W. Kamau Bell Goes South of the "Border" with Laughter Against the Machine
Holy shit! Tuesday I went to Mexico ... TWICE! I'd never been before, and I didn't even have tequila ... or any Mexican food. And that sucks, because I've heard it's pretty good down there.
I'm on tour with Laughter Against The Machine, the progressive stand-up comedy collective I'm in with SF Weekly cover boy, Nato Green and future world beater, Janine Brito.
Saturday, we did a show in Phoenix, Arizona. (Insert your own joke about cleaning up Katt Williams' Phoenix mess here.) And we've been in Tucson for a three days with Culturestrike, a collection of artists from other "Strike" movements (WordStrike, SoundStrike, ArtStrike); all these groups have been formed to boycott and respond to Arizona's medieval laws and attitudes on immigration. We're hanging out with visual artists, writers, street artists, spoken word artists, and activists. (Sometimes that is all the same person.) We have rubbed shoulders with many incredible people including Dream Hampton, Elizabeth Mendez Berry, Roberto Lovato and even Maxine Hong Kingston. (She didn't seem to enjoy having her shoulders rubbed.) It's all for the purposes of learning about how fucked up the immigration system is between Mexico & The U.S. (Hint: It is veeeeeeeeeeeeeery fucked up.) The organizers' hope is that maybe this knowledge will inform our work in a way that will help the people who are being crushed by the immigration policies of both countries.
And no, there's no JokeStrike. Comedians don't normally get to take part in important sounding things like this because, well, 1) Comedians are not generally thought of as artists and 2) comedians don't generally do well with real human emotion, sincerity, and/or complex political issues. (Insert reference number two Katt WIlliams' Phoenix mess.)
Luckily for us Jeff Chang, author of Can't Stop Won't Stop and one of the CultureStrike organizers, thought that bringing some comedians might work. And it especially worked since we were already going to be in Phoenix launching our nationwide Kickstarter-funded tour and documentary project. We're traveling around the states to some of America's most politically charged spots to perform and get to know America.
Since we've been in Arizona we've learned much about the horrors of crossing the "border". I put "border" in quotes, because as I mentioned, they actually took us down to the Mexican-American "border," and I looked and looked and didn't see any lines on the ground anywhere. I'm pretty sure the "border" is not really real. I'm pretty sure it was only made up to make some people's lives unduly harsh and to make other people's wallets unduly fat. But what is real is the hardship, death, and injustice.
The question we ask in the documentary is: Can comedy save the world? Or at least can comedy make the world a slightly better place? Or maybe we should just aim at comedy not making it shittier. We hope to meet some people and get some insider perspective. We shot and edited some footage already; check out these two arrogant American pricks.
Unfortunately we have to leave the conference early because we have more shows this week. We're in Chicago on Wednesday, Dearborn, MI on Friday, and Madison, WI on Saturday. Then in November we go back out to Washington, DC, New Orleans, and Oakland.
Kamau's Komedy Korner is a weekly blog column about San Francisco comedy by W. Kamau Bell. Check back next week for more.