Ideas and imagination…unfettered.

Paul Bellini is Going to School You in LGBT Comedy!

Paul Bellini is Going to School You in LGBT Comedy!

Update to this piece: Paul Bellini will be teaching a general sketch comedy course at George Brown College. This course is not LGBT-focused and is open to all people interested in exploring their passion for comedy. Find more information here.

Paul Bellini knows comedy—and well he should. His work with The Kids in the Hall, This Hour Has 22 Minutes as well as many projects with Scott Thompson has produced some of the funniest and most iconic characters in Canadian comedy. Witty, acerbic, observational and just downright peculiar (his naked Towel Guy is now iconic), Bellini’s brand of funny has earned him a devoted fan following and a place in Canadian comedy history. Not that he’s ready to head to the museum yet.

Bellini recently received a gold certification as co-writer (along with Gavin Bradley and Ralph Hamelmann) for the Christmas song ‘If You’re Not Here at Christmas”, performed by the Spectra Singers. He also posed bravely in nothing but a white towel for fans at the recent Kids in the Hall live show in Toronto and he’s just embarked on an exciting new venture: an intensive eight-week LGBT Comedy Course at Humber College starting in January 2014. If you’re a budding comedian, you couldn’t ask for a better teacher/mentor.

Why a queer comedy course and why now? “The head of the Chicago Second City Writing Centre is a gay guy and he actually did one of these in August,” explains Bellini of his inspiration for the course. “When I got the press release I thought, ‘what a great idea, we should be doing one in Toronto’. After all, I write LGBT comedy.” As a gay comedy writer, Bellini sees a need to have more LGBT people involved in creating the comedy since many of the gay or lesbian characters we see are largely written by straight people. “We’re still the punchline. I don’t feel that there’s hatred coming off the stage, this is not a hate crime, this is just a comedian who’s using gay as a punchline,” he explains. “My feeling is if that’s ever going to change we have to make the change. There really needs to be more gay and lesbian and transgender comedians in this world.”

“I’ll go to Spirits [a comedy club on Church Street] and there will be some straight guy making a gay joke and he doesn’t mean to be a horrible bigot, but in the back of my mind I’m thinking, ‘ewwww’,” Bellini continues when reflecting on some of the more half-assed gay punchlines. “I’ll be a gentleman and not get too much full of umbrage over it. At the same time, I’d love to not always be the brunt of the joke. One thing I want to do in my course is address things like that, even just the use of the word gay. I don’t want it to be a political thing, I want to look beyond stereotypes: what can we do to get everyone over the hump?”

I think we have to get to that next level where we see trans people and lesbians in sketch comedy.”

Photo by Tony Fong

Photo by Tony Fong

Bellini’s Humber course will be fairly comprehensive over its eight weeks. Students will receive a well-rounded approach to creating characters, sketch writing, and workshopping. There will also be discussions and a tutorial on LGBT characters in comedy over the decades where students will learn to think around and beyond the edges and margins of their own comedy. “I have a DVD which is kind of a brief overview of gay comedy through the ages, and there’s not a lot of it,” he explains of the historic part of the course. “For instance there was a movie actor in the 1930s named William Haines who was very queenie and very funny. There was Paul Lynde in the 50s. Later on we had Scott [Thompson] and Terry Sweeney, and Tommy Sexton, all openly gay men who were doing sketch comedy. Then we had Will and Grace in the 90s. I’m also showing a clip reel of The New Normal, which was Ryan Murphy’s show from last year. Sean Saves the World, which Sean Hayes plays a gay dad. Modern Family has a white gay couple adopting a child. In each case they’re white gay men. Although white I don’t think is much of a factor, only if you’re politically correct.”

One thing that Bellini has noticed in comedy writing, especially for television and film is a lack of lesbian and transgender characters. That’s something he wants to address and hopefully help change with his course. “I don’t think heterosexual writers understand how to make lesbians funny yet,” he explains of this conundrum. “Everybody knows how to make a gay man funny, because most of the stuff is written by straight guys. They understand our meticulousness and our anal retentiveness and our antiquing predilections and all the gay clichés, which are fine because clichés are basically often true, that’s the basis of comedy. We’re comfortable with these representations of gay men raising children and all this stuff, but I think we have to get to that next level where we see trans people and lesbians in sketch comedy.”

To that end, Bellini wants to create a learning environment that is both safe and inspiring so that people from a broad spectrum of the LGBT community can put aside any shyness and cut their comedy chops. “[The students] have to feel that trust in the room, that no one’s going to feel judged, that we can write really sexual or personal material and find a way to make it funny,” he explains. “I want people to actually write sketches in the classroom. I like to get people to pair off and give them a half hour to create the sketch. Then we read it aloud so their work is constantly getting feedback,” he continues. “I like to think whoever takes the course will get something out of it. If you don’t learn exactly how to write, at least you’ll understand what is necessary to go into a sketch and the approach they should take as gay people.”

Why hide from who and what you are? You can’t do that in comedy.”

Selfie by Paul Bellini

Selfie by Paul Bellini

As an added bonus, Bellini hopes to have some special guests to speak about their own experiences at his Humber course. “I’ve asked Crystal Lite because I want to a section on drag and comedy. I think Mandy [Goodhandy] would be wonderful because she’s been doing microphone stuff for a long time and now she’s into stand up. I think someone like Richard Ryder whom I respect enormously because he’s out there doing gay comedy for all kinds of audiences. Maggie [Cassella], Elvira [Kurt], the ladies that I’ve known so well over the years. Whoever I can get who’s available. I would like to bring them in because in a classroom it’s good to meet working professionals who are doing comedy.”

Paul Bellini’s comedy philosophy is rooted in truth in characters and their creators. If you are an LGBT comedian, then you should never feel you have to hide your comedic light under a bushel. Instead, bring that unique perspective to your comedy and let your big gay light shine. “I wasn’t going to stay in the closet for my career,” Bellini says. “I don’t know the point in that. Comedy is so personal that you have to be you. Why hide from who and what you are? You can’t do that in comedy.”

Paul Bellini’s eight-week LGBT Comedy Course at Humber College Lakeshore Campus starts January 23, 2014. To learn more and register, visit the LGBT Comedy Workshop page.

Feature photo by Andre Tardif

AndyAndrew Vail’s writing career began in Halifax when he was but a child. In Grade 4, he wrote and produced his own series of comic books entitled “Freaky The Frog”, the on-going tale of a little misfit frog and his pals of the pond. Marvel Comics never came knocking but Andrew knew he loved to create and tell stories. Since then, Andrew has worked in advertising, PR and publicity; has interviewed politicians, rock stars and very interesting yet not-so-famous movers and shakers. He has published articles in a variety of local and national magazines and websites. Andrew is currently working on the project

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

No Comments



Leave a Comment