Author:W. Kamau Bell
Title: The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell
Narrator: W. Kamau Bell
Publication Info: Penguin Audio (2017)
W. Kamau Bell is a stand-up comedian, podcaster, and television host. I’m aware of him through his terrific Politically Re-Active podcast with Hari Kondabolu (currently on hiatus). I liked him enough from that to want to read his book. Much of The Awkward Thoughts is straight memoir. Bell’s parents divorced when he was young and he grew up in Boston attending predominately white private schools. He describes himself as a “blerd” or Black nerd and distanced from the identifiers of Black culture. Since Bell and I were born in the same year, I found I could relate to a lot of the pop culture events he recounts.
As a teenager he moved to Chicago at a time when Harold Washington was mayor and Michael Jordan and Oprah Winfrey were beginning their reign as world changing Black super-celebrities. Bell attended University of Pennsylvania, but dropped out, and then moved to San Francisco in the 1990s to attempt to break into the stand-up comedy scene right as the big stand-up boom of the 70s and 80s went bust. He finds his niche in a one-man show in which he made comedic observations on the state of racism in America. This lead to work on television, hosting Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell on FX and then United Shades of America on CNN, as well as many, many podcasts.
Among the memoir bits, Bell reflects on many topics including sports (and why he doesn’t enjoy them), Denzel Washington as the greatest actor of all time, the significance of Doc McStuffins, and the Rocky movies. He also worries about racism in America and the very real threat of a Black man like himself being killed by police or a vigilante. He details a significant incident when he was harassed by the staff of a coffee shop in his hometown of Berkeley, CA when he stopped to talk to his wife (who is white) and her friends at the sidewalk cafe. As a white reader, I was grateful that Bell takes the time to address what white people can do to confront racism (and give us a pep talk in the process) while relating his own experiences of what definitely does not help with racism.
This is a funny and insightful book, and the audiobook is extra special in that Bell reads it in his warm voice.
Recommended books: Nerd Do Well by Simon Pegg