference to the year the Census Bureau projects whites will be the minority in the U.S. “Don’t worry, white people,” . “You were a minority when you came to this country. Things seemed to have worked out for you.”


Interview Highlights

On incorporating immigrant-rights work into his comedy

I used to do a bit where I used to read the U.S. citizenship application onstage. I think that’s part of just being overeducated and wanting to do document analysis, but I’d actually bring it onstage and read questions.

Because for people who don’t know, this is what immigrants have to go through to gain status in this country, and it’s absurd and it’s something we take for granted as American citizens.

Sometimes that was hard in a club on a Friday night and it’s 10 o’clock and everyone’s drunk and there’s a dude onstage reading a form — it’s a strange thing to read a government form in front of a bunch of drunk people.

More With Hari Kondabolu

On his explaining jokes — especially jokes about racism or colonialism

They tell you you’re never supposed to explain your jokes because that ruins the joke, and to me, that is the joke. Throughout the album — there’s a track called “Toby” where I have to explain a Roots reference. I like explaining the references.

Maybe, again, it’s me being over-educated but I do like that. I feel like I’m a cool professor. Maybe I’m not because I just called myself that. …

I find these things funny and I have to find a way for you to think they’re funny and if I have to explain it so you get what I’m talking about and then laugh at the thing that I think is funny, then so be it. It might take an extra minute.

It might mean that our attention spans have to go back to 1987 but I think it’s possible for us to get through a minute setup for us to get to something else.

 


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