DURING THE 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump has asked African American voters what they “have to lose” by voting for him. Comedian, writer, podcaster, and TV host W. Kamau Bell would like to respond: “My immortal soul.”
“I think what he’s saying is: I don’t have a good argument for you,” Bell adds. “Why you should vote for me? When has a presidential candidate ever asked ‘What do you have to lose?’ The question is, what do I have to gain?
“He’s like, ‘I got nothing for you people,” Bell continues. “The fact that you say that means you don’t actually have any black friends in your life. You may have black people you know. You may have black people you think are your friends. Not even Ben Carson is your friend, and Ben Carson doesn’t have any friends.”
Bell is known for this kind of sociopolitical commentary. His CNN documentary series, United Shades of America, has been renewed for a second season, and he comes to Portland supporting a new Showtime comedy special and comedy record, Semi-Prominent Negro, which is out now on Kill Rock Stars.
In one popular routine, Bell lampoons east coast and west coast liberalism, and the contradictions of political correctness as personified by Alec Baldwin, who—despite his controversial past—is currently a left-wing darling for his scathing portrayal of Trump on Saturday Night Live.
“I have seen him do Trump and that’s why I can’t quit him!” Bell says, “He’s great. He certainly knows he’s said problematic things in his life. This ‘being human’ thing is more complicated than we realize in the 21st century.”
A lot of Bell’s material also addresses the scourge of gentrification in American cities. An episode of his CNN show paints an unflattering picture of how Portland’s development has affected the city’s minority populations and overall diversity.
Does Bell feel gentrification is unavoidable? And as a touring comedian, has he experienced a city that is responsibly handling growth?
“I know a lot of people watched the United Shades of America about Portland because we had to add a second show,” Bell says. “I don’t know if people are coming to tar and feather me, or give me a group hug, or somewhere in between.
“Everywhere is going through these explosions,” he continues, “‘Oh, we can really fix this area up.’ I don’t think capitalism has that function in it yet, to responsibly handle growth. The governments of most cities just want the money. Oakland is going through the same thing. The money can flush out the residents. This is really a bigger problem about capitalism. Capitalism doesn’t really give a shit about you—and that’s how we got Donald Trump.”