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Adored for his razor-sharp brand of socio-“politicized” wit, W. Kamau Bell is one of the hottest names in comedy on the planet right now. Revving up to kick off his Oh, Everything! Tour tonight in Bloomington, Bell took time to tell SCN’s Liz Kozak about cracking up his Southern Baptist grandma, the perks of being a barista, and who the harshest stand-up critics should really be.
LK: When was the first time you remember making someone laugh?
WKB: When I was like five or six, I was at my grandmother’s house in Alabama, and there was some sort of commercial on TV that referenced “Mother Nature.” And I said out loud, “But what about Father Nature?” And I remember my grandmother screaming in laughter and repeating it to my dad and her other old lady friends all day. It doesn’t sound like much now, but “Father Nature” was a pretty edgy joke for little kid to tell a 70-year-old Southern Baptist.
LK: I read that you considered yourself to be “really bad” at stand-up when you first started out. What are the three biggest mistakes you see new stand-up comics making?
WKB: I didn’t consider myself bad. Audiences, club owners, the entertainment industry at large considered me bad. And I just took all their word for it. I don’t know if lots of comics are making these mistakes, but I think you definitely have to be your own harshest critic. You have to have a higher standard for yourself than everybody else. Also, don’t get caught up in the scene of open mics. At first it is fun to find like-minded comics and hang out all the time, but the goal is to get out of that scene. Don’t get jealous of / bitter about other comics getting more bookings, or industry attention, or roles, or TV appearances, or whatever than you. Despite how it seems, we aren’t really competing with each other. We are only competing against ourselves. If you get better and funnier and work harder, opportunities open up. You just have to look for them and be willing to take chances.
LK: If you weren’t making people laugh for a living, how would you be paying your bills?
WKB: I always find comfort in the fact that Starbucks has a great benefit package, even if you only work part-time. Ahhhh, baristas!
LK: You’re on tour right now… what else do you have coming down the pipeline that you’re excited about?
Catch W. Kamau Bell’s Oh, Everything! Tour live in Chicago this Friday, March 14th at Lincoln Hall. For the rest of his tour schedule, including shows in Denver, Portland, Oakland, Miami & more– check out his official website. Follow him on Twitter @wkamaubell.