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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

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Goodreads Choice Award
Nominee for Best Humor (2017)
You may know W. Kamau Bell from his hit show on CNN. Or maybe you've read about him in The New York Times or The New Yorker, about his intersectional progressivism gimmick: he treats racial, gay, and women's issues as inseparable.

The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell is a humorous, well-informed take on the world today, tackling a wide range of evergreen issues, such as race relations; fatherhood; the state of law enforcement today; comedians and superheroes; right-wing politics; failure; his interracial marriage; his upbringing by very strong-willed, race-conscious, yet ideologically opposite parents; his early days struggling to find his comedic voice, then his later days struggling to find his comedic voice; why he never seemed to fit in with the Black comedy scene . . . or the white comedy scene; how he was a Black nerd way before that became a thing; how it took his wife and an East Bay lesbian to teach him that racism and sexism often walk hand in hand; and much, much more.

340 pages, Hardcover

First published May 2, 2017

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About the author

W. Kamau Bell

8 books271 followers
W. Kamau Bell is a socio-political stand-up comedian and television host whose most prominent work focuses on race and politics in America.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 855 reviews
Profile Image for Roxane.
Author 118 books157k followers
May 7, 2017
Very good collection of essays. Part memoir. Part riffs on Bell's interests. Part cultural criticism. The essays all have a meandering quality as if the writer is sitting next to you, telling you a good story. He is particularly good at showing his growth personally and professionally. Lots of warmth and heart and intelligence here.
Profile Image for Fran.
640 reviews585 followers
May 14, 2017
W. Kamau Bell has written his thoughts and ruminations for our examination. He describes being the only child of two awesome parents. Although his parents separated when he was two years old, both parents impacted his life in the best possible way. Kamau's mother conversed with him as an equal even from a young age. His father's mantra was that nobody can beat hard work.

Kamau grew up loving superheroes, especially Spiderman and The Hulk. Wearing a Spiderman red and blue mask or the "greenness" of the Hulk made him feel that he could rise up against bullies. He could have been any ethnicity under the superhero garb!

Bruce Lee and Martial Arts were favorites. Bruce Lee's famous quote "Absorb what is useful, discard what is useless, and add what is specifically your own" are words that helped Kamau expand his idea of what was possible to achieve. He watched Martial Arts movies that showed the underdog winning by traveling the high ground, the path less taken by many individuals.

Kamau explains that his mother had a stark sense of humor, often using jokes if times were hard. He got into comedy himself to share his weird thoughts. Weird thoughts on dating. Do your body parts match up? Will they work well together? Where have you been all my life?

"The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell" by W. Kamau Bell is the author's way of navigating his path through life. His comedy is his method of questioning himself and the world at large.

Thank you Penguin Group Dutton and Net Galley for the opportunity to read and review "The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell".
Profile Image for Morris.
964 reviews164 followers
March 6, 2018
This is an entertaining and informative collection of essays that are loosely tied together. They cover everything from W. Kamau Bell’s life to pop culture. At some points I was laughing so hard tears were streaming down my face, while at others I fell into deep thought. Bonus points to Mr. Bell for publicly admitting to loving Dr. Pimple Popper.

This unbiased review is based upon a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.
Profile Image for Remi.
117 reviews5 followers
May 18, 2017
I hate to write this because I like Bell and how (sorry to use the overused) #woke and intersectional he is, but I was so unimpressed. There wasn't a single laugh-out-loud moment for me, not a single enraging moment (when he talked about prejudice), nothing really stood out for me. Which sucks because his book is about how he deals with coming up short in his comedy career. I wanted to like this book but it was middling.
Profile Image for Trish.
1,352 reviews2,412 followers
Shelved as 'put-aside'
June 12, 2017
Think it's probably best I don't rate this because it didn't work for me at all. I'd never heard of Bell before, and I couldn't figure out why I was spending time listening to him. He taught me something: I'd never heard of Cisgender before, though his explanation flew by before I caught it. It means "denoting or relating to a person whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with their birth sex." Seems like we're doing an awful lot of talk about one's personal sexual life these days...I'm not at all sure it improves the conversation.

Anyway, Bell writes for a TV show called United Shades of America which sounds like something I would like, but...I don't know if Bell was trying to be funny in this memoir, but nothing he said struck me as funny. Anyway, the more listening we do when someone speaks about race is all to the good.
Profile Image for J Beckett.
142 reviews405 followers
March 15, 2018
I am a fan of W. Kamau Bell. The sort of fan who would watch or listen to him if the media he was on was available or I happened upon them while channel surfing. How could I not be a fan? He represents a part of all people. That part that is, more often than not, afraid to face the discomforts of race, sex, politics, religion, friendships, tolerance (thank you 45) and acceptance.

I heard of Bell several years ago, but only in passing. He was described as the really tall Black guy with the equally impressive "free-style" Afro. That description did very little to pique my interest. I wanted to know what he was thinking, not what his physical characteristics were, but when I was told that he was 'on point' and spoke in an uncommon manner about common (if controversial) matters I sought him out.

Bell is principally a West Coast comic who was primarily doing a west coast circuit, or so it seemed. I remember seeing him for the first time on some forgotten television program (maybe Totally Biased). I was laughing aloud at his routine, Googling his name, and trying to understand exactly where he came from. Then, oddly, I lost track of him. But he left an impression, and I waited for the next time he would emerge with his commentary on social issues. A couple years later Bell reemerged as the host of the CNN's REAL reality/ docu-like show, United Shades of America, and I, as if his apparition publicist, tooted the title from the bell tower (no pun intended) to all who'd listen. His work was genius, in a dry, academic, conscientious sort of way. The odd, edgy, thought-provoking show was at times unnerving (see the KKK episode and look at Bell's nervous expression) and at other times addictive and hopeful.

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, confirmed my appreciation for Bell as an Everyman. The book exposes Bell true character beyond the television personality, and perhaps, the on-stage comic. The reader is taken on a fantastic journey through his life. He writes about his never married parents (there are no stereotypes here, his parents were both professional people), the woes of childhood, his attraction to all things nerdy, his initial awareness of being "different" (must read the 'no kiss for you' part) and the importance of remaining steadfast even when against all odds. The book exposed him as the skater guy who couldn't skate but cheered for his skate-able comrades because that's what friends do. If Bell had never mentioned where he planted his roots, it would still have been obvious that he has a California heart.

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, is part biography, part history lesson. Bell gives real thought throughout the pages of The Awkward Thoughts. His position and thoughts on racism, although he is in an interracial marriage, are both profound and powerful. His straight line position is that racism is an indicator of something other than the color of one's skin. He projects that the racist is as he is because he feels that something of personal value (opportunity, usually) has been taken. But, Bell surmises, that is not the crux of the problem. The issue, on a deep dive, is not color but promises not kept and one's inability to venture beyond their disparaging place for better opportunity. This trap keeps families frustrated, downtrodden and angry. Someone has to be blamed. And the flame of their despair is being fed by the ignorant rhetoric of the man behind the white curtain, further searing their souls with speak of immigrants (illegal) and others stealing their hope. Even a first-week psychology student knows that seething words of the blame on depressed ears feasters unreasonable thought.

Bell urges people to read. To venture beyond the rhetoric and develop one's own opinion. He sites Ta'Nehisi Coates and Michelle Alexander as must-read authors. He speaks of his 'not such a good student' high school days, but how he was accepted into Penn State (although it was very short-lived). He shows that even the wayward can and often will eventually find their way, if only they listen to their inner voice, and venture along those paths that others may fear to tread. This, Bell states, is the story he'd tell his daughters, who seemingly settled him, but keep him hungry for the next level.

The book concludes with Bell writing about an incident that occurred during his birthday. He and his wife sat (outdoor seating) in a favorite brunch cafe in Cali. When the meal was over he left, temporarily, but his wife remained, engaged in conversation with friends. When Bell, all 6'4", Black, and militantly coiffed, returned to the cafe, he stood over the table where his wife and others sat. Then, he writes, an overzealous waitress knocked on the window from within the cafe to get his attention. Not knowing who he was or why he was there, the waitress tried to 'shoo' him away, assuming that he was harassing the white women. Rightfully, Bell and his wife were infuriated. Shortly after verbalizing his embarrassment and humiliation he organized a meeting based on racial tolerance in the gym of a local middle school. The owner of the cafe attended and tried, passionately, to sympathize his way out of the issue, acknowledging the depth and seriousness of the misunderstanding, stating that the essence of the cafe was and always will be tolerance, but the more he spoke the more Bell and others realized that he didn't understand. If tolerance was true, and not just a statement of liberal comfort, the waitress would not have approached or mistaken him [Bell] as a street person. After all, Bell writes -- building upon the insult-- she did not approach the white man with matted hair panhandling outside the door of the cafe for well over an hour, at all.

Indeed Bell has experienced these situations, directly and subtly for a majority of his life. Indeed, and sadly, all Black people have, whether they see it directly or choose to ignore it. In The Awkward Thoughts... Bell not only found and projected his comedic voice, his talent, his story, he, without trying, found and projected ours.
Profile Image for Billie.
930 reviews79 followers
March 1, 2017
I am a fan of Bell's work and, as such, was really looking forward to reading this. BUT, I am totally going to be a asshole here and say that, even for an ARC, this book was riddled with too many errors. The essays are smart and thoughtful and funny, but the need for proofreading and copy editing really got distracting and took away from my appreciation of Bell's message.
Profile Image for Tiffany Tyler.
670 reviews95 followers
September 17, 2017
There were a few gems dropped in this book, like this one: "Being able to say no is the most power you can ever have. It is either a luxury when you can afford to leave, or it is necessary for survival when the cost to stay is waaaaay too high." Parts of this book were entertaining, clever, and insightful which piqued my interest enough to make me want to check out his tv show.
Profile Image for Lulu.
842 reviews111 followers
August 24, 2017
I had never heard of W. Kamau Bell (insert living under a rock joke here), but a friend suggested this. I will be honest, I didn't really care too much for the early parts of the book (him finding himself), but the later chapters really impressed me. I like his line of thinking. I'll be checking him out in the near future.
Profile Image for da AL.
366 reviews366 followers
October 14, 2022
This is his endearing and thoroughly personal account of what it’s like to strive to do good work and to be a good person. (btw, “blerd” = black nerd) He doesn’t pretend he's never misstepped. Instead, he admits his mistakes, and then demonstrates how we can all change — if we want to. The gold is in keeping humble and open-hearted enough to learn from each other while courageously speaking against injustice. Thank you, Kamau, for reminding us!
Profile Image for Monica **can't read fast enough**.
1,033 reviews335 followers
April 30, 2019
Smart, funny, and very relatable. I consumed this as an audiobook and I think that is why I enjoyed it so much. Bell narrating his story with his sense of humor and straight forward manner of story telling made this really entertaining.

Where you can find me:
•(♥).•*Monlatable Book Reviews*•.(♥)•
Twitter: @MonlatReader
Instagram: @readermonica
Facebook: Monica Reeds
Goodreads Group: The Black Bookcase

Profile Image for Liza Fireman.
839 reviews144 followers
January 7, 2018
I have never before heard about W. Kamau Bell, but now I am a huge fan! This guy is not only funny, he is outstanding. He touched racism, sexism, self confidence and so many other topics. There were few moments that I wasn't laughing or nodding my head in enthusiastic agreement. He is huge, and for now, the best book that I read in 2018.

Kamau grew up with a great strong mother. And of course he grew up black, both things make him a great supporter of equal rights for everyone. I wish that I could look at it from the outside, but as a women in an industry with mostly men, I have empathized with much of his thoughts.

Let's start with black superheroes, there are not many of them that are impressive. And for me wanting to be superman when I was a younger, and everybody telling me that I could only be superwoman, which in my opinion was not as good as superman. Maybe today with the amazing Gal Gadot it is changing a little, but back then she was no equal:
That meant, as a kid, I could easily envision being Spider-Man or the Hulk. Everybody knew Superman was white. Everybody knew Batman was white. And those were the big four superheroes when I was a kid. And yes, there were a few Black superheroes around when I was a kid, but nobody really cared about them. They were side dishes to the main-course superheroes. There was Black Lightning, Black Vulcan, the Black Panther . . . Notice anything? Yep, when I was a kid it seemed like every Black superhero had to have the word “Black” in their name.
Creating Black superheroes with the word “Black” in their names was a way for America to once again normalize whiteness. It wasn’t “White Superman” or “White Batman” or “White Green Lantern.” Because “white” is normal. White doesn’t need to be mentioned. But “Black,” on the other hand, needs to be announced. To me, it made the superheroes sound less intimidating, less powerful, less normal than their white counterparts. I think some of that had to do with my own feelings at the time about being Black.

And why is this important? Because all of us need to be able to see an option to aspire for it. People can strive only for options that they know that can exist, they don't even see some of the options. And this especially critical for kids.
the only way you can allow a kid to truly dream is if you expand their idea of what is currently possible. A kid who has nothing, sees nothing, and is taught nothing can only dream of breakfast. They can only hope to get to the next moment successfully. I want more than that for my kids...just like my mom wanted more than that for me. And I want them to want more than that too.”

And now, for the women. We all know men, too many men, that make jokes about women. Kamau brought an example of a joke, not funny joke, that unfortunately too many people will agree with. “Put it this way, your funniest uncle is always funnier than your funniest aunt.” This type of jokes, dismissive and insulting are everywhere, they come up in many situations, and they hurt, even when we take them bravely. It is always easier to laugh at the weak people, and Kamau doesn't do it anymore, and doesn't want to laugh at it anymore.

Ans he explains:
There are many ways to be funny, so your funny uncle is probably funny because he rips off loud farts during Thanksgiving and/ or sticks bread sticks up his nose every time he goes to Olive Garden and/ or he insults his wife every time she leaves the room while she pretends not to notice and/ or in her presence refers to her as his “first wife” even though
And more important, maybe women just don't want to be a part of that in many cases, because of the reactions, because of the nasty comments, because the next line of "supposed to be funny", "don't be that serious/heavy" is on them:
“And when I attempted to point this out he accused me of both not "getting the joke" and not being fun. He literally said, "Can't we just have a good time?" In other words, once again, his white man lens is the only lens. His definition of fun is the only way to have fun. It is a classic move of this white guy.” The truth is, no we cannot have a good time, since it doesn't feel good to be the topic of the comment or joke. Maybe if these men (and you can find many of these around you if you use some sensitive listening) will feel it themselves they would stop doing this.
And some more great words from the book:
“Maybe your aunt is funny in quiet moments with her friends because like many women her age, she was taught to not draw attention to herself. And maybe she also noticed how men of her generation weren't attracted to the women who spoke out of turn and uttered their own opinions out loud. And certainly these types of men weren't attracted to women who were funnier than them. Women have always been funny. They just weren't interested in sharing their jokes with you. Truth in point, my mom is hilarious. She has also been single since 1974.”

White man is the norm. And we add Black or Women before or after our superheroes and sports team, because the one that do not need the prefix or postfix are for men:
So when these dudes say, "Women aren't funny," they are forgetting a classically important addendum: "to me." They should be saying, "Women aren't funny to me." But they don't say "to me" because if you are a man in America, you are considered the norm. (Remember it's the NBA and the W[omen's]NBA, not the WNBA and the M[en's]NBA.) And if you are a white man in America, then you are also considered the norm.”
It is so much the norm, that even when he did a show about diversity and inclusion, everybody around him was white. And he has some crazy stories about white people that treated him really badly in a show where he was the star:
And he would control things as big as who was hired on the show. So even though I was promoting a brand based on diversity and inclusion, I was working on a show completely stocked with white people. And when I questioned this, I was told that because of where we were shooting, it made more sense for us to have an all-white crew. That made no sense to me because the place we were primarily shooting was a place called the United States of America. But basically the argument was made to me that structural racism was good for business. It is. It is good for America to continue to do its business the way America has always liked its business to be done . . . with little input from people of color, women, and people whose religion doesn’t go down the heart of Jesus Street.

He gives Roseanne Barr example, that had people undermining her in her own show. And then she fired them on her next season. And I say way-to-go Roseanne. We do not need these people around us. And we rarely get control on who works with us, but she did, and made sure to surround herself with people that are good to her: She has written about how the first season of her show featured men in power telling her how to be “Roseanne,” and even one man taking credit for creating Roseanne, even though Roseanne was created by Roseanne Barr in the stand-up act that she wrote that got her the show in the first place. Roseanne wrote that she kept pictures of all the people on the show who had done her wrong, and as the show ascended to its number one spot in the ratings, she fired each of the people who had wronged her and her vision, one by one. At one point that sounded crazy to me, but at this point in my career I know it is essential for survival . . . and to maintain some level of sanity.

And last but not least, are the people that claim that maybe he doesn't know and can't be sure if an incident or behavior is racism:
At first it was overwhelmingly supportive. And then (of course) some of it turned all “How do you know it was racism?” Because as a Black person who has lived all his life in America, I have a PhD in racism. I can tell from my own experience, we know well what racism or sexism feels like. We experience these things on a regular basis, we already have allergy to that type of comments, to this type of people. We know when it happens. Let us all work together to stop this, and make sure that we act when it happens around us.

This is not a funny book per se. It is a manifesto for equality. It is a manifesto for inclusion, for diversity, for feminism. Amazing book, almost 5 true shining stars.
Profile Image for Melissa.
1,078 reviews71 followers
July 8, 2017
I saw this book at the library, I'd seen commercials for his show on CNN, but never watched, but the book looked interesting so I checked it out. It didn't take long until I knew I needed to buy this for myself and as an audiobook so I could hear these stories in his own voice. Excellent all the way through, from his growing up stories, to his career stories, but especially all those little moments throughout that speak to sexism, racism, genderism, and so much more that make this crazy complex country and world we live in. I'll definitely be checking out the next season of his show, and taking his advice on a few things.
Profile Image for Dawn Livingston.
708 reviews38 followers
July 23, 2017
I stumbled over United Shades of America on tv and found it interesting then saw this book in my local library on the new shelves.

The book reads like Bell speaks and that was good, I didn't find it hard to read and the familiarity was reassuring. He came across on paper as he does in USoA... likeable, laid-back, smart. His book was very thought provoking and it left me at times amused, confused, frustrated. His book made me want to talk to him, or someone, regarding the racism he deals with and his point of view. I learned a new word, cisgender. I read the word "cracker" to refer to white people twice. I read "white devil" used to refer to a white person once. I learned about "white privilege" which I kind of believe.

I got to around page 258 and was thinking about quitting because I wasn't enjoying the book anymore, it had become like a pebble in the shoe. But then Bell doesn't want you to necessarily enjoy the book, he wants you to be motivated to act against racism so if he gets under your skin all the better I'm guessing.

Well, he has some points, he was no more or less funny than he is in USoA, he talks more about his comedy career than interested me. The book was worthwhile if you want to learn more about the author, a career in comedy, racism. It may challenge you, it may aggravate you, you might feel as if he's preaching to the choir. You'll only know for sure if you read it.

I won't buy it or likely read it again.

Now that I think of it, I actually need another kind of book that I don't think Bell could write. I live in Cleveland, Ohio where the city is mostly black/colored/etc. and I'm white. How do I talk to a young black man, sometimes a teen that looks through me when I say hello, like I'm dirt? Maybe he's so stunned to be greeted by a white female that that he's speechless? How do I deal with my hate of seeing young black men with their pants hanging down showing their underwear, sometimes even most of their butts. How do I deal with the person in a car with rap blasting usually including swear words? How do I handle black men who call another black person the n word. I HATE that. It just makes my blood boil. These things really get under my skin. I know I'm racist but how do I deal with these things that drive me nuts that I associate with black people.

Oh, and I tried to listen to both Jay-Z and Tupac to try to figure out what people see in them but the swearing is a real turn off, too hard to get beyond that but I'm guessing that I'm an exception. I just don't swear much and don't like it in the music I listen to especially when it's b!tches, the n word, the f word and mf. Don't get me wrong, I've listened to songs with swearing but I can't think of one off-hand and it's not extreme swearing like I mentioned above. I just don't get hip hop and rap and probably never will. They can be as poetic and clever as they want but the swearing... And it seems that rap and hip hop glorify "thug life". I'm not 100% sure what that means but it doesn't sound positive. It seems to make the criminal the hero and the cop the villain. I can kind of understand considering I do believe that black people have been treated unfairly because they are black but if there is no respect for law enforcement then doesn't that lead to chaos, lawlessness? So many frustrations, aggravations, but the book still has me thinking after having finished the book three weeks ago. Maybe I need to go to some kind of something where black and white can discuss things without guns being drawn. No idea what that is or where it is so that's the end of that.
Profile Image for Leann.
545 reviews36 followers
December 6, 2017
This was fine, but could have really used a stronger editor. It was way too long and repeated itself a lot. There were some places where things were listed endlessly, or sidebars went on so far that I lost track of where we were getting back to. It probably also got shorted unfairly because I listened to it just after Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching: A Young Black Man's Education which dealt with some of the same themes, but in a much stronger way.
Profile Image for Taryn.
1,206 reviews188 followers
December 7, 2017
I love rambly memoir-style books written by comedians, and W. Kamau Bell’s riff on the genre does not disappoint. Bell covers everything from being raised by an activist mom who spoke to him like an equal, to his long, slow journey to becoming a successful comedian doing shows that are true to himself and his values, to his marriage to a white woman and parenting his biracial daughters. In performing the audio version, Bell comes across as affable and genuine, and he is willing to own his mistakes even as he learns to hold others to a high ethical standard.
Profile Image for c.
49 reviews
August 10, 2017
Really good on several levels.

I listen to a lot of celeb memoirs. I like hearing their backgrounds, their coming-up stories, and how they got their big break. (Answer: by working really, really hard and not being a dick. Usually.) When they devolve into grudge-settling, it is usually a turn off. I worried when he talked about his experience in television that it was veering in that direction.

However, what I ended up seeing were richly illustrated examples of how microaggression & entitlement play out at work, and how important it is to have women and people of color on the team for creating really good work. Also, because he is writing from his recent, personal experience, I feel he comes across as not overly didactic. This stuff is real, and we are living it.

I am glad he did not shy away from talking about his experience with specific (unnamed) people, and I am glad he was able to fix his work situation and continues to enjoy success. I think all are important. I think people (me, WOC) need to hear that because they (I) can be afraid to do so. Thanks for showing it can be done, should be done, and that the work that results is better for having done it. Mr. Bell, I wish you continued success without compromise.

I also like how honest he is about his learning process. A lot of these concepts are new, even to W. Kamau Bell, with the amazing mom! (One example: his story of how he was schooled into excising 'bitch' from a joke.) By not being perfect and continuing to learn, he gives the reader permission to acknowledge their imperfections and open themselves up to really trying to be better people. Also love the tone of his discourse -- I always feel like he is trying to bring me (and others, like the Elmwood Cafe owner -- at least at first. I am actually OK with permanent, in-print grudge-settling in this case) along and not talk down to me. I think we need a lot more of this today.

The tone of this book is breezy and conversational, but I feel it is more important than the writing style and humor-book title suggest. Now that I write that, I realize that seems like an obvious thing to say, since that is totally his thing.

p.s. apple's spell checker does not yet know the word microaggression. of course.
Profile Image for Dee Eisel.
208 reviews4 followers
August 1, 2017
I didn't enjoy this book as much as I appreciated it. I wanted to hear more Black points of view, and I read it for that - trying to understand, trying to put myself in shoes I can never fill (and not just because Bell is 6'4") and imagine what on earth it must be like to be a Black man in America. Of course I failed - I can't even put myself in the place of a Black woman. But understand or not, it's important that I try, if for no other reason than to try to minimize my damage.

This is not a funny book. It's occasionally amusing, but Bell isn't trying to be funny. He's trying to give a point of view, and that he does extremely well. But comedians aren't always funny, even when they're joking, and I can see his points clearly.

It's instructive to compare this to Bossypants, Tina Fey's book. (For some reason Goodreads isn't letting me insert links.) Both are comedians in space dominated by white males. But Tina seems to have more career leverage right from the beginning. Where she comes off as rebellious, Bell seems to come off more as resigned.

I have to say that I'm not upset that I'm white, but Lord and Lady, my ancestors were at least complicit and at worst actively involved in some awful shit. Awful shit continues, and Bell lays out a lot of it. I am trying to do better, and to do better I have to know better. I'm grateful to Bell for being as gentle as he is, because he sure doesn't need to be.

Don't expect to like this book if you're white. Expect to appreciate it if you give a damn about other people's issues.

And, by the way, as I write it's Black Women's Equal Pay Day. Let's take care of each other out there, OK? Because the fact that there needs to exist a Black Women's Equal Pay Day is some seriously fucked-up crap right there.
Profile Image for Carol.
270 reviews25 followers
April 29, 2017
Thanks, Dutton, for sending me an ARC!

While I initially wanted to read this because I wanted to learn more about Kamau, I quickly realized that this was way more than just another comedian's memoir. Race, racism, and politics are heavily threaded throughout and I'm on board. He's also candid about his experiences in stand-up and in the entertainment industry, which really opened my eyes to not just how completely screwed up the showrunning/writing relationship can be, but also how representation is in the entertainment industry is just as important as in every other working environment.

Takeaways: you have to do more than just show up, though obviously that's a good place to start if you haven't already. You've got to speak out, especially to friends and family. Maybe you won't change their minds right away but planting seeds of truth can work over time to affect change. If you're already organizing and getting your voice heard, you've gotta do more and expect less (less sleep, or leisure time, etc.).

Further thoughts: I really want to meet Janet Cheatham Bell.

Also: Doc McStuffins all the way!

In the back of the galley Kamau notes that the final version of this book will have more on the current administration and political situation, of which I'm very much looking forward to. I'll update this review after I've read the final publication.
Profile Image for Scottsdale Public Library.
3,223 reviews212 followers
June 10, 2020
Subtitle: "tales of a 6' 4", African American, heterosexual, cisgender, left-leaning, asthmatic, Black and proud blerd, mama's boy, dad, and stand-up comedian". Yes, blerd: “A nerd who is of African American descent” (thank you, urbandictionary.com). I listened to the audio version, narrated by Bell himself, which was very enjoyable. Bell can be seen on CNN, hosting “The United Shades of America”, and he’s known for his political comedy. You’ll definitely get a sense of that here, along with his life narrative: his upbringing by strong-willed parents, his love of superheroes (he had a quite a bit to say on that subject, I definitely learned something about comics), breaking into the comedy scene, becoming a father, etc. But his writing takes on political issues as well, such as law enforcement and race relations. A great read, from an interesting individual. – Sara Z.
Profile Image for Brandi.
343 reviews6 followers
February 6, 2017
I had heard of W. Kamau Bell, but didn't know much about him until he spoke at the American Library Association conference this past weekend. He was side-splittingly funny on a day when most of the crowd was in mourning - and he thankfully capitalized on that by showing our new president no mercy. I was glad I grabbed a copy of his book, which expanded on themes he talked about in his speech - politics, being black in America, and parenting mixed-race children. It's a book every white person should read, seriously. He does a good job of describing the fears he lives with every day. I will definitely be looking up his CNN show, United Shades of America.
Profile Image for Conor Ahern.
657 reviews189 followers
May 25, 2018
I've never seen the author's/narrator's show, and I can't even really remember how I stumbled upon this audiobook, but I'm glad I did. This wasn't laugh-out-loud funny, but what it might have lacked in humor it made up for in insight. WKB seems like a guy you'd want to hang out with: he'd make you laugh, set you straight when needed, and apologize if he ever fucked up. We need more WKB's in the world.
Profile Image for Jenno.
102 reviews3 followers
August 4, 2017
I can't give you the right words to tell you why you should read this book. (FWIW, I listened to the audio, read by Bell, and it is SO GREAT hearing it in his voice!) I want to scour every corner of YouTube for all things Kamau. This book is funny, entertaining, smart, thoughtful, reflective, will challenge you and make you think... Read it. Go.
Profile Image for Karen Ashmore.
496 reviews7 followers
June 18, 2017
Definitely a fun book by one of my favorite sociopolitical comedians. I saw him perform in Denver and have been a fan of his TV shows and podcasts. The memoir fills in a lot of details behind this interesting black man.
Profile Image for Brian Patrick.
223 reviews
March 2, 2021
very good and funny collection of essays. it was enjoyable to go more in depth on subjects i’ve heard bell talk about in his podcast or standup.
Profile Image for Tara.
142 reviews2 followers
July 4, 2022
An amusing and smart collection of essays. I feel like I might have liked this book a liiiittle more if I listened to the audiobook. Maybe because his work is usually more aural than prose it feels like Kamau is talking to you -the audience - and that seems to make for better listening than reading imo
Profile Image for Dan.
1,105 reviews52 followers
November 23, 2020
3.5 stars

At times quite funny and relatable. This read felt very similar to Tina Fey’s recent memoir. Both Bell and Fey are roughly the same age and both grew up in Chicago and joined the comedy circuit when young so this probably explains the similarity.

In the earliest chapters Bell talks a lot about super heroes and then being accepted at Penn and the aimlessness when he left after two years. I feel the latter chapters, covering the first two seasons of United Shades of America and the first year of the Trump presidency, are the most interesting. There is a heartbreaking scene outside a gas station where Bell is holding his mixed race daughter while waiting for his wife to pick them up. Then a nosy racist white woman starts chastising him for standing outside the gas station. He goes home very upset.

Glad I read despite the lukewarm rating.
Profile Image for Irene.
455 reviews
August 14, 2017
I picked up this book because a friend had recommended I watch an episode of United Shades of America on Chinese-Americans, and it piqued my interest enough to make me want to find out more about the host. So far I've only seen that one episode, but I'd like to go back and watch others.

This book is part memoir, part comedic social and political commentary. We follow the author from his childhood in different cities, through his time as a struggling stand-up comic, and into his current gig as host of the TV show United Shades of America. He makes a LOT of pop culture references (there are whole chapters dedicated to the children's show Doc McStuffins, Denzel Washington, and the movie Creed), and he explores topics of racism and sexism. While he is generally interested in all things that might add to a sense of otherness, mostly he talks about race, and specifically, being black in America.

I like W. Kamau Bell's sense of humor, and his book on the whole gave me a feeling of, "Come for the jokes, stay for the lessons on racism / sexism / social justice!" I'm already on much the same page as W. Kamau Bell, so when he started to delve into commentary, I could focus on enjoying the humor and appreciating that he has a platform to give voice to his experiences and thoughts. I wonder, though, if there are people out there who aren't quite sure what to make of Black Live Matter, or who don't exactly understand what all the attention given to intersectionality is about, maybe this book could serve as a more light-hearted, non-intimidating introduction?

My one disappointment was that while reading the chapter on sports and activism, I wondered why W. Kamau Bell didn't mention Colin Kaepernick...

That minor detail aside, this book was an entertaining and worthy read.
January 6, 2018
В 2007 году я оказался без р��боты и в абсолютном творчеством тупике. Тексты не заказывали. Выступать со стендапами не приглашали. Я был в трансе. Я чувствовал, что потратил годы, чтобы добиться сокрушительного поражения. Я делил съемную двухкомнатную квартиру с двумя другими чуваками. Но на этот раз, по крайней мере, я не жил в проходной гостиной ...
Я безумно хотел снова оказаться на сцене! И однажды в моей голове родился вопрос:

– А что бы ты сделал, если бы уже стал знаменитостью?

Я замер. Пожал плечами.

– Ну, это было бы легко. Я бы просто выступал перед зрителями, которые меня любили. И они терпелив слушали.

Голос продолжил:

– Давай детали! Как бы это выглядело в деталях, опиши!
– Спасибо, что спросили! Я бы выступал в театре, зрители покупали бы билеты. Сцена. Большой экран, на котором я смогу показывать вещи, над которыми шучу, чтобы зрители понимали о чем я. Похоже на мою версию The Daily Show с Джоном Стюартом, но о расизме и в главной роли. 

– Тогда просто сделайте это.

Тихо сказал голос. И он прозвучал для меня как набат. Это было так очевидно и в то же время так просто – кто еще, как не я, когда, как не сейчас может рассказать о расизме?!

Четыре месяца спустя Камау с триумфом дебютировал с шоу The W. Kamau Bell Curve: Ending Racism in About an Hour об истории расизма за 1 час. Постановка с успехом идет уже 10 лет.  
А в книге Камау рассказывает о том, как выйти из творческих тупиков и об искусстве задавать себе верные вопросы.
Profile Image for Andre.
521 reviews141 followers
July 9, 2017
Had some interest in reading about Bell after having seen an episode of his CNN show. I think he gives readers i good idea about who he is and how he arrived to his present situation. He is not your "typical" Black comedian but still appears to understand, thanks to his parents a debt and commitment to the Black community. He writes with a big dose of humor and shared some moments that readers will find loud laugh funny. He also has thoughts on race and challenges to white Americans to do more and be willing to be uncomfortable, "The biggest thing that white people can do is really get comfortable having conversations about race and racism in this country." The entertainment factor is the main draw of the book, and his perspective as a Black man trying to succeed in the comedy world provides the reader with some contemplative moments.
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