Fans of the Bay Area comedy scene are certainly aware of San Francisco's W. Kamau Bell, a sociopolitical comic who has a lot of frank -- and humorous -- things to say about race, religion, politics and pop culture. Now, viewers across the country will have a chance to catch this rising star via a new late-night show called "Totally Biased With W. Kamau Bell" (11 p.m. Thursday, FX).
In getting his big TV break, he has a famous supporter in his corner -- executive producer Chris Rock, a guiding light Bell refers to as "the foul-mouthed Yoda."
Rock showed up unannounced at Bell's one-man show in New York and was thoroughly impressed.
"He came backstage and told me, 'Yeah you are funny,' " Bell recalled during the recent TV critics press tour in Beverly Hills. "I would sort of compare that to Michael Jordan saying, 'You have a good jump shot. What are you going to do with it?' "
Rock, meanwhile, sees this as a chance to mentor the next wave of thought-provoking comedians and push them to do something fresh. If, for example, he finds that Bell and his collaborators are doing something that feels familiar, he'll say, "That's something we did 10 years ago on 'The Chris Rock Show,' what's the new version of it?"
The difference between Rock's old show and Bell's program starts with its potential audience. "(My) show was on HBO," he said. "It's like 20 million people have HBO. Ninety million people have (basic) cable, so more people
FX has ordered six half-hour installments of Bell's show. A preview screener was unavailable because each episode will be shot the same day it airs. The network, however, sent out a "test" taping, which included a monologue in which Bell riffed on the Tea Party, immigration, Muslims, the presidential election and Kim Kardashian. The installment also included a hilarious impression of Tracy Morgan by Janine Brito, who often appeared with Bell as part of the Bay Area's comedy troupe, Laughter Against the Machine.
Bell directs much of his comedy at racism and race relations. Does he think his TV show will play to nonblack viewers?
"If I do what I do and do it well, white people will show up regardless," he says. "Rap music is 80 percent bought by white people. So I don't feel any pressure to sort of play to them. I just feel the pressure to make the best show possible, and if it's good, everybody will come see it."