Unlike some TV producers, W. Kamau Bell actually wants to hear fan feedback. The comedian and host of the Emmy-winning docuseries United Shades of America — which airs Sundays at 10 p.m. on CNN — says he often gets ideas for episodes from viewers who seek him out in “airports and coffee shops and street corners” or online. “White people will say to me, ‘What do I do? What do I do? How do I help? I want to help!’” he tells Darren Franich on this week’s episode of EW’s Best of Shows podcast. “So, episode 2 [this season] is called ‘Not All White People,’ which is about white people activism in Seattle and Tacoma, about several different ways for white people to answer the question, ‘What do I do?’”
Since debuting in 2015, United Shades has aimed to educate viewers about a wide range of American communities, like Sikhs in Yuba City, California and students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities. And before you mumble something about this sounding a lot like homework, remember that Bell and his team have won back-to-back Emmys for making a show that’s educational and entertaining. “TV and learning don’t always go together,” he says. “I’m a proud disciple of Sesame Street, so I believe you can learn and have a good time at the same time. I’ve often thought of my career as sort of like Sesame Street for grown-ups.”
One episode this season, in which Bell heads to Salt Lake City to talk to Mormons and the queer community, will be brought to you by the letters LGBTQ. “I was like, ‘You know what? Let’s talk about the letters,’” he says. “We say these letters all the time, but what do they mean?” The host says this season he also drew inspiration from his former CNN colleague and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain. “I had this amazing experience last year of going to Kenya with Anthony, and we talked a lot about TV production,” says Bell. “And then of course he passed away. “[This season], it really felt like I was trying to honor those conversations with Tony.”
To hear more from Bell — including which Marvel superhero inspired him to try cosplay before it was even a thing — listen to the full episode below. You can also listen to EW’s Best of Shows podcast via Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher, Radio.com, or wherever you get your podcasts. New episodes are available every Monday morning. Tweet counterarguments to @KristenGBaldwin or @DarrenFranich.