- (Originally published at http://blackworthy.com/bell-wilmore-new-black-comedy/ on August 30, 2012)
Proponents of post-racial America or “Post-Blackness” might revel in the two recent comedic forays Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell, the half-hour weekly series on FX and the Showtime special Larry Wilmore’s Race, Religion and Sex.
However, it’s still Black comedy. Both shows are entrenched and nuanced with the humor that for centuries has had Black folk laughing to keep from crying. This time the audience of Bell just happens to be a rainbow coalition while Wilmore’s show, shot in Salt Lake City, Utah had an audience that was almost lily-white.
Totally Biased produced by Chris Rock and hosted by the San Francisco comedian Bell, who is bespectacled with a cheerful grin, looks like a gentle Questlove from The Roots. The show has some of the sensibility of Rock’s successful comedy talk show that ran on HBO from 1997-2000 but it also has similarities with The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
Bell, like Stewart, takes the format of Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update, that parodied the news, to another level with sophisticated and humorous insight such as cleverly highlighting America’s mainstream media biased treatment toward the Sikh attacks in Wisconsin.
The show also features casual interviews of figures like Alex Wagner, an MSNBC political analyst, whom Bell jokingly said was considered Black in his household. the racially ambiguous Wagner laughed and accepted the honor before explaining her Burmese heritage and digging into the hard news of the day with light candor.
While Bell is a relatively newcomer, Wilmore has for the past two decades established himself as a comedy writer extraordinaire before most notably co-creating and producing The Bernie Mac Show.
His special could lead to similar treatments in other locations but for this show, Wilmore probes race, religion and sex through the prism of Mormonism and Salt Lake City. Using the man-on-the- street interviews we find that not even on MLK Blvd in this ultra-white city will you find a Black person.
The bulk of the show was a town hall set-up poking fun at the hang-ups we have with race, religion and sex. Unfortunately, the panel members were not that funny. Jeff Garlin, the sidekick from Curb Your Enthusiasm, tried a bit too hard and two other panelists offered very little.
However, the Mormon tradition of “floating” that allows sexual penetration between a man and a woman without violating the sanctity of one’s virginity was explained and hilariously linked through video to The Floaters classic “Float On.”