Until its unfortunate cancellation this week, comedian W. Kamau Bell was the host of Totally Biased on FX/FXX. Like any good late-night show, it’s hilarious, and the format is essentially the same as the format of Conan or Late Night with Jimmy Fallon—live interviews and pre-filmed skits. But the content that Bell chooses to tackle makes Totally Biased different than any other talk show I’ve seen.
According to FX, the show explores “politics, pop culture, race, religion, and the media,” which is already more than you can say for most talk shows. However, he also tackles gender issues and misogyny in a head-on way that is extremely rare in male media figures. He’s featured interviews with musician and feminist icon Kathleen Hanna and actor/gay rights proponent George Takei and even explored trans rights on his show. Just watch this amazing video, wherein Bell interviews New York City women (and men) on their experiences with catcalling.
This video does so many excellent things. Bell is clearly on the side of the women in this video, and his interview tone is encouraging and supportive. Bell’s female interviewees are a diverse crowd, but they all agree on one point—not only does catcalling not “work,” it’s unwelcome harassment. Their responses to Bell are honest in their frustration—one woman wishes she had the ability to shock her harassers in an “area on their body that would just be really painful.” But even better (worse) is the responses from the man that Bell interviews, who genuinely believes that catcalling helps women “have better days.”
Humor has a long history as a response to oppression, and for good reason. As this video illustrates, Bell can get his point across without lecturing his viewers—he simply juxtaposes the men’s deluded notion of how women feel about catcalling with the women’s actual responses, and the absurdity of the whole situation is revealed. This deadpan style is likely more effective at changing minds than a more serious, direct kind of anti-catcalling manifesto. When people can watch others commit these misogynistic errors and laugh at the situation, it feels less like an attack, while still communicating to men that these behaviors are not having a positive effect on women. (Bell is speaking more to the “benevolent sexist” catcallers, like the man in his video, than to the men who know that catcalling makes women uncomfortable and choose to do it for that reason.)
Bell is a fantastic male feminist. Not only is he really listening to the women and absorbing what they have to say, he’s also communicating it to his fellow men. As one woman in the video says, “You’re a dude, talk to your dudes, have these conversations with your boys!” And he does just that—humorously via megaphone in the video, but also in reality by featuring this topic on his show. Although it’s problematic, it’s also likely that men take the opinions of other men—especially cool, funny guys like Bell—much more seriously than they do the opinions of women on these matters; Bell is proving that you don’t have to be a woman to understand that catcalling is harassment.
I love that he’s not afraid to call out men on their misguided, sexist behavior, because network television rarely chooses to break the rules. Now that his show is off the air, I’ll be on the lookout for more of W. Kamau Bell, and men like him.
Alecia Lynn Eberhardt is a logophile and a library bandit wanted in several states. In addition to feminist rants, she also writes essays, short stories, bad poetry, recipes and very detailed to-do lists. She currently resides in a little blue cabin in Woodstock with one fiancé, one Dachshund and one pleasantly plump cat. Find her tweeting @alecialynn.