Bellamy, Bill 1967—
Bill Bellamy 1967—
Comedian, television host
As the host of the cable television show MTV Jams, Bill Bellamy has had a chance to enjoy what he described in Chicago Weekend as his “dream job.” His breezy manner and elegant good looks have helped the young comic to become a staple on the music video network. Eschewing the profanity and raunch that characterize much comedy in the hip-hop era, he has pursued a gentler approach and won a sizable audience. Bellamy’s trademark catchphrase-“I’m in the hooouse!”-became increasingly difficult to ignore by the mid–1990s.
Bellamy was born in New Jersey in the late 1960s, the eldest of three children. Though he was an ardent fan of comedian-actor Bill Cosby-whose relatively wholesome material also differed from the racier content delivered by his peers-the career goals he formulated growing up had little to do with nightclubs. Besides, he had more than a little urging in an academic direction. “My mother always said, ’Make sure you get your education, because they can never take that away from you,’” he informed Jet. “She also said, “Dream as big as you can dream.” After attending Seton Hall prep school, he went on to major in economics at Rutgers University. He told Shonda McClain of the Indianapolis Recorder that he “was so into economics because I was really into the stock market and stuff.” His career path seemed obvious, under the circumstances: “I figured when I graduated I was going to work on Wall Street,” he recollected in the Los Angeles Times. “That was the picture I had. A sweet job at a good firm and work my way up.”
It was not to be. His friends noticed that he had a flair for comedy-”they would always say, ’Bill, you’re so stupid, man. You are retarded’ “-and an experience in front of a crowd during his junior year convinced him that he had a shot. Entering a male beauty pageant at Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Bellamy realized he needed an act of some kind. “Everybody else was dancin’ and singin’ and playing instruments for the talent segment of the program,” he informed the Cincinnati Call and Post, “and I just came out there and made people laugh and it came off.”
Though his coup at the pageant boosted his confidence as a stand-up comic, Bellamy for some time sought the traditional American dream. “I wanted to get a good job, get married, have 2.5 kids and 1.5 pets,” he quipped in Essence. He realized after graduation, however, that he wanted to pursue a career in comedy and got his parents’ blessing to do so. “I had a nine to five job as a sales representative for a tobacco company,” he related in a publicity biography, “but in the evenings and weekends, I was at any club that would have me, perfecting my comedy.”
He kept his job but performed at night all over New Jersey and New York, entering a series of amateur stand-up competitions and winning every one. “It was very surprising,” he admitted in his publicity bio. “But
At a Glance…
Born c. 1967, in Newark, NJ. Education; Rutgers University, B.A. in economics, 1988.
Comic performer, c. late 1980s-. Performed at comedy clubs across the United States; appeared on television programs Showtime at the Apollo, Def Comedy Jam, and HBO’s 15th Annual Young Comedians Special, 1992–93; played small role in film Who’s the Man?, 1993; made host of MTV Jams on Music Television (MTV) network, 1994; toured as opening act for singer Janet Jackson; wrote and performed comedy special Booty Call for Showtime network, 1995.
once I started winning I realized comedy was my calling.” He eventually scored $5,000 in a comedy contest at the Manhattan club Sweetwater’s. This victory landed him gigs at nightspots around the country, including Catch a Rising Star and The Original Improvisation in New York, and The Comedy Store in Los Angeles.
Then came his first major break: a spot on the television program Showtime at the Apollo. Part of what differentiated him from other comics was his steadfast refusal to rely on profanity. “Funny is funny,” he declared to Essence writer Deborah Gregory. “You don’t have to curse people to death to get a laugh.” The influence of Cosby in particular came through in Bellamy’s comedic approach. “I try to make people see the lighter side of things,” he mused in the Los Angeles Times. “Most stuff in life is so serious. Life can be so boring, that just going to work, getting by, raising kids can be very dull. I just bring out the fun part of what people do that we don’t realize.”
At the same time, Bellamy has dealt with fairly serious subject matter in his routines; his goal has been to temper the content with his typically upbeat comic spin. “It’s possible to make people laugh and think at the same time without being heavy-handed,” he insisted in his MTV bio. Yet he dismissed the idea that his material was too painstakingly crafted. “The things I talk about in my comedy are my experiences,” Bellamy added in his publicity release. “I don’t make a conscious effort to do a certain kind of comedy. I just do what I know.”
Bellamy’s Showtime at the Apollo appearance made an impression on impresarios Bernie Brillstein and Russell Simmons, who eventually managed the young performer. “When I saw Bill on the Apollo, I was overwhelmed,” Brillstein recalled in Bellamy’s publicity materials. “His timing was impeccable. He grabbed the audience immediately and held them throughout his set. I knew he had the potential to be the next biggest comic.”
In 1992, the two comedy producers gave Bellamy a spot on Def Comedy Jam on the HBO cable network; this led to an appearance on Rascal’s Comedy Hour and The Arsenio Hall Show, then to HBO’s 15th Annual Young Comedians Special, a high-profile showcase hosted by Saturday Night Live star Dana Carvey. “When I got the call, I was blown away,” Bellamy declared in his publicity bio. “It was all happening very fast. I had only been in comedy for two and a half years and I would be appearing on a show that launched the careers of famous comedians. It was kind of scary. “His fears evidently didn’t come across, since executives from MTV were impressed enough to offer Bellamy a small role in Who’s the Man? a feature film comedy starring Dr. Dre and Ed Lover, the hosts of Yol MTV Raps.
The biggest plum of all came in 1994, when MTV gave Bellamy the job of hosting MTV Jams, a daytime R&B/Hip-Hop video and interview show that allowed him to banter with superstars and work his considerable charm on the video network’s huge viewing audience. He joked to the Los Angeles Times that his interview for the position wasn’t very rigorous: “It was like, ‘He can read the teleprompter! We love him!’” It was nonetheless clear that MTV saw big things for the unfailingly likable Bellamy, who was able to loosen up certain guests in a way other veejays couldn’t. “Hosting “Jams’ is a dream come true,” he enthused in his publicity bio. “It’s a job, but it doesn’t feel like work at all. I get to interview people I’ve always admired, from [singer-actress] Janet Jackson to [actor-comedian] Eddie Murphy to [filmmaker] John Singleton, and listen to music I love.”
A particularly noteworthy moment came when megastar Jackson appeared on the show with her coterie of dancers, who “writhed around him suggestively,” as Times writer N.F. Mendoza put it. “It just happened,” Bellamy claimed. “The chemistry was just right.” He was the first member of the media to interview Jackson after the release of her milestone album Janet, and even performed as her opening act. “When I opened for Janet, I thought, ’Oh God, please don’t let them boo me!’ but they enjoyed my being there,” he noted with relief to Chicago Weekend writer Rodney Hudson.
Indianapolis Recorder correspondent McClain described Bellamy as “tall, dark and handsome” and “one of the country’s most eligible bachelors.” Times writer Mendoza took note of the veejay’s “way of looking into the camera and addressing just you,” not to mention his “flirtatious manner.” The young comic-unencumbered by excessive modesty-has taken compliments from interviewers about his looks in stride. “Right now there aren’t a lot of men for Black women to look at and admire,” he reflected with apparent seriousness in the Indianapolis Recorder. “[Actor] Denzel [Washington] is it. It’s got to be time for the new brother. It’s my time and I’m happy.” Anticipating new projects, he inaugurated his own production company, Bill Bellamy Entertainment. At the same, as he explained to Hudson, he wasn’t taking his newfound status for granted: “Even when the staff on the show asks me how I want things it still is a bit moving,” he said, “but I thank God always. I’m Baptist, and I firmly believe to direct and preserve, you’ve gotta have the Christ. That’s how I keep my center, just staying real!”
Bellamy’s clean-living rhetoric hasn’t been confined to the stage; he stepped comfortably into the position of role model for young viewers, and offered himself as an alternative to the violent lifestyle often associated with black culture in the mass media. “I’m willing to accept my role in doing the best I can to help turn some of the madness around,” he asserted to Hudson. “I grew up in the hood like the average person. I’m pretty regular.” At the same time, he urged kids to “Be positive” and was adamant that “There’s gotta be other things that typify the Black experience than guns and drugs. Romance and values are my things. I’m trying to make a positive impact on some of the things that are going on out there through comedy and other ways to get it done.”
He elaborated on the romance “thing” to McClain of the Indianapolis Recorder. “I like independent women; a woman who is very positive and supportive,” he proclaimed. “I’m very supportive also. Just an uplifting person who can help me with the situation I’m going through.” Even so, he averred, his schedule precluded any all-consuming relationships for the time being. “When you’re in entertainment and your career is taking off,” he explained, “it’s a lot of phone calls.”
Bellamy starred in his own comedy special, Booty Call, lor the Showtime cable network in 1995. “It’s some of the funniest material I’ve written,” he insisted in YSB,” and I thought it would have people going to work Monday morning talkin’ ’bout, ’Did you see that Bill Bellamy? He’s a trip!’” Entertainment Weekly reviewer Caren Weiner, however, found the “trip” to be routine; she complained that Bellamy “wavers between trying to be a junior Bill Cosby and a junior Eddie Murphy. Though he’s often funny, the homages end up making his limitations that much more apparent.”
Nonetheless, Booty Call was-according to Bellamy’s publicists-Showtime’s highest-rated special in two years. “Its release on video and his regular presence on MTV continued to boost his profile. By early 1996, the word was out that Bellamy sought a late-night talk show. He announced plans for a variety show produced jointly by MTV and Paramount, describing it in his publicity materials as “an ‘Ed Sullivan’ with a 90s flavor,” referring to the legendary variety show host of the 1950s and 1960s. He also claimed to be “mulling over scripts” for a possible series. Whether or not Bellamy would succeed in a more open-ended format remained to be determined, but his wholesome charisma would no doubt stand him in good stead. “I see a guy who is just happy and blessed that he can do what he wants to do,” he remarked about himself in the Indianapolis Recorder. “Bill Bellamy is just a regular brother, good-hearted. It’s like, hey man, this is me. People like me the way I am.”
Call and Post (Cincinnati), April 7, 1994, p. 3B.
Chicago Weekend, November 10, 1994, p. 24.
Entertainment Weekly, November 24, 1994, p. 116.
Essence, May 1994, p. 60.
Indianapolis Recorder, February 25, 1995, p. B1. Jet, May 15, 1995, p. 36.
Los Angeles Times (TV Times), January 2, 1994, p. 79.
Newsweek, January 29, 1996.
YSB, January 31, 1995, p. 17.
Additional infromation was provided by MTVand Sutton-Saltzman publicity materials, 1995.
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