When Will Packer says a person is a rising star in Hollywood, then he or she is one to watch.
After all, the man who’s produced theatrical hits like “Straight Outta Compton,” “Ride Along” and the “Think Like a Man” films would know a little something, something about what it takes to make it in this business.
Therefore, we should keep our eyes glued on Tone Bell.
Bell, a 33-year-old standup comic from Atlanta, stars as Russell in NBC’s latest sitcom, “Truth Be Told.” The show centers around two couples who are neighbors and best friends: Mitch (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) and his wife Tracy (Vanessa Lachey), and newlyweds Russell and Angie (Bresha Webb).
On the show, which is based on creator DJ Nash’s life, Mitch is white, Tracy’s ethnicity has yet to be revealed, and Russell and Angie are both black American. “Truth Be Told” promises to address serious topics regarding race, relationships and everyday life in honest, candid and humorous ways (the pilot episode addressed the n-word’s usage).
"They like me and I like working with them. They're the first people who ever reached out to me and give me a shot," Bell said.
With this great relationship, it shouldn’t be a surprise that he was a top choice for “Truth Be Told.” The network arranged for him to meet with Nash and the show’s executive producer, Packer, last January and an hour later, he was offered the gig, Bell said.
"It was a great meet. We had similar views on comedy and things we want to do and won't do. And, it let us be comfortable with each other. If he's not around he knows that I won't go off course. And he won't ask me to do anything that he wouldn't do," Bell said of Packer.
Packer said he believes in Bell and that he spotted his talented before the comic joined the show.
"This is going to be one to watch. He has the the skill set, he has the business acumen and he has the personality and charisma that audiences are going to resonate and flock to," Packer said.
Aside from "Truth Be Told," Bell's first Comedy Central 30-minute special airs Nov. 28. He's also working on his hour-long special for next year and is writing a yet-to-be-titled show for FX that has to be turned in over the next few weeks.
I recently had the pleasure of meeting and chilling with Bell, Packer and Gosselaar in Chicago (read my interview with Packer here and look out for my sit-down with Gosselaar next week). Staying true to his standup roots, Bell performed after the gathering. But, before he took off, we talked about varying comedic tastes, what it’s like being a young black man in Hollywood and the difference between Richard Pryor and Bill Cosby fans.
“Truth Be Told” airs Fridays at 8:30 p.m. ET.
WATCH: “Truth Be Told” Episode 1
"Truth Be Told" addresses a few provocative topics. Do you have any concerns about how people may interpret some of the humor?
TONE BELL: I’ve been in meetings where people get offended. Everybody is touchy at some point. You ever watch a YouTube video and you laugh and think, “This is hilarious.” And then you look at it, it has a thousand thumbs ups and like 12 thumbs down? And, you’re like, “They just wanted to hate it.” And if that’s the case, don’t look at it.
We want to live in a gray area where it's OK to agree to disagree. Do you know how many couples have made it because they've agreed to disagree? A lot of friends have made it that way. It's OK to be different and it's OK to not understand one another but it's not OK to not know why.
Why should people keep tuning in to “Truth Be Told”?
BELL: [People watching] Netflix and chill[ing] is so big right now. Give NBC a chill. Give us a shot. It’s funny. I’m very organic in the show. Who doesn’t love Mark-Paul from “Saved by the Bell”? You get to see him basically play a version of our creator DJ Nash. DJ Nash’s best friend is black. I play a version of him, who is kind of like myself: a standup comedian and actor. It’s four very real people and it’s grounded. It’s not wack and zany and you don’t have to think too much.
You can run out to Target real quick and grab a four pack of toilet paper and come back. And you can have an interesting story happen with some dude or the cashier or something happens at your car. These are the things that happen and we have these moments of realization like, "Oh, man, that was funny. Somebody's been through this too." And, it's not a gimmicky funny. It's really funny.
Do you worry about the script coming off as corny or just not being funny?
BELL: Back to the YouTube videos, anybody can say anything that is corny. I’m a comic and I go from city to city. I get on stage and I can tell the same jokes in Miami that I tell in Cleveland, and the crowd could love it or could hate it. It’s my perspective. Hopefully enough people will like it than dislike it. I remember watching stuff from 20 years ago and parents are like this is hilarious. And, I’m like, “This isn’t funny to me. It’s back.” But, you know what? I was 12 and now I look at it differently.
Among black comedians, people either pick Richard Pryor or Bill Cosby. People who like Richard Pryor love “Martin.” People who love Bill Cosby, love Will Smith, they love “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” I’m a bigger Will Smith fan, I’m a bigger “Fresh Prince” fan. But I think “Martin” is genius. I think it’s hilarious. It was amazing. I love Pryor. I think he was amazing. But I was a bigger Cosby fan. So it’s not like anything is better than the other. People are looking for different things. That’s not anybody’s fault. The fault is with people speaking negatively about anybody having an opinion. It’s OK not to like something. I don’t like avocado. I love the idea of it but I just don’t get it. Am I wrong for it? No, it’s just me. The Earth ain’t going to stop making avocados because I don’t like them.
WATCH: “Truth Be Told” Episode 2
Would you say this show has a particular audience?
BELL: I don’t think this show has an audience. I’ve always been a big fan of “Seinfeld” and even the comic. But, I have a lot of my friends now from when I was growing up who are black who just started watching it and thought it was hilarious. I think [“Truth Be Told”] is one of those shows that mature over time. We may not catch every microbe of a demo. When I was a kid, my parents never sat me in front of a TV to watch Saturday morning cartoons. I was watching “227”—I’m 9-years-old watching “227”!? I think sometimes we get caught up in who likes this or that. Do 20 to 30-year-olds? If there’s a mature 19-year-old in college, they can get just as much as a 60-year-old who is kicking it and spry.
What is it like to be a young black man in Hollywood at this time?
BELL: I just live there. My body’s there but my mind ain’t there. That means that I am in L.A. for my work. I’m just a kid from Georgia who got a shot and I’m taking it and when I’m done, I’m done.