I'm W. Kamau Bell, and I'm the host of the new CNN show "United Shades of America." In my new show, I - as a black man - go places that black men really shouldn't go. Ask me anything!



"EDIT: [thank you for your questions, watch the show]"

Comments: 685 • Responses: 52  • Date: 

dsto12727 karma

Yesterday, you and I made eye contact on the streets of NYC. How was that experience for you?

WKBellUnitedShades1026 karma


Your eyes are wide pools of magic.


What is the dumbest (not necessarily most hateful or bigoted) but dumbest thing anyone said to you ?/

WKBellUnitedShades532 karma

That interracial marriage was a sin worse than murder. I'm in an interracial marriage so... I'm not 100% in agreement with that. :-)

itsZiz137 karma

You said sin, are a lot of kkk people religious and if so how do they defend their racist view when the bible says we are created in Gods image.. So if they are hating on a black person, they are hating on God... How do they reason that?!

WKBellUnitedShades398 karma

As we all know, the Bible can say whatever you want it to say when you parse out the individual words. Like many religious people, the KKK do A LOT of that.

HitPiggy167 karma

How did they treat you?

WKBellUnitedShades317 karma

They were excited to be on camera and put their message out. There was certainly occasional posturing and going big time Klanny for effect. But they clearly wanted to show themselves as civilized.

lilshawn163 karma

Was the Clayton Bigsby black white supremacist skit hilarious or not?

WKBellUnitedShades233 karma

Yes. It should be the among the first inductees if they were to ever create a comedy hall of fame. That is first ballot. Chappelle is the best. A legend, and he has been very supportive of my through the years. I have opened for him too many times to count.

whitefox00124 karma

I saw an advertisement for your show the other night and it really caught my attention. It's pretty brave to walk into the situations you appear to be going into. My question is, what's been the most surprising thing you've learned so far?

WKBellUnitedShades397 karma

The episode that we did in San Quentin Prison by far affected me the most. We are wasting a lot of great people by housing them in prison long after they have been rehabilitated and paid for their crimes. We need to completely redo the prison system and start over. Also the healthcare system and education system. But then you all know that. You are smart people.

Shikamaru_Senpai116 karma

Did you feel like you were in danger at any point? (Both on or off camera.)

(I've seen the commercial for this show for a few days now, I'm interested in watching it.)

WKBellUnitedShades238 karma

I was certainly nervous and wary and keeping my eyes and ears open at all times. Making sure I knew where the exits where, but no direct threat of danger... aside from the gun that was in my face when I went to the cross burning.

Ugunti72102 karma

What is the scariest situation you've ever been in?

Who is the strangest person you've ever met?

WKBellUnitedShades278 karma

One night near where I was living in Oakland a car rolled up on me and my roommates. They started hollering at there ladies and then it got ugly. I remember thinking... "We might die over nothing." We ran. They chased us with their car. We made it home. Ultimately I think they were just fucking with us. But people obviously die over less.

Also I had bladder cancer once. It was mild but the word cancer is always scary.

Strangest person??? That's hard. I live in the Bay Area. I meet strange people everyday. One of the many reasons I like living there.

realist_konark96 karma

What is the best (or the funniest) reply you gave to a racist comment?

WKBellUnitedShades348 karma

When a KKK member told me that interracial marriage was an abomination according to the Bible, and I pointed out that the Bible also says that we shouldn't eat lobster, and he admitted that he had sinned at Red Lobster the night before. I really enjoyed that back and forth.

realist_konark33 karma

Do you have a record of it, perhaps on YouTube? Seems like an interesting conversation.

WKBellUnitedShades128 karma

It's in the show. Watch it on Sunday at 10pm.

ghostfacekilla42092 karma

How did your family react when you told them you were going to meet with the KKK?

WKBellUnitedShades155 karma

They all know me to be the kind of person who is insatiably curious, so in that way they weren't surprised. After that they all had the same question, "How are they going to handle your security?" And then, "Call me as soon as it's over."

I'm talking about my wife, my mom, and my dad.

Beerandababy82 karma

What was it like being on Fresh Air with Terry Gross?

WKBellUnitedShades129 karma

A dream come true. And I got to have that dream twice. Her level of preparedness, sensitivity, respect, attention to detail, and good humor is unprecedented. She is living monument to excellence in media.

girlTO78 karma

how did the meeting happen? did you just call up the Grand Wizard or something?

WKBellUnitedShades149 karma

Producers reached out to dozens of KKK groups. Most didn't want to do it. Didn't want CNN and/or a Black comedian. But yes, the producers spent many hours on the phone with Grand Wizards. They had to court them, which sounds awful to me, but then that's why they get paid the big bucks. :-)

WKBellUnitedShades26 karma

The producers did. They talked to many, many grand wizards. They had to court them. That sounds awful to me. But then that's why they get paid the big bucks.

Frajer33 karma

did you ever get any apology from Elmwood ?

WKBellUnitedShades45 karma

Yes, but that is pretty much where it ended. They don't return my emails anymore... at least not in a long, long, looooooong time. WHAT UP, ELMWOOD???

marc-kd30 karma

Your "Man on the street" interviews on Totally Biased were pure gold, from both humorous and serious perspectives. Will there be some vehicle where we'd be able to see more of those?

WKBellUnitedShades41 karma

Yes... It's called United Shades of America, beginning THIS Sunday at 10pm EST / PST on CNN.

Seriously, that is where the germ of this idea came into reality for me. This a basically an expanded man on the street segment. And in most of the episodes we actually do man on the street. If you like those, you will love this show.

ki10_butt29 karma

Where else are you planning to go? Where shouldn't black men go?

WKBellUnitedShades99 karma

Black people should steer clear of America until further notice. And if we can't do that then we need to keep our cellphone cameras going at all times just in case.

We go to San Quentin prison, Camden, NJ to talk to cops, Barrow, Alaska, Portland, Oregon, Asheville, North Carolina, Daytona Beach Florida, East LA & Boyle Heights, I think that's it.

blackcrowe524 karma

I am curious why Portland and Asheville are on this list? I would not expect the same level of racism in those places - maybe the surrounding areas, but not the cities proper.

WKBellUnitedShades61 karma

The show isn't all about racism. It is also about culture. But yes, as many people have pointed out Portland has a thick history of state sponsored racism. And currently gentrification there is actively pushing Black people out of the city. We cover that in detail.

DarthBane4227 karma

Did you face any discrimination while with the KKK? Who are you planning to interview after them?

WKBellUnitedShades63 karma

While they were very polite to me (for the most part) their views are obviously nothing I can get down with. More prejudiced than outright discrimination in those moments. After that, the next episode is San Quentin prison.

TheFlyingFoodTestee23 karma

Whatever happened to "Totally Biased"? (I miss it!)

WKBellUnitedShades57 karma

It was canceled for what I believe was called "historically low ratings." But many of the comics who were on the show have gone on to big things. Google Hari Kondabolu, Guy Brannum, Aparna Nancherla, Dwayne Kennedy, Eliza Skinner, and the rest.

It was too precious to live.

Redsonrising21 karma

First off, as a guy used to the somewhat foppish "Bourdain goes to Somewhere exotic!" CNN tv spots, when I saw yours I nearly spit out my coffee...it's real, it's got edge, and it's very pertinent (sadly) in this day and age and this election cycle. I'll be tuning in.

My question: how did you come to work with CNN? Did you have the idea and sold the pitch to them, or is this the first of many projects at CNN for you?

WKBellUnitedShades18 karma

I am semi-regularly appearing on air for CNN as a commentator. Also I am writing for their website. I hope to do some digital projects. And other things. But this is the big one.

This was pitched to them but an outside production company. But it was very different then. It was called "Black man, White America." And all the places were going to be white spaces. Since I live in the Bay Area, I knew there should be more stories told then just that one. So I repitched it as that. I wanted to talk to people of all races and cultures. The production company liked that idea, and then they came up with the awesome new name, United Shades of America. Very collaborative.

TOTYgavin20 karma

Why do you think the Grand Wizard you interviewed did not want to show his face?

WKBellUnitedShades40 karma

When you are Klansman hiding your face is a part of gig. Weird how pride leads to embarrassment. The Black Panther's showed their faces proudly. Even though they had waaaaaaaaaay more to lose than the KKK.

Also the Panthers were overwhelmingly a force for good in their community. The KKK... not so much.

marc-kd18 karma

Do you have any friends who are self-described GOP-voting conservatives?

WKBellUnitedShades52 karma

Friends??? No. But then I define friends by a very small group of people. They are diverse across many lines (even politically... there are many more sides than just left and right as you know). But no, I don't have anyone in my life I would define as a friend who is a conservative. But in my family... specifically my wife's family (she's white.)... yes. Also my dad has many conservative beliefs.

twat6914 karma

Why aren't you dead? (asking specifically about the Klan meeting)

WKBellUnitedShades49 karma

Good question. I quickly realized once I got there that the Klansmen who would have wanted to kill me, also wouldn't have wanted to meet with me. These KKK'ers were very interested in getting their story out. As you will see in the show (if you watch) they claim to be the New KKK. They say they don't hate Black people; they just really love white people. I say the message is fine, but the robes blunt my ability to believe that message.

girlTO13 karma

Did CNN provided security for you? My husband and I were very afraid for you.

WKBellUnitedShades49 karma

I had an ex-LAPD officer as my security. When I found out my thought was, "Great... Now who is my security for my security?"

But he ended up being great. He was Mexican American so he really understood what I was going through. His name was Anthony. I miss him actually.

GoldandBlue23 karma

We all miss Anthony :(

WKBellUnitedShades20 karma

Who is this?

_PresidentTrump13 karma

Is Donald Trump racist?

WKBellUnitedShades96 karma

Someone just told me that the first time Donald Trump was in a NYC newspaper it was for being a slum landlord to Black people. He has deep NYC history of screwing over Black tenants. So that's just his past. Currently as a candidate, Future President Trump has called for Mexicans to build a wall to keep them out of the country. He said Mexicans are sending over rapists and criminals to this country... which is empirically NOT true. And he has said horrible things about Arabs and Muslims. All of this is to court a racist, white base. I think all those activities are racist. And I don't want that in a president. HE has done many, many, racist things. But is he a racist... or a cynic? I ultimately don't know... or even care. I just don't him as my president.

glass_boxofemotion11 karma

Thanks for doing this! I listen and tweet for the DWITGAOATP podcast all the time (This AMA is one thing you get to have for free #keverything). Also super excited to watch the new show.

I know your parents are also activists and educators. What is the greatest lesson you have learned from them and how do you incorporate it into your comedy/entertainment?

WKBellUnitedShades21 karma

Figure out your path and then go for it. Hit it hard. Set goals. Reevaluate yourself and your progress constantly. And provide for your family. Family is number one.

Although I also think I learned some of that from Henry Rollins. :-)

Denzealots #Kamauthful #IDidntKnowYouLikedToGetWet

whiterice12311 karma

While the KKK meeting seems scary as fuck to me even as a white guy and San Quentin is probably scary to anyone, were there any places you were like excited to go to in this context?

WKBellUnitedShades13 karma

Portland. I have been many times. But I got to do a deep dive and learn a lot about the city that I didn't know.

jacobymaroby11 karma

Cheeseboard or Sliver?

WKBellUnitedShades14 karma

Cheeseboard. Although, Sliver delivers so I have eaten that more often recently.

Lawtalker10 karma

I assume you're familiar with Daryl Davis. His whole story is fascinating. Was he an inspiration at all?

WKBellUnitedShades11 karma

Absolutely. I wish we could have talked to him for the show. I'm pretty sure the producers reached out. Maybe we can do it now. His work is amazing... Way more brave than what I did.

Rob_G6 karma

Do you think the Islanders, despite their anemic offense on Wednesday night, have a chance at winning Game 5 tonight in Florida?

WKBellUnitedShades18 karma

HAHA! I think the flyers will go another year without a sniff of the Stanley Cup. Sorry. :-)

iforgotevery16 karma

Did they laugh at any of your jokes?

WKBellUnitedShades33 karma

The KKK guys at the cross burning laughed a lot at my jokes and with me. Humor is powerful.

A_Disgrace5 karma

Did you want to punch the fuckers in the face?

WKBellUnitedShades40 karma

HAHA! No. I wanted to punch them in the brain... with jokes... and logic.

SSSSSS2615 karma

I heard you on Bertcast and JRE, and became an immediate fan! I was also surprised you live in the Bay (I'm in Oakland)!! Im familiar with Berkeley's liberal-ness and gutter punks on Shattack. Would you think the KKK members would ever grasp the thought of the diversity of the Bay?

WKBellUnitedShades8 karma

No. Their heads would explode. Which is why I feel safer from them just by virtue of my address. Not that I don't have other safety issue loving in the Bay. We have police problems too.

Also I love those shows. Let those dudes know that I want to come back.

SureIsHandOutside4 karma

What are some segments for your show you haven't gotten to do yet, but want to try in the future?

WKBellUnitedShades13 karma

I wanna go to the border and talk to the militias.

TheRealGeneralG4 karma

Did you learn anything about the KKK that you had previously no knowledge of, and do you think they learned/changed their mind about anything?

WKBellUnitedShades20 karma

I believe that a few KKK members in the episode liked me by the end of my visit. They may not still like me, but that is a start. We can feel however we want to feel about anybody but we still have to leave room for their humanity and we have to allow them to have their freedom of expression. Obviously. Too bad we don't all think that way.

massinsectization4 karma

Do you believe racial pride is acceptable in any form? Is it ok to be proud of being black but not ok to be proud of being white?

WKBellUnitedShades13 karma

All racial pride is acceptable. It is how the KKK has manifested their pride that is the problem. I have a white wife and mixed race kids. Of course I want my kids to proud of my wife's family.

o_ICU8124 karma

What is your favorite sandwich, and why is it a meatball hoagie with mozzarella and jalapenos?

WKBellUnitedShades10 karma

Because that is clearly the best. And I like things that are the best, like Denzel Washington and The Golden State Warriors.

Spz1352 karma

What effect do you believe this show will have on people? Do you think it can change the mindset of people who feel superior to African Americans and other minorities?

WKBellUnitedShades9 karma

It can't BE the change, but I hope it will be a small part of already ongoing process of the change. That is my hope. I hope it creates new conversations. Also I hope people laugh inlays they didn't expect to laugh.

pipsdontsqueak2 karma

Hi Kamau! This is super exciting, I'm a huge fan of Denzel Washington is the Greatest Actor of All Time Period with W. Kamau Bell and Kevin Avery (had to do the full name). I'm not caught up yet, on the Bone Collector Redux episode, but I love what you guys are doing. The Spike Lee, Ryan Coogler, and Ava DuVerney interviews were badass and the insights from guys like Omar Dorsey and Johnny Skourtis make the show.

Is there something special planned for The Magnificent Seven?

What experiences or gifts has Kevin Avery received this week? #keverything

When are you going to do Carbon Copy?

And to keep things on topic, what're the chances you'll get a KKK member on the show?

Thanks so much! Keep doing what you do!

WKBellUnitedShades4 karma

1) We are working on doing something special for Mag7. Stay tuned. 2) I haven't talked to him today, so I could have missed something. His blessings roll in fast and furious. 3) We will do it in the next month... or so... hehehehehehe 4) None... unless that KKK'ers love of Denzel way over overwhelms his hatred of all things Black that aren't Denzel. 5) Thank YOU! I love doing the podcast. One of my favorite things. And we really appreciate the Denzealots! Thank you for listening.

pipsdontsqueak1 karma

It's all you two. Easily one of my favorite things to listen to. Thanks again!

WKBellUnitedShades2 karma


marc-kd2 karma

Last book or two you read just for fun? Oh, and e-books or paper?

WKBellUnitedShades7 karma

I used to read a lot, but now I have two kids and the time spent reading is now spent passing out in bed with a book on my chest. Currently i am slowly working my way through an academic book about Bruce Lee that is going to come out soon. I am a YUUUUUGE (say it like Trump) Bruce Lee fan.

EX-Manbearpig1 karma

Where will you go next?

WKBellUnitedShades4 karma

The second episode is San Quentin Prison. A very different episode form the KKK.

firebathero1 karma

thoughts on Jeff Ross roasting inmates at a county jail?

WKBellUnitedShades3 karma

Love Jeff. And I love anytime comedy is taken out of the traditional venues and into new places. I think he did a lot of humanize the people he roasted in that special. That was big work.

hankappleseed1 karma

What other places do you intend to go? I ask because I'm curious about which realms a black man might feel uncomfortable. A klan meeting makes sense, but where to from here?

WKBellUnitedShades1 karma

Barrow Alaska, San Quentin Prison, Portland Oregon, Asheville North Carolina, Daytona Beach Spring Break, East LA & Boyle Heights, Camden NJ Cops.

miss_poopular1 karma

Throughout making the show, did anything truly surprise you or change the way you thought about things?

WKBellUnitedShades1 karma

The San Quentin episode is my favorite. It really affected me deeply. We have to do major prison reform. We are losing generations of people for nothing.

TheWarlockk1 karma

What's the craziest thing you've ever done?

WKBellUnitedShades1 karma

Trying to have daily TV talk show.

trinktdiebier1 karma

How good do the Raiders look this year?

WKBellUnitedShades1 karma

Bad as ever. Sorry. :-)

PeterSparker_1 karma

Hi W Kamau Bell your show looks very interesting I can't wait to catch the premiere. I know you used to have a regular segment on the woody show in the bay area. Do you have any plans to stop by and make an appearance on their show in Los Angeles?

WKBellUnitedShades1 karma

I hope so. Woody, Ravey, and Menace have been down with me for a long time. I just haven't been in LA in a while. But I will be down there in a couple weeks. Thanks for reminding me to reach out to them.

I_smell_awesome1 karma

what are your favorite pizza toppings?

WKBellUnitedShades9 karma

Deep Dish, then sausage and spinach. NYC style, just plain. Other pizza, sausage and onions. But deep dish is the best. I lived in Chicago for a long time. Even graduated form high school there at The Lab School. Going back to do my commencement this June, actually. I'm complicated.