AE: What is your sense of who the fans are of the show?
JB: Well I will say I am recognized the most by Trader Joe’s employees. So there’s that! Yeah there’s definitely certain cities and certain demographics, but I think that it’s a lot of basically you are the biggest fan of the show, I think, if you are a black lesbian social worker. If I had to put it all into one group, it would be that. It’s definitely people that work in social justice and sort of like things beyond the 101 entry level of politics. Like I think we got a little deeper into issues, and so I think people that have worked with those issues definitely appreciate that. And certainly people who look like us. People of color who look like Kamau, queer people who see me and Guy on there, South Asian people who see Aparna Nancherla on there, who realize our writing staff has three women as opposed to one or zero. I think people who aren’t catered to by TV are like, “Aw, finally! Something that looks like us and isn’t just milky white dudes 18-35.” I think they appreciate it.
AE: One thing I noticed about the show is you say “dyke” on TV, like in the sketch about Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King: “Dykes have been doing this for decades.” That’s not something you hear all the time. Do you ever have any pushback from the network about something you want to do or say?
JB: No, never. FX, actually, I think like three weeks in came back and told us to do more and said we weren’t pushing the envelope enough. They said they want to have that moment with us where they’re like “Alright guys let’s scale it back a little bit.” But no, I think they have a reputation for this and it’s true they let their creative people run with their vision and they want to see people throw stuff against the wall. They want to see the breakthrough in the process to get to the kernel of what everyone is trying to do.
AE: I noticed on your Facebook that you had posted a picture with trans actress Laverne Cox from Orange is the New Black and you had to police someone in a very nice way when they asked “Is that a man?” And you said “No, she’s a woman. She’s an actress, she’s awesome.” Do you feel like there are people that you sometimes have to educate? Like is this part of the job?
JB: Yeah, I think so. That’s funny—that instance, I sat with it overnight because it was really disappointing to see and it got me angry and I wanted to go back at that person—obviously I could see they were a fan of mine, so clearly they’re OK with me so they’re not entirely, you know, super-conservative homophobic. So I came to realize, “Oh this person just hasn’t been confronted with a trans person, they’re just uneducated with this one thing.” So with that I thought it was important to come back and not jump down the guy’s throat and say, “Hey this is a person, this is who they are, it’s cool.” And just kind of give them the opportunity to step back and be like, “Oh, I didn’t realize that, I want to learn more about that.’”
I think a lot of times the left, the radical left and some liberals, are painted as buzzkills and they won’t tolerate anything and I’ve certainly had times in my life where I jumped down someone’s throat and kind of did a disservice to them having a learning experience by immediately rushing into anger against it and pouncing on them. So I think more and more as I’ve been on television and met more people, I try to give people the benefit of the doubt and if something like that comes up I try to make a more compassionate educator role and I think that goes a lot further than just being like “What the hell, man?”
AE: You have such fun guests on the show. Do you have a favorite you’ve enjoyed meeting or working with?
JB: Well, Rachel Maddow. I was completely starstruck by. Laverne Cox, obviously, I like chased her down and very sheepishly asked if I could take a picture with her and she was very sweet. I guess as far as—Dave Zirin, he’s been on our show twice and he’s a really fun guest. I’m not a sports person, I don’t watch sports at all—I’m a book lesbian, I’m not a ball lesbian—and so hew as someone I hadn’t heard of before but he was so engaging, energetic and passionate and I totally fell in love with him and was excited when they asked him back and he definitely brought that same energy again. And he’s an interesting guy where’s a sports commenter but he pairs it with politics which I think is something no one’s ever done before and i think he has a lot of potential to reach a lot of people through that.
AE: Do you have any input on who you book to come on the show?
JB: We don’t get to pick but we’re welcome to throw out names, if we see someone we’re interested in personally we submit the name and then there’s the question of booking and if the person’s in town and all that goes into it. I’m a huge Orange is the New Black fan, that’s kind of my thing right now, so I’d love to get more of the cast members on. We just had Big Freedia on and she was someone that me and my officemate had been asking for since last year so we were happy she finally got on.
AE: I kind of get the sense from your stand-up that you’re not as political as you are on Totally Biased.
JB: Who we are in stand-up is definitely different from who we are in the show. Like I’ve had people come up to me after shows and say “Oh my god you’re not as angry as you are on TV.” I kind of say I’m not an angry lesbian, I play on one television. … I actually kind of hate doing political comedy just because I hate confrontation so much. I get scared when people yell at each other around me and it takes a lot to push me to speak to something. A lot of times I have to be moved enough to get my toe into the fray and get pushed back. My comedy is political because it affects me personally and that’s who I am. But a lot of my stuff is like about growing up when I was a kid and how much I like cats. It’s a lot lighter than what we present on the show.
Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell airs weeknights at 11 p.m. on FXX.