By Jessica Brandt
(To The Shrubbery)
Writer, producer, actor, singer, cult hero and towel-wearer. These are a few of the terms which can describe Mr. Paul Bellini. He is best known for his work as a writer (and sometimes actor) on Canada's (and later, Lorne Michael's) sketch-comedy series The Kids in the Hall, which starred Dave Foley, Bruce McCulloch, Kevin McDonald, Mark McKinney, and Scott Thompson. Bellini was also a writer for the show This Hour has 22 Minutes, appeared in The Kids' movie Brain Candy, and co-wrote, as well as acted in Hayseed (which also had appearances by Thompson and McKinney).
Now, if THAT'S not enough, Bellini has recently finished the book Buddy Babylon, which he co-wrote with Scott Thompson, and his newest project is producer for Canada's The Bette Show.
Some consider Bellini to be a true cult hero. He was mainly seen on The Kids in the Hall wearing nothing but a towel and smile, saying nothing. During the show's run, there was even a contest to "Touch Bellini." In one sketch, a futuristic family worshipped Bellini and celebrated "Bellini Day." Needless to say, he's a good sport.
What else is there about Bellini? What lurks in the depths of his mind? What are his thoughts? What ever happened to his towel? Read on, reader, and ye shall see.
The Shrubbery: First, let's talk about your new book, Buddy Babylon, which you co-wrote with Scott Thompson. Was it a total team-effort, or did one of you do most of the writing?
Bellini: Like all our work, it was a total team effort, but you have to understand our chemistry. Scott is the consumate character actor, so he's often in character when we're writing. I, in turn, take the role of director, carefully suggesting and guiding him in certain directions. It's fair to say that most of the narrative elements come from me, and most of the character elements come from him. On the Kids show, Scott wrote most of the Buddy jokes and I edited the text, so that a rambling ten minute monologue eventually became the pithy gems you saw on TV. In the book, we both wrote a lot of jokes, but the lion's share are still from him.
Usually, we'd draft a chapter together, then I would write it up and he would do a joke punch-up. Then we'd edit it together. The whole process took about a year.
TS: Scott really did an amazing job portraying Buddy on the series, and you helped write all of his monologues. Did you ever want to jump in there with him and create another character of your own to chat with Buddy in the bar?
B: No. I'm no actor.
TS: How has the gay community reacted to Scott's portrayal of a gay man in such a manner?
B: I can't speak for the gay community, but the gay press ignored our work from day one, and it seems no matter how famous we become, no matter how much work we do, no matter how many gay benefits or TV shows we're on, the gay press snubs us. I heard a rumour through the grape vine that Out and Advocate refused to do stories on Buddy Babylon, and may not even review it. What assholes.
TS: Do you think that you and him being gay gives you more of a leeway with the gay community to be able to sort of poke fun at them?
B: I remember my dad saying "Nobody calls me wop, except another wop." I think it's fair for someone inside a community to be able to poke fun at that community. After all, you'd have the inside scoop. Besides, how would it be possible to live a gay life and not want to satirize it?
TS: Okay well the question on everybody's lips, what do you think about Ellen DeGeneres and her work, then? Do you even bother to follow it? Is this a cliched question or what?
B: Scott loved Ellen when she was a stand-up, before she became Miss Lesbian USA. I'm the opposite. I loved her TV show, and think she's a great physical comedian. Scott may be a bit jealous that she got so much attention for coming out, because when he came out on Canadian TV, the only people who noticed were his parents. I however support her efforts and think what she did was ground-breaking.
TS: I haven't gotten a copy of the book as of this interview, but some reviews I've read warn of a sad ending. Is this the end of Buddy? Do you and Scott plan on doing another book together?
B: We'd never kill Buddy Cole. What would be the point of that? He's a combination of the best things about ourselves. The ending is a bit sad in that Buddy finds love and loses it, but we clearly left things open for a sequel. In fact, we had to remove a huge section, about 40 pages, in which Buddy goes to the Phillipines on a modelling assignment and meets Imelda Marcos. Not ones to waste anything, we would probably use this as the basis for a second book, should we ever get the opportunity to write one.
TS: Now that the book is done, and The Larry Sanders Show is over, do you two have any plans for a new project this summer?
B: I'm hard at work on The Bette Show, and Scott's on tour to promote the book. I guess things could change if the book is a big success and we are thrown together on a follow-up project, like a film script or a second novel. We'll just have to wait and see.
TS: Tell me about The Bette Show, that you're writing for now. What is the premise?
B: Actually, I'm producing the show, not writing it. It's been written by my two partners from This Hour Has 22 Minutes, Ed Macdonald and Tim Steeves, and stars Ed's very talented sister Bette (think Carol Burnett for the
90's). It's just sketch comedy, but Bette has some excellent characters, so I think the show will turn out good.
TS: Will it be on American TV?
B: We wish. Though produced for Canada, the producers will probably seek international sales, so maybe it will turn up on American cable.
TS: Let's talk a little about the Kids in the Hall. On the show you were only shown occasionally, and wearing nothing but a towel. How did your first appearance come about?
B: The Kids were trying to think of a nice prize for a contest, and nothing was clicking. Then Mark said the best prize would be to deliver Bellini in a towel to the lucky winner. Though meant as a joke, everyone loved the idea. The next day, I was being photographed in a public park wearing ...
TS: What do you think when you see the "Bellini Day" sketch, in which a futuristic family worships the god they call Bellini? How's that for the ego?
B: Bruce used to call me "The Healer" and "The Great One", for some reason. Then Andy Jones wrote a script about a tribe in Africa worshipping me. We couldn't shoot it, but Bruce came in a few weeks later with a skit about the two guys from "Vegas" (second season) in which they worship me instead of Jesus. Bruce does things like that. The song "Al Miller" on his album is about our road manager. I was flattered, to say the least. Over the years I became the show's mascot, so the skit seemed like a logical step towards Bellinism, a religion for people who just sit and watch TV.
TS: Do you think your towel will ever be in the Canadian equivilant of the Smithsonian (The Hockey Hall of Fame?)?
B: No. But I still use the towel to dry off after a bracing shower.
TS: I'm pretty sure that I've seen Brian Hart (Another of the shows' writers) with a few spots on the show, some of them speaking. Did you ever appear before the towel days?
B: Sure. I'm a student in one skit, a panicked office worker in another, and Napoleon in "Terrier". The Kids always liked my deadpan facial expression, so they often cast me in bit parts.
TS: Do you ever get tired of the fans who only ask you stuff like "Is Mark married?" "When's Dave's brithday?" "Do Scott and Bruce get along?" "When was the last time you saw Kevin and what was he wearing?" and the like?
B: Yes, because I'm not in close contact with any of them except Scott. Usually, I just make up answers. But for the record, Mark is married, Dave's birthday is I don't know, yes Scott and Bruce get along, and the last time I saw Kevin was when we went to see Trainspotting. He was
wearing clothes at the time.
Bellini dancing on the Kids' grave at the end of the final episode.
TS: I've read that you sort of "fell into comedy." Was it not your goal to become a comedy writer? What did you want to do, really?
B: I always wanted to be a writer. Comedy seemed intimidating, especially for a non-performer like me. But Scott and I worked on projects from the first day we met in university. We did a student newspaper, made several
short films and videos, and had a groovy punk band called Mouth Congress. So working with the Kids seemed like a logical progression.
TS: Lots of our readers are young writers, and many of us aspire to be comedy writers. Do you have any tips on how to make it to the big time?
B: Yes. Don't give up. Do lots of work and don't get hung up on things becoming successful. Make lots of good creative connections. Don't be obnoxious. Work hard.
TS: Should we become Canadian? Because, as you may be aware, Canadians are funny.
B: Actually, most Canadians are pretty dull. Being funny is about being ironic, not being Canadian.
TS: I've been to your website, Paul Bellini's Living Room. Very intriguing. You seem to have a good sense of humor about yourself.
While in your Living Room, I got to sample some of your music. What do you call that kind of music, exactlly?
B: I call my music fun, even the dreary ballads, which I mean to be tongue-in-cheek. I work with different composers, so the songs evolve on their own terms. I listen to lots of different types of music, and pride myself on being able to write different styles.
TS: Did your album do any good in the charts?
B: I could never find anyone to release it. If anyone out there knows a small, quirky record distributor or label interested in my album, please let me know. I still have 700 copies sitting in my closet at home.
TS: What do you think of Bruce's album, Shame Based Man? He's got some pretty funny stuff on there. I laugh hysterrically every time I hear "When You're Fat" and that's kind of sad, 'cuz I'm fat. But he's short....
I've read that the events of "Vigil" were true-life. Was the Wayne Gretzky part true, also?
B: "Vigil" was written in Seattle, when the boys were in town doing a show days after Kurt Cobain killed himself. Kurt had written to Scott a few months earlier and wanted to meet the troupe, so their Seattle show was supposed to be a glorious meeting of minds, not the sad event that it was.
TS: Are you sad or glad about Seinfeld being gone?
B: Neither. It was a good show, but all shows (except soap operas) have to end.
TS: Any other words of wisdom you'd like to share with The Shrubbery and its readers?
B: Yes. Eat well, avoid negative thinking, surround yourself with nice people.
Special thanks to: Paul Bellini, HeatherB, BladeRogers, Gordon Dymowski, Laura Montgomery, MrTisane, Reb, all the SLanders, and the other KITH people from whom I ganked stuff.
Kids in the Hall Skit Transcripts--Go here to laugh out loud.
Barb's Kids in the Hall Page--Keep updated on the latest news.
Heather's Kids in the Hall Desktop Page--Super place for sounds, pics, and other stuff.
Djin's Kids in the Hall Audio Page--Has a great list of other KITH interviews (Be sure to check out Gordon's Prodigy page while you're there)
Scottland--Become a member today!
Hear Bellini -- The contest to end all contests Do you want an autographed copy of Bellini's CD? Follow the link!
Book review -- Scott Thompson and Paul Bellini -- Buddy Babylon: the Autobiography of Buddy Cole