Comedian W. Kamau Bell would like Bay Area residents to know something: Whoever wins the election, it's OK to call John McCain evil. "I've been doing some political shows lately, and I always make it clear that my opinion is that he's evil - not just that he's confused, or he's senile, although he is that too," Bell says.
Well, then. Bell, 35, has been watching presidential politics very closely in preparation for another run of his hit one-man show, "The W. Kamau Bell Curve," which begins this weekend. As with last season's performances in Oakland and San Francisco - which got him named best comedian in San Francisco by S.F. Weekly - Bell will continue to make race central to the show.
In his act, Bell straddles the line between stand-up comedy and scripted solo show. "Don't get me wrong, I want it to be funny," says Bell. "I think that at stand-up clubs, though - and I'm as guilty of this as anybody - discussions of race stay on a junior high level. This show is my attempt to take it to a collegiate level. "
The Chronicle sat down with Bell, who recently became engaged, to get a preview of this fall's performances and find out what he thinks politics can tell us about race relations. On what's new in his new show: "Much of the new material are things that I won't be able to start writing until (after the election). There's going to be a lot of new stuff. I myself can't wait to see it. ... Also, I'm really sharpening the attack of the show. A lot of people have been surprised that I haven't focused on one thing, done the whole 'I was born in 1973 ...' monologue, but this isn't like your traditional solo show. The fun thing for me is to comment on things that are happening as they are happening."
On talking to Bay Area audiences about racism: "Well, white privilege is a big part of racism. When you talk about racism to liberals, they go, 'That's not me, that's those other people, that's people in Texas.' If I talk about white privilege, that's a different thing, and in my life, (white privilege) creates more racism than a couple of dudes in a pickup truck."
On not being the new Spalding Gray: "A few years ago I saw a show in New York by Reno called 'Rebel Without a Pause.' It felt like she was just up there talking to us, mostly about 9/11, but there were a lot of jokes, which I recognized from stand-up. I had never seen anyone do it like that. Usually, in a solo show, someone would disappear into themselves or play a thousand characters, which is great, but I don't have that skill or interest. Also, doing shows like this makes my stand-up better."
On his own inner racist: "I really am trying to make the show more personal and put my own racism out there. I want to get away from the show being this guy on high, standing on a soapbox, yelling at everyone else, so I've been cataloging my own racism. Like, for instance, I really get mad when I see black people on the street tap-dancing for money. I get really Texas about it, even if they're doing it well and especially if they have a crowd around them and especially when black people are break-dancing. I mean, 25 years later? This is our best way?" On Sarah Palin going "rogue": "It's a sign of the sinister nature of the pairing of those two, Sarah Palin and John McCain. The sinister, calculated and cynical pairing. ... He could have picked someone who he was friends with, and who would have stood by him. They're like a couple of James Bond villains." On rednecks and avowed racists supporting Obama: "I don't know what the numbers will say, but I totally believe it's true. I think there are people who know that their self-interest is to vote for this thing that is Barack Obama and they are going to just say (sighs), "Guess I'm going to vote for the n-." And I think it's a sign of how totally f- up this country is. Barack's winning is like turning over a log and finding all these things under the log. It's like turning on a light and finding all these roaches. Racism will not be over if Barack wins."
The W. Kamau Bell Curve: Opens 8 p.m. Fri. and runs weekends through Dec. 13. Go to Web site for schedule. Tickets: $25, with a two-for-one deal if you come with a person of a different race. Climate Theater, 285 Ninth St., San Francisco. (415) 290-4456. www.wkamaubell.com.
For a look at last year's show, go to sfgate.com/ZFGX.
E-mail Reyhan Harmanci at firstname.lastname@example.org.