Tonight is the premiere for FX’s new semi-live comedy show, Totally Biased with W.Kamau Bell, starring San Francisco comedian W. Kamau Bell and produced by Chris Rock. It’s the latest entry by FX to expand its comedy offerings and it’s second in trying to do a multi-media-comedy-act-in-front-of-a-live-audience show at 11pm ET/PT. The first being Brand X with Russel Brand, which is an awkward show to describe without getting frustrated. Totally Biased however, is more refined, straight forward act that’s heavy on the socio-politcal hot topics and packaged in a way that’s much more easily absorbed, because we want to laugh but we also want to retain the messages too. Is it worth staying up for after Louie? In a word, yes.
In each episode, Bell stands before a crowd in an intimate theater-like environment of what seems like and audience of 200-300, comprised mostly of young adults, diverse in nationality. He brings up current events with his smart, observant (“Why are there no black airplane pilots?), and “biased” black man’s perspective. It’s not too dissimilar to Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show, but is not THAT heavy into the politics that you find out what Rhode Island’s governor is up to, unless Lincoln Chafee did something really bad to make the news that day.
I was sent a screener of a test show that Bell taped for FX so that we could get a sense of what the show was prior to tonight. However, nothing in this screener, which bits and pieces of it have been used to promote it on television, the web and the radio, will actually air on FX. That’s because Totally Biased is going to be taped on the day that it airs. Here’s a taste of what I saw on the screener, and don’t worry, nothing is spoiled because none of this will air on the live shows.
“Personally I’m so mad at the GOP right now, and not because of the usual things–you know, everything? I wanted Barrack (Obama) to have to work for my vote this time, you know what I’m saying? I wanted him to try to get me to vote, not like the last time when I’m like, Black? I’m in!”
Bell then quickly leads into slide of the other six major Republican Party candidates that Mitt Romney beat out.
“This is the list of Batman villains they came up with. This isn’t even Christopher Nolan Batman villains; this is Adam West Batman villains.”
Video clips of Ann Coulter were used and tend to speak for themselves, snapshots of the Jersey Shore and polar bears are steps of an even bigger joke and even Bell’s baby is used for political fodder. “So yes, my wife is white, I’m black, which makes our baby an error.”
Bell has his own voice of comedy, gentle stabs of bluntness, and even though he attributes much of his approach to what executive producer Chris Rock made famous, he dishes out harsh truths in a very personal and memorable way but without any character voices and over-the-top exaggerated tirades or skits. There are no long build ups, each joke is introduced and closed witin two minues time. This is a 30-minute block with commercials we’re talking about here. He casually works his angle in, and then reminds you if you disagree, that he’s ‘Totally Biased.”
Look, he can’t help it, he was born that way and the it’s this crazy world makes it easy to baste in one’s biased frame of mind. Of course any smart comedian knows the other side, and Bell doesn’t ignore it, he’s quite friendly in stripping it down to the essentials. Most of all, Bell’s show feels sincere and the one thing you can’t fake when you’re trying to be funny is honesty. Bell is no stranger to comedy. He’s the founding member of the Laughter Against the Machine comedy tour and co-hosts the Field Negro Guide to Arts Culture podcast. He’s well-known in the comedy circles, taking home award after award in his industry, but for television, he’s a welcomed face and another broadening selection by the network which already has Louis C.K., the entire creative staffs from The League, Archer, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Wilfred.
But Bell’s FX show isn’t a complete solo act. In the test show, Janine Brito, one of Bell’s fellow Frisco comedians on the Laughter Against the Machine comedy tour, and writers on Totally Biased, gave what would have been Tracy Morgan’s apology to the gay and lesbian communities–if Morgan actually wrote it, because the apology that was released to the public reeked of a publicist’s dirty work. I get the sense that she’ll be contributing to each episode at least once and if not her, then perhaps Hari Kondabolu, Kevin Avery, Danny Vermont, Kevin Kataoka or Dwayne Kennedy who also write for the show.
So much of what passes for late night television could be advertised as a tranquilizer–an endless sea of talk shows with white men behind desks asking prepared questions to keep the promotional wheels constantly turning. Totally Biased offers something different, absorbing commentary that should invoke a response–that is unless you can’t put 2+2 together. The speed of Bell’s act and topical nature should keep viewers alert. And nothing is beaten to the point of becoming unclear or some over-labored, wandering diatribe. Whether it’s pop culture, sports, race, religion, politics or the media itself, I’m sure you have formed your own opinions on such matters. Now it’s time to see if they’re a match for W. Kamau Bell’s.