by Rachel Swan
Yes, *that* Chris Rock, W. Kamau Bell announced in a mass email sent out this morning, bearing the modest subject line "A Little Bit of Big News." Bell, who has gained local renown both for his ever-evolving solo performance, The W. Kamau Bell Curve, and for his role in the three-person political comedy group, Laughter Against the Machine, has long used race, pop culture, and topical social commentary as his stock-in-trade. He'll traffic in similarly racy themes on his new TV show.
Such material was what endeared him to Rock in the first place. According to Laughspin the two of them met in the fall of 2010, while Bell was performing Bell Curve at Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre of New York. Within a year, they'd combined forces, and Bell amassed a group of alt standup comics - including Marc Maron, Hari Kondabolu, Nato Green, and Janine Brito - to tape the pilot in Los Angeles. The show, which airs in August, will run for six half-hour episodes. It will consist of humorous Daily Show-style monologues and barbs about current events, celebrities, and whatever else piques Bell's interest. He's famous for culling from a wide variety of source material.
In interviews, Bell has oft-cited Rock as one of his favorite standup comics. He told me, once, that he's transcribed Rock's bits and analyzed them, just to figure out the "beats" (performer-speak for what's commonly called a punchline). "I really intently studied Chris Rock," Bell said. "I bolded the punchlines. It seemed like magic - it's still magical."
Bay Citizen writer Reyhan Harmanci astutely pointed out that Bell scored the show without following the normal career trajectory of moving to Los Angeles first. She attributed that to a new "mechanism of star-making," wherein live performance and overexposure on social networks can actually supplant the old system of industry glad-handing.
Yet it also shows that Bell is so prodigiously talented, he can thrive just about anywhere you put him, even an area that's not yet awash in comedy infrastructure. Hopefully, his show will only increase the Bay Area's cultural cachet.