The W. Kamau Bell Legacy: A Talk Show Five Years Ahead of Its Time

The W. Kamau Bell Legacy: A Talk Show Five Years Ahead of Its Time

Mr. Kondabolu has long been a gifted, brainy comedian on the subject of race — the title of his first comedy album, “Waiting for 2042,” referred to the year when the Census Bureau estimated that white people will become a minority — but he’s looser onstage now, riffing with the crowd, often treating it as a foil. He’s become more ambitious in how he toys with audience expectations. In one loopy bit, he does the same joke four times, turning familiarity into an asset. And while he is primarily a social commentator (“Remember the good old days when we thought Joe Biden was a loose cannon?”), his show is preoccupied with the idea of comedy being too smart or political to reach a broad audience. He nods to and mocks the idea of playing to like-minded audiences after one laugh, quipping: “Thank you, Choir.”

Ms. Nancherla, who stars as the human resources manager on the Comedy Central show “Corporate” and is starting a 29-city stand-up tour this summer, may appear less overtly political, poking fun at exchanges with her parents and investigating her own anxieties or depression with a world-weary wit. But don’t be fooled. Her stand-up excels at capturing the mood of those disaffected by today’s politics without mentioning the president. “Every time we travel it feels like an apology tour,” she says in “The Standups,” Netflix’s collection of 30-minute episodes.

Mr. Bell, who moved to the West Coast after his talk show was canceled and now hosts a documentary series on CNN “United Shades of America,” deserves credit for recruiting these comedians as well as making a political talk show distinct from “The Daily Show” and “Late Night With Seth Meyers”: Less wonky, more polemical and eager to engage in debate. Unlike many hosts, he was not afraid to cede center stage, putting the spotlight on an exchange about rape jokes between Lindy West and Jim Norton, for instance.

Yet compared with these performers, his new special seems a little tepid. His stand-up was never dense with punch lines, but “Private School Negro” veers further from a tight club set, toward a mix of storytelling, jokes and arguments. It’s a rambling, sometimes overly familiar hour. As the father of two biracial children, his material portrays domestic scenes navigating parenting in a racist world. (You won’t find a more full-throated defense of the cartoon “Doc McStuffins.”)

Some of his political points, such as when he pushes back against people who cite free speech as they defend offensive remarks, will not surprise anyone who follows the daily back and forth on social media. But in his voice, which mixes a Seth Rogen-style chuckle and a periodic bellow delivering punch lines, such points take on a laid-back West Coast charm. In a bit that compares the men surrounding President Trump to mildewed driftwood, he draws attention to the mild laughter mixed with applause: “You all like: It’s not that funny, but it was really quite the picture you painted there.”

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