Comedian W. Kamau Bell at Papa J's Centro | Program Notes

Comedian W. Kamau Bell at Papa J's Centro

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After interviewing Bell for last week's CP (http://www.pittsburghcitypaper.ws/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A101939), I wanted to check out the San Francisco-based comic for myself, especially at this curious Downtown venue.

The bar-restaurant in an historic Boulevard of the Allies building isn't known as a performance spot. Indeed, when you walk through the front door, you're simultaneously entering the bar and skirting the edge of the "stage" area: a little clearing with a mike stand hemmed in by the bar on one side and on two others by 20 repurposed chairs from the dining room.

But it was a felicitous venue for Bell. Maybe 80 people packed the space (not uncomfortably), and most were well in tune with his smart, occasionally uproarious riffs on race, racial politics and pop culture in America.

Bell's made his name largely at performance festivals, including Scotland's famed Edinburgh Fringe Festival. He effectively combines a friendly, even slightly goofy stage presence with a race-in-your-face approach: He started his set by counting out loud the black faces (there were five, I think) in the overwhelmingly white crowd.

In Bell's take, Herman Cain is a man who's paid his way into a "presidential-campaign fantasy camp": The worst thing that could happen for him is he wins the election, then learns he can't really hit the fastball.

Bell offered two ways to get the economy moving and the country solvent again. The first way is to legalize pot, then tax not only weed itself but also snack foods, shiny things and other impulse purchases: "Hey, look at this DVD! I didn't know Steven Segal made a musical! Put all that food back." The second way is to cut labor costs by reintroducing slavery -- though Bell noted that he should be exempt because it was his idea.

The show opened with a nice set by locally based comic Ron Placone, a friend of Bell's who booked him at Papa J's when he learned Bell was coming to the area for a college show in the region.

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