But few of those tributes could match the gratitude of that of W. Kamau Bell, a veteran Bay Area comedian who had met Williams a number of times over the years. Bell recounted a story on the heels of his performance at the same event as Williams, a benefit for the Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco:
“And then one day out of the blue I got an email from an email address that didn’t have the words ‘Robin’ or ‘Williams’ anywhere in it, but it was him. And he told me that my stand-up was a ‘revelation’ and ‘you got the spark.’ Robin had no idea how often I thought of the fact that HE thought I had ‘the spark.’ He had no idea that those simple words helped dig me out of my own dark corners and emotional dead ends. Even now I spend more time offstage wondering if this career makes any sense for me than I spend onstage doing it. And his simple words have often made a difference in me getting up and getting at it again and again.” (Click here to read Bell’s full tribute)
Bell is indeed “getting up and getting at it again.”
Ten months after “Totally Biased,” his late-night comedy show produced by Chris Rock on FX (and later FXX) was canceled in the midst of its second season, Bell is set to perform at the Throckmorton Theatre on Thursday, Sept. 11, part of a series of shows he’s doing to prepare for a much larger comedy tour and, in January, the recording of a comedy special that he’ll be shopping around to “the titans of show business” in Los Angeles in a few weeks.
The Throckmorton is far from unfamiliar territory for Bell, who actually was on the bill the night that local legend Mark Pitta began his now decade-old Mark Pitta & Friends Tuesday Night Comedy showcase. He shared the stage that night in 2004 with Pitta and Dan St. Paul, and has been back a number of times over the years.
We spoke with Bell about the craziness of his past two years and his upcoming plans.
Enjoy Mill Valley: What’s life been like since your show ended?
W. Kamau Bell: You know how you have half the time you were in a relationship to mourn that relationship? I’m still in that phase where I’m allowed to talk sh** about my ex. It was a whirlwind. It was a great car accident. Getting a TV show turns your life upside down and now it’s kind of strewn all across my mental highway.
Enjoy Mill Valley: You and your wife and daughter moved to New York to do the show. Are you back in the Bay Area now?
W. Kamau Bell: I’m actually in LA right at this moment, but we live in Berkeley. We thought for a while about whether we should stay in New York, but then my wife got pregnant, so it was, ‘Do we want to have a baby in New York City?’ That sounded like a reality show that I wouldn’t want to watch. Most of my wife’s family is from the Monterey area, and I have 15 years of friends in the Bay Area, so it made sense for us as a family to come back. And with things like planes, emails and phones, you can stay connected to places like New York and LA from the Bay Area.
Enjoy Mill Valley: Give me a sense of what this series of stand-up shows you’re doing is all about.
W. Kamau Bell: With the show, I wasn’t doing a lot of stand-up. I did a tour in the spring and now this is me getting ready to do a much bigger tour and recording my first comedy special.
Enjoy Mill Valley: Why play the Throckmorton?
W. Kamau Bell: (Founder and executive director) Lucy (Mercer) has always been great, has always been really supportive. I’ve played there a bunch since that first time with Mark (Pitta), so I’ve got some Mill Valley street cred (laughs). The Throckmorton's legend is that comics go there to push themselves and present new vistas. I’m excited to take part in that.
Enjoy Mill Valley: Your tribute to Robin Williams was fantastic.
W. Kamau Bell: That thing could have been 3-4 times as long. Every time I saw him, I felt like I had gotten into the club. I introduced myself to him every time – but he would always remember my name and ask me when I was doing shows. I often felt like I probably didn’t push as hard as I could have in connecting with him. I just didn’t want to be a person who was ever perceived as someone who wanted to know to him. We weren’t friends. But the amazing thing that struck me was that Robin “got me” with Mork when I was a kid, and then he “got me” again as an adult. That’s incredible.
Enjoy Mill Valley: Did you miss doing stand-up?
W. Kamau Bell: The incredibly complicated nature of doing a TV show certainly made me a fan of doing stand-up comedy. I crave contact with the audience, and with 'Totally Biased,' I was always like, ‘Can we get the audience closer to me? This isn’t just about me. This is about me talking to these people.' So yeah, the stand-up experience is much more intimate.
Enjoy Mill Valley: Does your set reflect that intimacy? “Totally Biased” was focused largely on current events and the headlines.
W. Kamau Bell: Yeah, I’ll be talking more about my personal life and how that affected my look at the outside world. We’re about to have another baby, so that inherently makes it much more personal than the TV show since I have the time to talk about those things.
Enjoy Mill Valley: But I imagine you’ll still have plenty to say about the recent events in a certain town near St. Louis.
W. Kamau Bell: What events? I hadn’t heard about that (laughs). Uh, YES, people who follow me on Twitter know I’ve had plenty to say about that.
The 411: W. Kamau Bell performs at the Throckmorton Theatre, 142 Throckmorton Ave., on Thursday, Sept. 11, at 8pm. Click here for more info and to buy tickets.