The Lucille Ball Comedy Festival is underway in Jamestown, NY, with excellent comedy programming all week long. Part of the festival is held at the nearby Chautauqua Institution– a gated summer community devoted to immersion in art, culture, creativity, and philosophy. On Thursday at the Chautauqua Pavilion, Kelly Carlin sat down “In Conversation” with socio-political comedian W. Kamau Bell to talk about his career and explore themes of race, gender, progressiveness, and political correctness.
During the conversation, Kamau addressed the largely white audience and urged them to “cape up.”
“You’re all in a very privileged place,” he said. “Some of you are privileged twice. It’s time for you to take that privilege and use it for bigger things– like figuring out this country.” He told the crowd that everyone sitting there had already won life- in areas of privilege, money and relationship power. “A lot of you are like a bunch of Clark Kents pretending not to be Superman,” he said. “And it’s time to cape up and get out there and do something.”
The remark earned him a thunderous standing ovation from the crowd of thousands which included among them comedians Lewis Black and Alan Zweibel who were in town for the festival.
Bell urged the crowd to be louder, be more aggressive, and be more politically correct. He and Carlin discussed the bubble-like environment of Chautauqua, and Bell joked that the community feels like Tomorrowland or Yesterdayland or the place where the people went at the end of the movie Cocoon. Bell suggested talking with the person who works at the coffee shop and asking them questions, like how much do they earn and is that enough? And if it isn’t, they should do something about it.
On the topic of Trump, Bell advised rather than trying to change the man himself, there were more important conversations to be had with the people who voted for him. “Most of you know someone who voted for Trump,” he said, and “most of you avoid the conversation.” But, he added, “if you avoid the conversation, you kill America.” Kamau then urged them to not only find Trump voters, but hear them out, find out why they did it and don’t expect to change their minds in one conversation. “You have to Arab Spring this,” he said, having the conversation over and over “until it works.”
The rousing call to action followed an hour of conversation in which Bell talked with Carlin about his upbringing as an only child, being obsessed with Saturday Night Live while growing up, leaving college after a year and a half, and finding his voice after years of treading water in comedy. He said a defining moment for him came after he “bombed his face off” for 5 nights in a row while performing at military bases in Japan. Looking for answers, he asked himself “what would you be doing if you were already famous?” The answer he gave was that he wanted to do a show about racism, that was similar in tone to The Daily Show. And so he went out and did it and his career and his life have taken off since making that decision.
Bell is the host of the Emmy Award nominated hit CNN docu-series United Shades of America. Season two premiered on April 30, 2017. Kamau’s first book came out earlier this year, and he hosts three podcasts including: Denzel Washington is The Greatest Actor of All Time Period, Politically Re-Active, and Kamau Right Now! His first comedy special, Semi-Prominent Negro, was produced and directed by Morgan Spurlock.
The Lucille Ball Comedy Festival continues through Saturday night with headliners Lisa Lampanelli, Robert Klein, and Kevin James, more in-depth conversations, stand up showcases of up and coming talent and a preview of the George Carlin exhibit coming to the National Comedy Center currently under construction. For more information and tickets, visit lucycomedyfest.com.