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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 Paperback – August 7, 2018
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"Bell... tackles everything from racism to his life growing up as a Blerd (Black nerd) to his struggles to find his comedic voice in this illuminating memoir." —Entertainment Weekly
“With insight and aplomb, stand-up comedian Bell recounts his career arc...Those unfamiliar with Bell’s work or expecting a lighthearted read from a popular comedian will be surprised by the book’s breadth and depth...This informative read will be illuminating and worthwhile for aspiring comedians and general readers.”—Publishers Weekly
“At times funny, at times somber, this debut will be enjoyed by fans of United Shades, Issa Rae’s TV series Insecure, and anyone who enjoys comedy with a personal touch.”—Library Journal
“A funny, heartfelt tête-à-tête with a down-to-earth star.”—Boston Magazine
“At turns sarcastic, poetic and enraged, Bell's language is potent. His own realization of how racism intersects with other forms of discrimination, like sexism, broadens his platform and embraces a wide audience. Awkward Thoughts is definitely entertaining, but it also invites readers to look through different eyes. And those who aren't inspired to take action will at least have considered a new view. As Bell says, ‘that's progress.’”—Shelf Awareness (starred review)
“A comprehensive look at what gave rise to Bell’s insightful, critical eye and his hilarious comedy.”—Booklist
“A unique perspective of the development of identity comedy in the 21st century.”—Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
W. Kamau Bell is a sociopolitical comedian who is the host of the hit, Emmy Award nominated, hit CNN docu-series, United Shades of America. Before United Shades, Kamau was best known for his critically acclaimed, but criminally short-lived, FX comedy series Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell. The series was nominated for both a NAACP Award and a GLAAD Award. Kamau is also the host of Kamau Right Now!, a public radio talk show that airs on NPR radio station KALW in San Francisco, and a co-host of the podcasts Politically Re-Active and the memorably-named Denzel Washington is The Greatest Actor of All Time Period.
Before pursuing a career in stand-up comedy, Kamau and his mom lived all over the country. He was born in Palo Alto, California then moved to Indianapolis, Indiana, then Boston, Massachusetts, then Chicago, Illinois, with several extended visits to his dad's in Mobile, Alabama mixed in for good measure. Today he lives in Berkeley, CA with his wife and family.
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I read this book out on the patio in the sun, listening to the squirrels and jays and hummingbirds, and thought "this could not be more real if Bell were sitting in the next chair over, also enjoying the warmth, and just chatting about life, sometimes making it about the events, sometimes going a little more into the details--and then, like good friends do, lowering his voice and getting a bit closer to talk about the real stuff, the stuff that brings joy, and the stuff that brings tears, to where you want to reach out and say 'It's OK. We can talk about this.' "
He's like that.
This book is him, and given the ways he's modified his own public acts as he has been growing more into his own self, it is a clear view into who he is and what he values. His family--wife and children. His many friends. His larger family. And of course, his very real blackness.
The book is constructed as a somewhat linear set of personal stories and observations, sometimes in a more formal narrative, and sometimes a more raw explosion of his thoughts. (It took me a few chapters to realize that his book designer has set out the differences by changing the font used for narrative versus the uncensored thoughts.) We get to see a lot of his childhood, his awkward teen-age years, his twenties when he struggled to find his way, his thirties when he struggled to find his voice, and his-ahem--subsequent years when he finding his groove not only in his career but in all the aspects of growing a family and a community.
Some sections made me laugh, but this is not a comedic book--it's not designed for laughs. Some parts made me angry. Some parts made me think, and even got me bristling at the idea that I wasn't yet really working on my own stuff like he clearly could see that I wasn't. Give me my fantasies, man!
And some parts made me emotional, because of all the things Bell is, he is human, and loving, and frustrated, and limited, and learning, and growing, and honest. It shouldn't be this way, that we live in a society that not only is so centered in whiteness, but also so completely in denial about it. Bell knows this, and while his comedy acts brings this knowledge out, it is not an act, and surely it is a frustration that even when he sees that people claim they get it, especially after one of his shows, he still must go back to his wife and family and home and wonder if his show of contradictions and eruptions will still be relevant, and be scared that he will never run out of material.
This is the book a friend would write, to tell you what he thinks, because there wasn't enough time in one afternoon sitting in the sunshine on a patio to tell everything. It takes time to grow in that kind of friendship, and he only had a few hundred pages to work with.
He has done admirably.
On a more personal note, I appreciate the stories of the hard times that he covered up so well. I loved Totally Biased, and yet in here he tells how hard it was on him, and on all those he loved. I feel bad that I laughed in ignorance, but I appreciate that he did what he signed up to do, maintained his own sanity and personal life, if only by a thread, and didn't completely burn out. I loved his show on FXX even though it's been stressful, and honestly--hand to God--had no idea of the struggles he's gone through to make the shows he does his very own. But now it adds even more to the shows he presents because they are increasingly more like his vision.
One thing that is very apparent in his book is that Bell knows where he comes from and knows the people who have helped him along. He is very open and quick about his praise. He talks about all the people who helped him and loved him. And while it is very clear that he wants to grow in his own voice, he gives credit to all the people and their voices who helped him find his own voice.
What a gracious, kind man, and what a gift he has for reaching us with something that's funny, biting, and restorative.