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The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell: Tales…

The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell: Tales of a 6' 4", African…

by W. Kamau Bell

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Bell’s memoir covers his growth as a comedian and his career struggles. Bell is really funny and his thoughts on the state of politics today are completely relevant. Because of this book, I am checking out his podcast called “Denzel Washington Is The Greatest Actor Of All Time Period” because one cannot argue with the logic of that premise. Awkward Thoughts is a terrific book and about the only thing that could have made it better is if I had listened to the audiobook which is narrated by the author. ( )
  Jessiqa | Aug 1, 2017 |
The title of this book is appropriate as it is indeed filled with awkward thoughts especially if you are a straight white male since it tackles such topics as race, sex, and homosexuality. He also focuses on his career and family and his blerd (black nerd) status as well as what it is like to be a towering Black man in the United States. By the way, he capitalizes the word Black because other words of identity such as Chinese, Christianity, and Klansmen are capitalized so he feels as do other Black scholars that it should be capitalized. So I too will capitalize it for this review.

He has an interesting take on superheroes. His favorites are the Hulk and Spiderman because the Hulk is green and Spiderman is red and blue. Under Spidey's mask, he could be any color and the Hulk was green so both were appealing to a young Black man growing up in the 1970s and 1980s were those and Batman and Superman were the most popular superheroes. Yes, there were Black superheroes such as Black Panther, Black Vulcan, and Black Lightning, but these superheroes all had the word Black put in front of their name. It gives out a clue to their secret identity. Of course, there is Falcon, Cyborg, and Power Man. Cyborg could never hide his identity and Falcon was pretty lame. His power was talking to falcons. In the movie, they gave him cool wings and left out the talking bit. Power Man looked like a pirate in a ridiculous costume. Now he goes by the name of Luke Cage and is much cooler. He's also not big on the new trend of having people of color playing the iconic superheroes. Why not just have new superheroes of color? It's a valid question and one the major comic industries should be asking themselves.

After many years of doing stand-up and not doing as well as he would have liked, Bell finally found his niche when he created the show The W. Kamau Bell Curve: Ending Racism in About an Hour. It would be topical and informative while also being funny. After the first night of running it, he asked for feedback from a select group of friends and he got it. One of them, a woman, took him to task about his sexism in the show. And he learned a valuable lesson that it isn't enough to just be the better male comedian on sexism he must think about who he is hurting in his joke. If he is hurting someone else that doesn't need to be hurt. He would deal with others on this issue later in his life who didn't see things his way and he would have to fight them on it because sexism still exists inside writers' rooms on shows and in movies. He wonders why more women don't quit once they get inside these rooms for all the crap they have to put up with. The answer is simple: they want to change things and this is the only way.

Bell also talks about the making of his two TV shows Unbiased and The United Shades of America. Unbiased came about due to Chris Rock taking an interest in him and aired on FX and then FXX. It started out as a weekly show then in its second season it went to a daily format, Monday through Thursday. He came to curse Chris Rock to some degree for that show. It very nearly ended his marriage. He was completely miserable doing it as he didn't have the control over the show he should have had. On Untied Shades of America, the first season was rough as the people he worked with didn't get what he was having to do like the KKK episode where they had gotten the footage they needed but didn't tell him and let him keep talking to the Klan which was dangerous for him.

I somehow missed Unbiased but I've seen every episode of United Shades of America which is what prompted me to pick up this book and read it. While at times it's uncomfortable to read as a white person, I don't have a problem with that as I believe I should feel uncomfortable about the issue of race in America. It is a problem and one that won't be fixed overnight. But the other things he talks about in this book also make it worth reading, such as confronting and conquering his homophobia, his awkwardness over sports, his love of Denzil Washington, the Democratic Party, the Trump presidency, and the trials of being married with children to a white woman. This is a great book that explores a man's life in its many facets in a very fascinating way. I highly recommend it.

In San Francisco, “beach” means a cold, bleak place to take a walk and wonder what went wrong in your life.
-W. Kamau Bell (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 p 240) ( )
  nicolewbrown | Jul 17, 2017 |
Best for: Fans of decent memoir writing.

In a nutshell: Comedian and political commentator offers some insight into his perspective on life.

Line that sticks with me: “If there’s one thing that I learned from both of my parents, it is that you don’t need the paper to get the information.” (p33)

Why I chose it: The cover and 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”)

Review: I’m trying to figure out the best way to describe this book and my reaction to it. It was a nice, fun (thought not especially funny - which I think was the point), fairly quick read. It offered insight into Mr. Bell’s life. It tackled topics like race and sexism in a nuanced and clever way. But it didn’t leave me raving. It was like a perfectly fine dinner at a decent restaurant. Not going down in the top five meals (or books), but also not necessitating that I warn off others from experiencing it.

That’s not to say that there aren’t some rough parts - this isn’t a fluffy book. He tells some sweet stories, but also some challenging ones. Like his experiences being a Black star of a show dealing with heady topics like interviewing the KKK with a white showrunner who doesn’t really get it. Or his honesty in recognizing that some of his jokes, while spot on in the racial commentary category, were missing it with some thinly veiled (and unintentional) misogyny.

I also appreciate that, while I believe that books like this are often turned in pretty far in advance of their publication, I’m guessing he either edited or added some things to address the 2016 election.

Mr. Bell is a talented writer, and I enjoyed the stories he chose to tell. I would recommend this as a library book read for sure, or maybe pick it up when it’s available in paperback. I think if you enjoy memoirs, this is a good one to add to your list, especially if you want something refreshing and honest but not annoyingly self-deprecating. ( )
  ASKelmore | Jul 8, 2017 |
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