Kaseem Bentley: Growing from the Heart


kaseem-beardThe Bay Area is blessed with a menagerie of comics, but outstanding alone in the field of “insult” comics, is Kaseem Bentley. With Roast Battles on the rise and the general malaise of snarkiness, every comic thinks they are the undisputed king of insult comedy, but there can only be one king, and that person is Bentley. With negotiations brewing on live podcasts, a web game show and a movie, Kaseem is on the move.


SUSC: You involve yourself in a lot of comics projects.

Kaseem: You know why I will do things for people, appear on local podcasts and other projects that aren’t that high on the ladder, is because I come from a community orientated family. My dad worked for non-profits before he became a bus driver, he worked in juvenile. My mom is a social worker. My sister runs her own non-profit. It’s one for all, all for one. I will appear on people’s shows, showcases, podcasts or whatever because I want to see them grow and develop. I also want time for me to develop. Social media then can look at that work and say, “you’re not funny,” or “you’re fat,” and I don’t care. Those people use social media because they think they can control someone or something and if they are negative enough it might bubble. It’s funny to me. But, if people make idle threats, that’s a different problem. It doesn’t have to be a major network to be great. I go into every project with the thought, “Maybe this will be great.”

You have a very focused persona. It seems that it would take a lot to show you in a bad light. You seem to have a very strong center and that comes through in all your work.

It’s always a welcome challenge. I go into a project and I know the person’s identity, and I can usually spot the advantage. I always wonder, “How can I be funny in this situation.” I have done things in the past where I look at it now and think, “I’m better on camera now.” And, that’s OK. People worry that one bad thing, or a couple of things will ruin your career. But if you do other peoples content while still doing your own content you’ll be fine. You have to show the world what you want your message to be and hopefully that will eclipse painful old stuff. And you could try and have old stuff taken down, but ultimately it humanizes you. Once you come up the ladder, you’re inspiring people and it’s good to be able to look back.

I find that there is a trend for comics to insult each other and the audience. For the most part, it’s very mean spirited, vulgar and base. You are the only comic in the Bay Area, right now, that has taken “insult comedy” to an art form. Every comedian can fail, but you have a higher risk of being chased from the club. The wire you walk is more dangerous.

My daytime job is I mainly work in the area of social services. I love talking about how people grew up and got from point A to point B. I’m lucky to have rooms that would let me explore how to do this onstage. I ask people in the audience about their relationships, but also let them ask me about mine, trying to build conversation. People will get a beam on you and think “OK, I get it, he’s fine.” Even if I’m riffing a lot, say 20 minutes, I think, “OK, lets move to something else, like jokes.” It’s not a trick, I really do like people. Because I grew up in a social work family I’m always really engaging people. I want there to be meaning and I want to have fun. People come to a show to laugh and sometimes I will go after the person who obviously looks offended and I engage with them to find out why. This year, though, I’m trying to go a little more absurd. That means I spend more time offstage thinking about how I want a new half hour, a new hour to go. I watch comics who go in the audience and it’s a god-given gift to think on your feet that quick. Sometimes you go so quick that your brain isn’t consciously processing and your body is a conduit for your words. It can get metaphysical, even spiritual. You get to a point where you have the confidence, you understand people and you’re trusting yourself. The thing about going off the top of your head really well is there needs to be a supreme amount of trust.

Do you get feedback from more traditional comics?

Comics who write all their material say to me, “You make it look easy.” Well, it’s not easy bro. I’m working like a madman onstage. I throw the gauntlet down to the audience and say, “You cant do this.” I have a gift and instrument that I’m honing and god may love you but you can’t do what I do. A lot of people can write a joke. You can take classes on how to write a joke, but being able to improve and retain the attention of a crowd of 50, 100, 1000 or whatever– that’s beautiful. No disrespect to any comics, but I’ve seen comics who have riffed for so long, or have plants in the audience and have answers on deck.

It’s like learning a magic trick. What I’m impressed with is I’ve seen you take a train to a show, run two blocks, show up and go onstage and murder.

I love that. I don’t like waiting around. Back in the day I would go really early to get a gauge on the crowd. Now, I love coming 5 minutes before, figuring it out and go.

When did you begin to start talking about yourself more onstage?

I was watching Ali Wong one time and I found you can talk about yourself for a while. Patrice O’Neal told me that it’s important to find commonality, but if you talk about yourself people will respect your act because you are trying to find your place in the world. I’ve worked on my narrative and bringing the focus back on me. I’m a hang out guy, I have a lot of stories, but I would never do them onstage. I had a girl who had never seen my act tell me that she hoped that I was as funny onstage as I was in the stories I posted on Facebook. At first it was weird telling my stories onstage, but I’m at a place where I want everything to flow in the show. I tell my stories at almost the same pace as I do when I riff on the crowd.

Future plans?

I’m really happy right now. In February I’m doing a show at The Barrel House that will be streamed live. I’m also in negotiations about a web game show and possibly shooting a movie in March. I’m really working on understanding the business better so I can do this full-time. People think I’m a full time comic. My advice to comics is concentrate on how to make 20K a year without making a crap CD or merch.




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