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What makes comedian W. Kamau Bell laugh

“Comedy is like expensive cheese,” comedian W. Kamau Bell once said. “Well, it’s like cheese, in general. Everybody likes what they like, and everything they don’t like, they think is the worst.”

That may be the case, but still we wanted to know what Bell, whose hilarious new book is about awkwardness and race and a whole lot else, thinks is funny. Or what comedy he thinks matters.

Bell is also the voice of the brilliantly-titled podcast “Denzel Washington is the Greatest Actor of All Time Period” as well as CNN’s new race documentary series “Shades of America.” In both, he manages to be both super-serious and super-funny. Which is why he’s called a “socio-political comedian,” a term that not everybody’s down with but that’s pretty accurate for his brand of comedy.

In a recent interview with NewsHour’s Jeffrey Brown, we asked Bell to recommend the places he goes to for laughs and inspiration, from websites to books to television.

In his words:


“Shrill.” Courtesy:

The book I’m recommending is “Shrill” by author and comedian Lindy West. It’s a great, hilarious [read] – I feel like my book was inspired by her book in some way. It’s her take on the world from her very specific perspective. She’s also probably left-leaning, so know that going in. She’s got a strong, comic voice and I hope we hear more from her.

The Establishment.

The Establishment.

Where do I go for my socio-political part? I’ll recommend a website called The Establishment. It is a website that is run by women that primarily employs women writers and they pay a living wage for women to write on that site. It’s based in Berkeley so that tells you all you need to know. … The writers are very funny. Very Smart Brothas is another website that I check in with a lot.



The TV show I’m going to recommend is “Black-ish.” That’s just a TV show I love. And I think that no show really shows that black people aren’t a monolith like “Black-ish.” It’s really one of the most daring shows in the history of television and it helps dismantle the idea that all black people think one thing. They have a whole family of black people and none of them agree on anything. So for me, it’s very sort of relaxing and it sort of nurtures my soul.


And I’ll recommend a comedy album – “New Material Night Volume 1” by Hari Kondabolu. I’m totally biased about that – I host a podcast with him and it’s his brand new comedy album, but I’m going to recommend it.

Keep an eye out for the NewsHour’s upcoming broadcast piece on Bell, in which he shares more about his new book, the loquaciously-titled “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.”

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