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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

W. Kamau Bell and a Confused Fan Save Common Decency: Epistolary Lives!

Posted By on Wed, Jul 6, 2011 at 8:30 AM


The following is a series of e-mail exchanges between myself and a ... fan?

Hello Mr. Bell,

I just listened to one of your older standup comedy shows on Pandora. It was about Obama and how no one is going to vote for him because of his name. You must have been raked over the coals for that one huh? What were your comments after Barack Obama was voted President?

Confused fan

Hello, Confused Fan,

I sincerely hope (This link -- an interview with Comedy Central about this.) clears up your confusion so we can maintain our blossoming fan and comedian relationship.

[In the interview, Comedy Central writes of the Infamous Joke: " ... who made the first Barack Obama joke? That honor belongs to W. Kamau Bell. Here he is on Premium Blend all the way back in 2005 talking about how Barack Obama will never be president, because his name is too black (1:10 in)" -- Eds.]


Doesn't make sense. Completely negative comments about his name and comparing it to Osama's by another African American? The only problem with that marketing theory is the fact that other racist groups used that same racist analogy to discredit Obama, so how is it that because you used that same material in a stand up comedy act, that it was supposed to promote him? That's like an advertiser sending out commercials about how nasty their new frozen meal is. Ya know what I mean?


Are you really making the choice to criticize me over a joke that I haven't performed in six years? Just because you just heard that joke recently and have all these intense feelings about it doesn't mean you need to share them with the artist. Talk to your friends and loved ones if you have burning desire to explore your feelings on this issue.

As far as I'm concerned, your arguments are exchanging context for rhetoric. When the joke was written and performed regularly -- again, more than six years ago -- it was waaaaaaaay before Barack Obama was even a legitimate presidential candidate, let alone the president of the United States. When he became a legitimate contender I stopped doing the joke.

Also, and this is where your argument is most troublesome, by comparing a comedian to an advertiser you are missing the point of comedy and satire. This joke -- which I am still proud of and in fact still use to open my solo show as a way to make fun of myself -- satirizes my take on America's race problem. The Tea Party movement and the birther nonsense since then only further prove that I was correct in my assumption that some Americans would have an illogical reaction to a African-American president.

And the blog I sent you further satirizes my joke and my thoughts about America. In fact, the blog makes fun of the fact that I was wrong.

But I recognize I'm probably spitting in the wind here; if you find that you need all this explained to you then we can agree that you should find sources of comedy other than me. No hard feelings. Keep hope alive.

But if you do want my further comments on Obama's presidency, I would recommend you pick up a copy of my latest CD, Face Full of Flour. And if you want my up-to-the-minute comments on his presidency you can follow me on Twitter, as I occasionally give my opinions on him there. However, I don't actually recommend that you do these things. Life is too short to spend time in needless frustration, so in conclusion, a song for you!


I apologize Kamau. I know that this was a long time ago and I certainly don't want to make you feel like I'm "hating." I think your comedy satire is hilarious and I will continue to listen and laugh. Sometimes Life is taken to seriously and I'm the last one to start pointing a finger.


I really appreciate your apology. I certainly understand we can feel differently about any and all of this stuff. And I think it is very awesome of you to say you are sorry. I am trying to find the discussion points in these types of exchanges that can lead to us both retaining our humanity and not resorting to name-calling or insults as so often happens in these types of e-mail exchanges. We have managed to do that!

Take care! Also I would love to post this on my blog to show that as the Beatles said, "We can work it out!" So many times these types of exchanges lead to more anger. This one didn't and I'd love to model that for others!

Thanks again!


Hi Kamau,

Please feel free to put blog it. Can't we just all get along??!! Oooh, I just made a funny!!!

Take care...*


* I need a hobby.

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W. Kamau Bell


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