At long last, W. Kamau Bell’s comedy show Totally Biased has arrived on FX. He and his crew, Laughter Against the Machine, have been longtime allies of CultureStrike and we’re thrilled that he and his team are finally embarking on a global platform to do what they do best: make people uncomfortable, and then make them laugh.
Here’s a snippet from WKB’s interview with the Lauren Feeney of the Bill Moyers show, in which he mentions his work with CultureStrike and the awkward but critical nexus between humor and activism:
Feeney: You’re part of an organization called CultureStr/ke, which uses art to fight discrimination against immigrants. Can you tell us more about that?
CultureStr/ke grew out of Sound Strike, a group of musicians led by Zack de la Rocha of Rage Against the Machine, who said, “We’re not going to perform in Arizona until SB 1070 is cast down.” CultureStr/ke was started by author Jeff Chang and some others. They invited a delegation of artists to the border in Arizona last September. I went with two other comedians, and together we formed a group called Laughter Against the Machine, which is like a three-headed social-political comedy monster.
We wanted to see what would happen if comedians, instead of just making jokes out of headlines, actually went to the front lines and learned what was really going on — would that help inform our acts and our comedy? And it did. We talked to officials on both sides about what it’s like to cross the border illegally, and we found out horrible things. Like, apparently 70 percent of women who cross the border are sexually assaulted, and many people die just from crossing, because of the heat and the lack of food and water.
As a comic, it’s not that I can take that and make it funny, but my experience informs the way I talk about immigration. Without all the information comedians can be very cavalier about how they talk about these subjects, so this helps me not be so cavalier.
This country’s politics are often more sad than funny, but its blatant absurdities can make some pretty tasty fodder for a comic with the right blend of irreverence and consciousness. Totally Biased is the rare comedic enterprise that can strike that balance.
Dialing back a few months to Bell’s Bay Area roots, check out his work as approximately one third of the illustrious Laughter Against the Machine (along with Nato Green and Janine Brito), which was part of the CultureStrike delegation to Tucson in 2011. In a recent Alternet interview with CultureStrike’s Michelle Chen, LATM brother-in-arms Nato Green waxed philosophical about the intersection between politics and his craft:
People often come to a show they think is a political comedy show expecting some smug jokes about how stupid Rick Santorum is or whatever. And they are massively shocked at a Laughter Against the Machine show. We wanted to broaden “political comedy” to include race, class, gender, and identity and make fun of our side. It was less political comedy than a comedy of big ideas. So frequently there’s some resistance from the audience as we upset their expectations and we will hammer them until they come around.
Looks like all that hammering is finally paying off. We look forward to more righteous bludgeoning of liberal apathy as Totally Biased takes the stage. Be gentle, guys.