The W. Kamau Bell Curve: Ending Racism in About an Hour
nytheatre.com review by Melanie N. Lee
August 17, 2009
I scoured the FringeNYC listings for a show all about Barack Obama, and didn't find one. However, if you want a show that talks about Barack a lot, this is it. If you want a show that grabs today's racism and gives it a whooping while making you laugh your guts out, this is it. Warning: if you're White, come with a thick skin and a generous sense of humor, and be ready for some "tough love."
Arrive early. The W. Kamau Bell Curve: Ending Racism in about an Hour has a preshow slideshow, with lists such as How to End Racism ("Buy a Fishbone CD"), Five Ways White People Can End Racism ("Learn Spanish Immediately!"), Five Ways Black People Can End Racism ("Don't Watch BET!", "Learn Spanish Immediately!"), and Black Men Who Helped Barack Win the White House ("Cliff Huxtable—not Bill Cosby—Cliff Huxtable").
W. Kamau Bell himself, tall, dark, and hilarious, claims he made the very first Obama joke on Comedy Central in 2005, and shows a clip: "There will never be a Black President named Barack Obama! Ladies and gentlemen, that's too Black! That dude's name might as well be Blackie Blackerson...Barack Obama—Black Osama! Uh-uh!" Today he says, "Oops! Boy, is my face brown!"
Bell focuses on racist incidents since Obama took office. "We live in a 'post-racial' America?" Bell wonders, citing a post-election headline. The big screen behind him shows Oscar-nominated Robert Downey Jr. in blackface in Tropic Thunder, the New York Post cartoon implicitly comparing Obama to a chimp shot by cops, and a message board entry by GOP activist Rusty DePass calling an escaped gorilla one of First Lady Michelle's relatives.
Bell is most amazed at the Philadelphia country club that chased out of their pool black kids from a camp and refunded the camp's money. "65 black kids—that's like 300 regular kids!" Bell quips. "It supercedes racism to the point of being crazy." Shocked that this could happen in 2009, he imagines a Racism Amusement Park where you can find out what it was like to be Black in the 1950s. "Water Ride: they turn a hose on you! Petting Zoo: dogs barking!"
Bell riffs on some Black celebrities, including Oprah Winfrey ("Everybody look under your chairs: it's Barack Obama!"), Tyler Perry ("At least you're exploiting us yourself!"), Will Smith ("How does he not get named People magazine's Sexiest Man Alive?"), and of course Obama ("He's not the Malcolm X President; he's the Tiger Woods President!").
With the help of his big screen, Bell expounds upon U.S. Census race statistics, the current fear of Arabs and Muslims, differing levels of racism, "Native American" sports names, race classification in the USA and in South Africa, the impact of Latinos, interracial marriage (including his own), two questions not to ask Blacks about their hair, and why Whites need to embrace their Whiteness. He also lambastes some hateful responses to his YouTube postings.
Directed by Paul Stein, developed with Martha Rynberg, Bell's solo show is daring, insightful, challenging, sometimes interactive, up-to-the-minute—and did I mention hilarious? There are curses, plus generous helpings of the N word, and a prize for those who bring someone of another race.
So, how do we end racism in an hour? I've already given away many of Bell's punchlines, but there are plenty more. You might not agree with all he says, but it's worth hearing. So, thicken your skin, turn on your funny bone, and go find out! Highly recommended!