This week we sit down with Bruce Lee superfan, and self-professed Bruce Lee geek, W. Kamau Bell! He’s a comedian and TV host. He hosts CNN's United Shades of America, and podcasts Denzel Washington is the Greatest Actor of All Time Period and Politically Reactive.
Kamau Bell became a Bruce Lee fan as a kid watching 70s martial arts films on TV. He thought Bruce Lee was in tons of movies because of all the knock-off Bruce Lees on TV. It wasn’t until he was 13 when he went to the video store and found “Enter the Dragon” that he realized that the real Bruce Lee was the real deal. He watched the VHS tapes over and over and sought out Bruce’s other film. That’s when Kamau became a superfan. He bought all his movies, got Bruce Lee posters, made his own iron-on T-shirt of Bruce and converted his friends to fans. He even created a petition at his high school to get Bruce Lee a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He studied Wing Chun because Bruce Lee studied Wing Chun and took a bus all the way across Chicago to study it.
As a young man, he thought a career in martial arts was more feasible than a career in comedy, but Kamau always wanted to be a comedian. Trusting his inner voice is something that Kamau got from Bruce Lee, following his own path in his career and doing it his own way is something he saw Bruce do. As the son of a single mom, Bruce Lee’s philosophy helped guide Kamau while he was growing up, showing him how to be a man and how to gain a secure sense of self and know his limitations.
The Bruce Lee philosophy that had the biggest impact on Kamau was: “Absorb what is useful, reject what is useless, add what is essentially your own.” Following Bruce Lee’s example, Kamau invents his own path in Hollywood, seeking and creating projects that honestly express his true essence. He also trusts his intuition to avoid what doesn’t feel right for him and his family—sometimes that means turning down gigs that are lucrative. But he is confident that his own eclectic path is the right one for him.
(Awesome Asians and Hapas)
This week’s #AAHA is recommended by Kamau Bell. Irene Tu is an up and coming San Francisco based stand-up comedian, writer, and actor. In 2016, she was named one of the “Bay Area’s 11 Best Stand Up Comedians” by the SFist. Thanks Kamau for supporting your local SF talent and introducing us to Irene. Irene—you are awesome!
The #BruceLeeMoment that Kamau returns to often is the moment in Chinese Connection when Bruce Lee comes into the enemy's martial arts studio and fights everyone and wins. Bruce says at the end of the fight: “Now you listen to me. I'll only say this once. We are not sick men.” This statement resonated with Kamau as a young black man trying to claim his own space in a racist society. He was moved by Bruce Lee's confidant statement of resistance against oppressors and taking pride in his people. Over the years this scene about claiming space for your people continues to grow in meaning for Kamau and it’s something he continually addresses in his work and life.