Bill Bellamy is the Madonna of stand-up comedy. Hear us out. Like the Material Girl, the 43-year-old Newark, New Jersey native has enjoyed an amazingly long and diverse career by constantly reinventing himself and keeping flexible; both stars also have muscular man arms.
And although Bellamy has had his share of tangential success — from years of hosting on MTV, a starring role in the Fox cop drama series Fastlane to voicing video games to big screen projects like Any Given Sunday, How to be a Player and The Brothers — Bellamy has never abandoned his roots as a stand-up comic.
He still tours the country’s comedy clubs and theaters in earnest and is currently seen every Thursday on NBC as the host of the wildly popular Last Comic Standing, which is in its sixth season; it’s Bellamy’s second year at the helm.
Punchline Magazine recently chatted with Bellamy about his role as host, behind-the-scenes at Last Comic Standing and why, despite the show’s high ratings, there are so many LCS haters out there.
Don’t you think it’s odd to have well-established comics (this season, Louis Ramey is in the running; years past Gabriel Iglesias was in there as well as Ralph Harris, Doug Benson, etc…) compete against completely unknown comics?
I’m not surprised that the veterans are coming out. They realize the importance of getting exposure. If these guys aren’t getting that much-needed TV time after years of being involved in the game, at this point he’s just a really good road comic. TV gets you more reason to get booked. For the show, I think having these very funny veterans involved gives the show validity. It makes the show funny for real.
After doing this show for two seasons, you’ve had the chance to see a lot of young comics. Do you feel like there are a lot more people trying to break into the biz than ever before? How much of that, do you think is a result of the success of the Last Comic Standing?
To be honest it’s a combination of sorts. Reality TV is huge. Everybody wants to be on TV. Plus with the national exposure of a primetime TV, I can see why people are trying to get involved. We get a good mix of people who are very funny, who are good at their craft and the people who just want to be on TV.
As a comedian and someone who is very much involved with the show, do the people who just want to be on TV offend you?
Well, luckily the talent scouts are responsible for dealing with those people. This season, the judges are actors from current and previous NBC shows; they’re the ones dealing with the ridiculous people just trying to get on TV. Trust me, it’s ridiculous. We even had a few strippers in there. Strippers and comedy? Who knew?
Why do you think there has been so much backlash about the show from some of the hardcore comedy fans? Some might say that has something to do with the claims that the show is fixed.
That was the stigma that I heard too. I’m in the club with comics, I hear what the other guys are saying. I don’t know if that was true. I can tell you now, that that’s not the case. Having success on this show is really how well your act translates on TV and how the jokes match your personality, because the show does really give the fans insight on the contestants’ personalities.
Was there one city that stood out to you during the talent search?
I went to about 15 comedy clubs across the country without people knowing that I was there. There were a lot of great comics I got to see.
So for those people, I sent them out to the auditions with a VIP pass so they could cut the lines. I think Denver was really good. Raleigh, NC and DC were great. I went to Hawaii, that was nice. Boston had some great comics as well.
Since you guys have gone global with the search, do you see the international comics modifying their acts for the States?
I think the international comics are just being themselves. Our intention isn’t to water down their comedy. They know that there are things that won’t work here that would work over there. They can’t do regional stuff that we aren;t going to get. They’re doing a great job of keeping it general and universal.
What are the challenges in presenting stand-up comedy properly on network television?
Knowing that it’s clean comedy. You know there are certain subject matters you can’t talk about on network TV. In the comedy club, you can get away with those things but not on national TV. I compare it to talking at the dinner table at your momma’s house” you can be funny, you just have to watch you say.
Before you became host of the show, what was your opinion of the show?
To be honest with you, I never really watched it. I obviously knew about the show and thought it was a cool idea. I thought it was a good opportunity for comics to get exposure. But I think I might have watched one or two episodes back when Jay was hosting. I was shocked when they asked me to host.
What did you think of the opportunity to host?
I saw it as an opportunity to do my thing. I wanted to bring some fun to the show, something I thought the show might have been lacking– not from the comics involved with the show (they obviously were bringing a lot of fun and energy to the show) but just more fun to the show as a whole. And also, I like the idea of being on primetime TV every week, that doesn’t hurt at all. I also saw it as an opportunity to help other guys get in the game. I think it’s a refreshing way for people to see me. I haven’t done the hosting thing since MTV.
Speaking of MTV, what do you think of what that network has become?
I knew MTV was going to change back around 1998 when reality was really kicking in. I was like, ‘Wow this is going to be weird.’ Back then they were promoting the personalities; their stars were the VJs. Now the VJs aren’t really the stars of the network, now it’s the cast of their reality shows.
They don’t even show the whole videos anymore. It’s like video lite or video on a diet. I knew that I didn’t want to be there forever. I wanted to do movies and TV. To me doing this show is really like revisiting an MTV-like crowd. Now when I go and do stand-up, there are new people who know me. I got aunties and grandmas coming out to my shows.