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W. Kamau Bell Makes His First Trip To Africa For Bourdain's 'Parts Unknown'


The final season of Anthony Bourdain's "Parts Unknown" premiered last night, three months after his death. In this season, he travels to Kenya with W. Kamau Bell, host of CNN's "United Shades Of America," where he pushes Bell outside his comfort zone in all kinds of ways, including an introduction to goat's head soup.


ANTHONY BOURDAIN: My companion, Mr. Bell, unaccustomed as he is to the ways of Africa, is new to this dish. Now, I don't want to sound all cool mustard, but I eat this [expletive] for breakfast by now. You know what I mean?

MARTIN: I mean, you knew this was going to happen. Right? That he was going to take you to a place and make you eat, like, an eyeball or a brain?

W. KAMAU BELL: Yeah. I was fully prepared for that, and I told myself, Kamau, you're going to eat whatever is put in front of you and you'll be happy to do it. And then I saw the show, and I was, like, I didn't look that happy.

MARTIN: (Laughter). How did the invitation to do a show together come about?

BELL: I mean, when I got the job at CNN, you know, I knew that I was sort of drafting in his wake, but I didn't meet him until the Emmys, when our show was nominated for an award and he won a bunch of awards. And within seconds, he said, we should do something together. And I was blown away.

MARTIN: So you had never been to Africa. So this was a first for you. And he basically came to you and said, where do you want to go? And you said Kenya. Why?

BELL: My middle name, Kamau, means quiet warrior. It's Kikuyu. And Kenyans have sort of sought me out to figure out, why do you have that Kenyan name? (Laughter) You know? Like, 'cause I don't look Kenyan. And shortly thereafter, they'd be like, you have to come to Kenya. So that was the one place that sort of came to my mind, and the incredible part was that Tony was, like, I've never been to Kenya. And when we got there, every Kenyan was excited to see him and they were like, what took you so long? So I think he knew that it was time.

MARTIN: So I can't imagine how emotionally complicated this moment is, doing interviews revisiting all of that footage now that he's gone. What has it been like?

BELL: It's like he's talking to us from the beyond, which, you can't help but feel that way. And also he's supposed to be here with me right now. You're supposed to be talking to the both of us. And it's easy to talk about the celebration of his life and work right now. One thing we talked about a lot was family. And I know he loved his daughter, and I just think about this young girl who is somewhere without her dad who was already traveling a lot. And as a dad who travels a lot, that's hard. And so to think that she's not going to have him in her life is - that's something I think about the most.

MARTIN: There's this scene. I mean, it's crazy. You're looking out over this desert. It's amazingly beautiful and vast. And you get into sort of a deep conversation, and you're reflecting on how you got to this point in your career and he goes right there with you. And all of a sudden, he's being really honest in this moment, talking about how he can't believe that he's gotten to live this life, that people pay him to go have these experiences. Can you tell me how that felt in that moment?

BELL: I learned a long time ago that you want to, like, let the people in your life know who are important to you that they are important to you, and you sort of don't want to let those moments go by. And so when we had that moment, it wasn't really meant to be on camera. There's this thing called wide shots when the camera goes way far away, and you can tell when you see it. And most of the times, that conversation isn't used. It's just ways to edit footage together. And so I knew that it was a wide shot. And you can hear in his voice when he's talking to me. He's also talking like we're not talking on camera right now. We know enough about TV to know that this shot's not going to be used. And I have to believe - I haven't talked to the producers yet - that they only used it because of his passing.

MARTIN: How are you going to travel internationally again? I mean, you've been ruined for any other experience now that you have traveled with Anthony Bourdain, I imagine.

BELL: I mean, let's be clear. I do feel like a contest winner.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

BELL: 'Cause everybody watched "Parts Unknown" or all of his other shows and felt like, man, I wish I could do that. And I got to do it. And, you know, yeah, it will be different to do anything like that ever again.

MARTIN: W. Kamau Bell. He hosts the show, "United Shades Of America," and he appears on the final season of Anthony Bourdain's "Parts Unknown." Kamau, thanks so much for talking with us.

BELL: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.