One of the things that I really love in this book was how subtly that important content can be shared. Kamau Bell sucks us adults by talking about TV and comics from when he was a child and the role that his love of superheroes played in his identity development. But that just primes you for his adoration of Doc McStuffins as one of the greatest shows in the history of TV. Not just important for Black girls to see a character that looks like them on TV, but one that is also for my children (who also love Doc McStuffins) and help break down the concepts of white normativity. White kids need to see that not everything is designed just for them.
I had a long twitter conversation the other day about the importance of diverse authors and subjects in seminary education. It didn’t work, after spending way longer than I should, I gave up because the guy simply did not see how representation matters. I think that if I had previously read this section, and he had been willing to read it, I think this would have far better communicated the importance of representation than I did.
That is one little story from The Awkward Thoughts of W Kamau Bell, but I think it is a good illustration of the strength of the book. Bell is telling his story, but he is also talking about what is important to him as a comedian and as a person.
I honestly had never heard of him before I picked up the book. It was on sale, I have been trying to keep my reading 2/3 non-White authors, and when I saw several people I know liked the book I picked up, first the kindle when it was on sale and then the audiobook when it was on sale, combined cost less than either of the normal prices. In general I think most comic’s books are better listened to than read, or at least I will affirm that for Trevor Noah, Jim Gaffigan, and Tina Fey, comedians that I have listened to their books. But I think the type of comedy that Kamau Bell does, this could be read or listened to equally well. I alternated between reading and listening.
Because I have no context for him before the book, all of this was a surprise. By the time I read the book I knew he had had TV shows, but I have not yet seen any of them, although I will try to watch United Shades of America (I really don’t watch TV). So the story of his life and the history of his comedy and the trials of his relatively recent success were not backstory of a celebrity that I already knew, but completely new information about someone that I knew nothing about.
What I like most about the memoir is that there is little self justification or spin. There is a lot of wondering if he made the right decisions, of saying clearly, that he did not make the right decisions in other places, and the showing of how he has learned over time. There is a clear humility that carries through the book. He knows he has lots to learn about the world and he wants to learn and grow as a person.
We are right about the same age. And our kids are right about the same age. So some of his touchstone events in life I experienced at the same time, but in very different physical and social spaces. I can tell his politics lean left, but honestly I am not sure how left. While he did not shy away from politics in the book, the book was about his story, and about issues like racism and sexism, but not particularly about partisan politics (although Trump does come up.) I think that will probably keep the book from becoming too dated too quickly.
Anyone that reads my posts regularly knows that I have been reading a lot about race and history over the past several years. That can get very heavy. There is real skill in The Awkward Thoughts of W Kamau Bell in keeping the content, but presenting in a way that is very readable. It is a great change of pace and I will gladly read anything else he writes.
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 by W. Kamau Bell Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition, Audible.com Audiobook