Keep it Going
Comedy is a powerful icebreaker. Julia Joyce ’19 is looking forward to seeing W. Kamau Bell engage a broad audience and start a meaningful conversation on race.
Julia Joyce ’19 admits she’s predisposed to being excited for W. Kamau Bell’s performance of “Private School Negro” at Santa Clara University on Nov. 7. She loves stand-up comedy. She is passionate about the topic of race and equality in America.
But she’s not only excited for herself to see Bell perform, but for who else might see him. Students who haven’t ever studied or considered the topics Bell tackles, will get a chance to engage with his work with an open mind.
Joyce notes that as a comedian, Bell is given leeway an activist or politician might not be afforded when they talk about race.
“People might be like wow that’s intense,” Joyce says. “But I think just being funny makes him more approachable.”
Talking about racism can be difficult. So much so that the discomfort can make the topic a non-starter for some. During some of her classes at SCU, Joyce has seen comedians and even writers use comedy to diffuse this awkwardness by pointing out the absurdity in racism and allowing the audience to temporarily distance themselves in order to critique it. Bell’s United Shades of America is an excellent example of that.
“I think Kamau Bell does a good job of taking a step back,” Joyce says. “He often interviews really extreme people, which allows some white people to say, he’s not talking about us specifically. It’s the Alt Right or the KKK. That’s okay. So let’s talk about that as an issue. But it kind of also gets people to think about it.”
Joyce is planning on taking African American Literature: African American Comedy for the Winter quarter, which will meet with Bell as part of his Sinatra residency. Joyce knows there’s no more important rule in comedy than not explaining the joke. “That ruins it,” she says. Still, she can’t wait to talk with Bell and work through the choices he makes.
“If you hear the joke and you laugh and think it’s funny, then you go, what were you trying to get there,” Joyce says. “I think you were trying to do this. Did the delivery match what the intention is?”
Joyce is optimistic that Bell can start dialogues on campus during his visit. But she says it’s up to everyone in the university community to embrace those conversations and keep them going.
“If we don’t continue them, it’s not wasted effort but something is lost in that,” Joyce says. “We have this really great opportunity to bring an important topic to a lot of people’s minds that maybe aren’t thinking about it actively. If he can get the ball rolling and then we can keep it going, I think it’s really good.”