“I learned a long time ago that youve gotta tell the people in your life who are important that theyre important, because you never know when theyre going to disappear,” W. Kamau Bell said Saturday at the Tribeca TV Festival.
In this case, he was speaking about the late Anthony Bourdain, with whom Bell appears in the Season 12 premiere of CNNs Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown. The latter half of the Kenya-set episode, which airs Sept. 23, shows Bourdain and Bell relaxing after a day of safari through the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy. Bell expresses how much the trip has meant to him and how, coming into it as first and foremost a fan, he cant quite believe his luck. “Whose life is this?” he asks incredulously.
Thats when Bourdain turns to the United Shades of America host and admits that he, too, pinches himself sometimes. “I cannot fucking believe I get to do this or see this. Forty-four years old and dunking fries, I knew with absolute certainty I'd never see Rome, much less this.”
“For me, that moment is probably worth everything,” Bell continued on the Tribeca TV Fest carpet. “That moment with Tony [and] being able to take him back to the guy I was, on the couch watching him and being blown away—and now Im sitting here? I didnt know it happened on camera, so Im really blessed that it did. And Im really blessed that [director Morgan Fallon] and the crew left it in there, because especially now that hes gone, I think thats the kind of thing that a lot of people wanted to say to him.”
Fallon was also on-hand at the Saturday night premiere. Before the screening and panel discussion with executive producers Chris Collins and Lydia Tenaglia and showrunner Sandy Zweig, he said he remembered that conversation between Bell and Bourdain well.
“That was a really powerful moment. The crew was kind of shifting equipment, and we were resetting our cameras; that was completely off-the-cuff. That was not something that was necessarily in the context of the scene,” he recalled. “I think it was important to show that and remind people that this is something that Tony always felt, day to day, every day: a tremendous sense of gratitude towards the world for embracing him, [and] towards the people who supported him creatively. He never forgot that.”
Capturing that moment was made all the more significant, Fallon added, because he views Bell and his Emmy–winning United Shades of America—a series that might not exist without the success and lead-in support of Bourdains Parts Unknown—as “the heir apparent to Tonys legacy at CNN.”
“Unfortunately, circumstances being what they are, theres a little bit of a handing of the torch here, as I view it. And that, I think, makes it very impactful,” Fallon said.
Ask Bell if hes up for the job, and hell be sure to exhale and roll his eyes before issuing an emphatic “Yes!”
“I understand why theres a need to look for somebody. Some people have tweeted, I hope youre the new host of Parts Unknown. And Im like, I have a job, and I like my job, ” Bell explained. “Believe me, I am taking the lessons I learned from Tony—specifically the ones I learned in Kenya—to my job, so my show hopefully will reflect that. But Im not trying to make Parts Unknown. Im not a chef. Im not 61. Im not doing jiujitsu. Im not him! Im flattered that anybody would even think to say that because I just felt like I was there cleaning up behind him by following his show.”
The desire to find someone to carry Bourdains torch, Bell said, really means “that we should look for more storytellers that tell authentic stories like Tony did. And if Im a part of those authentic storytellers, great. But there are more people who can tell authentic stories from unique perspectives.”
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