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W. Kamau Bell blasts Bill Maher for ‘Gotcha’ gag

- April 8th, 2014

Comedian W. Kamau Bell, host of the dearly-departed FX series Totally Bias, has penned a scathing blog post after he “got played for a sucker” on Real Time With Bill Maher.

Maher had Bell and the other guests comment on a Paul Ryan quote, which blamed impoverished people in America’s inner-cities for their own problems. Bell argued that Ryan was, in fact, talking about people of colour.

Maher then presented the group with a very similar quote, which he also credited to Ryan. The panel snickered. But, wait. The second quote was actually from Michelle Obama! Psych!

After the question came up, I basically said (FIRST!) that the quote was clearly about race, Bill read a second quote that he said was from Paul Ryan, and I snickered. And then Bill made that famous Bill Maher face that we all know (and many love). And he declared that the second quote was from Michelle Obama. Duh, duh, duuuuuuuh!

The studio was silent at that. But Bill seemed to believe it was the kind of stunned silence that followed when (Breaking Bad spoiler alert) that blonde dude killed that kid on the bicycle on Breaking Bad. But I believe it was the stunned silence of…

“DUUUUUUUUDE! Why did you just lie to us like that? We trust you! Now we’re confused! What’s next? Are you going to say Kim Kardashian said it?”

Bell played the moment coolly, cracking a joke about how black people talk to each other differently when white folks aren’t around (Obama made the comment to students at a historically black college), but faced a lot of racially-fueled Internet backlash once the clip went live.

Bell rightfully notes that you can’t strip something of its context to make a point. Context is important. Context is everything. And if Maher had really wanted to have a discussion about the two quotes, he wouldn’t have hidden that context.

 And the real freaking bummer of all of this is that there is an awesome conversation to be had in the two different quotes from Ryan and the First Lady.

1. Is there a difference between what Paul Ryan said and what Michelle Obama said? (Yes, it’s called context.)
2. What is the difference between “othering” and “identifying”? (In one you are outside of the group of which you speak – Ryan. In the second you are a member of the group you are talking about – Michelle Obama was raised on the South Side of Chicago. It doesn’t get much “blacker”.)
3. Does context change the meaning of rhetoric? (Yes. Dramatically.)
4. Does Michelle Obama’s quote being pulled out of the middle of a commencement address that was in front of an audience of people who likely have direct relationships to the issues she is referencing play substantially differently than two white Neo-Cons in the echo chamber of conservative talk radio? (Umm… Yes.)
5. Is Michelle Obama’s quote potentially problematic? (Sure. But let’s discuss and… Oops, Bill says we’re moving on.)

But Bill obviously didn’t want to have that conversation because if he had, he woulda had his awesome and gracious staff give the panel the Michelle Obama quote, too. He wanted to play “Gotcha!” Hey, good on him. It’s easy to trip people up if that is your sole intention. Go outside right now and see how many people you can trip while they walk around. I guessing it’s damn near 100%. Does it feel good? Not to me.

But again, who am I to judge? Bill’s got the rightfully acclaimed, long running hit show, and mine was canceled. I’m not even sure why he would waste his time gotcha’ing me. Was Al Sharpton not available?

 

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