W. Kamau Bell: Private School Negro

Netflix

Aug 29, 2018 Web Exclusive
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Making his Netflix debut, sociopolitical comedian W. Kamau Bell returns with a fourth special. The comedian, who hosts CNN's United Shades of America, delivers an hour's worth of material about family life in our current political climate. Bell's jokes are not just about having children, but about having a pair (now trio) of mixed race girls. He sees the world through their eyes and uses their perspective to make sense of the greater ramifications of the news cycle and our offensive president.

A well-known stand-up, Bell tends to joke about politics more than anything. He stands in strong support for the protection of free speech ("You have the freedom of speech, but what you don't have is the freedom of consequences from that speech"), and mentions Louis Farrakhan's acknowledged responsibility for the impact of his free speech ("Anne Coulter and Milo, if you want to walk around spewing hate speech, then hire the Nation of Islam"). He rips into ex-Press Secretary Sean Spicer with some time-sensitive jokes that might have lost some of their impact, and spends most of the special criticizing the Trump era ("or error, depending upon your pronunciation").

Despite a lot of the political material that has become common fodder for Bell and his fellow comedians, Private School Negro is unique in many ways. A departure from the traditional stand-up format, the comedian stands on a square stage in the center of a theater, surrounded by his audience. This allows the viewer at home to actually see the faces of those in the front few rows. Such a tactic, of exposing our diverse humanisms and experiences, taps into an idea that Bell ruminates upon for some time, about two-thirds into the special, about this notion of community living across America. "We have to expand our idea of what an American is, so that we don't think other people are doing America wrong when they're just doing it differently than us," Bell philosophizes before launching into an anecdote about a gig he had in Garden City, Kansas.

On United Shades of America, Bell examines these very communities (in the U.S. and Puerto Rico) amidst the current political backdrop. Private School Negro takes after his documentarian work on United Shades, acting as a light-hearted form of punctuation for a bleak time in American politics. Bell fuses popular culture references (like Skee-Lo's "I Wish" when describing members of the Alt-Right) and philosophical thought to create a cutting edge perspective. The special is accented by a Bell-centric rendition of Don McLean's "American Pie," in which he leads the audience in an a capella sing-along. In an era of political and social strife, Bell is the bright comedic light we all need. (www.wkamaubell.com)

Author rating: 8.5/10

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Hanna Lebowski
August 30th 2018
8:55am

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