Where Style Meets Substance

Hollywood fashion expert, VIP personal shopper and commentator Joseph "Joe" Katz brings you interviews with celebrities and influencers about their style and personal experiences. He also shares the best beauty & lifestyle tips and tricks to help you look and feel your best.

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Stand-Up Comedian and Actor Tone Bell: Cracking the "Comedy Code" and Starring in 'The United States VS. Billie Holiday'

Stand-Up Comedian and Actor Tone Bell: Cracking the "Comedy Code" and Starring in 'The United States VS. Billie Holiday'

Stand-Up Comedian and Actor, Tone Bell, discusses his experience trying to break into the business and landing his role in the Oscar-nominated drama, The United States VS. Billie Holiday. He shares personal stories about his upbringing, how he cracked the “comedy code”, and gives insight into his personal style.

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The Katz Walk is a production of Evergreen Podcasts. A special thank you to Executive Producer Gerardo Orlando, Producer Leah Longbrake and Audio Engineer Dave Douglas.

WARNING- EXPLICIT LANGUAGE


Joe Katz:
Hi, guys. I'm Joe Katz. Welcome to the Katz Walk. I am so excited today to have Tone Bell, actor, standup comedian extraordinaire. He is going to share with you some of his exciting stories of starting in standup comedy and then landing his key role in the United States vs. Billie Holiday. Check it out.

Joe Katz:
Tone Bell's in the house. How are you?

Tone Bell:
I'm doing great, man. Doing great. Good to see you.

Joe Katz:
Good to see you too. Well, thank you so much for joining my show. I have so much to ask you. I saw your special on the Amazon, which was great.

Tone Bell:
Yeah, man. I appreciate it.

Joe Katz:
I did some research.

Tone Bell:
And I appreciate you doing a little bit of research.

Joe Katz:
Yes, I've got to know a little bit more about Tone, and we want to talk about United States vs. Billie holiday. That was fabulous.

Tone Bell:
Thank you. Yeah, man, that was a different one, but I loved it.

Joe Katz:
That was really, really interesting. We'll get more into that too, but I wanted to start out here I am with my bow-tie because I'm a stylist, so I'm into fashion, and I style people, and I do everything with fashion, but I like to know a little bit more about ... Everybody talks about the roles you've done and dah-dah-dah-dah, but I'd like to know a little bit more about who you are. Who is Tone Bell and how did you grow up and where did you come from? I'd like to just know a little bit more about your life, so I just wanted to know growing up, where did you grow up?

Tone Bell:
I grew up just outside of Atlanta. I'm from Atlanta, Georgia, just southeast, Stone Mountain, Decatur, Georgia, about 15, 20 minutes outside of the city. But I would say I grew up all over. I spent the majority of the school year in Atlanta, and then every summer I'd get shipped off to extended family in St. Louis or Chicago. So I've been kind of bouncing back and forth basically my whole life. I guess my formative years were in mostly Atlanta.

Joe Katz:
And what was life like growing up? Did you grow up in just a normal kind of family? Was it just very everyday, white picket fence?

Tone Bell:
Not a lot of white picket fences, but mom and dad's still together. They're from St. Louis originally, and then every few years, I would say things got better, from an apartment to a small lower-class and then lower middle-class. And then by the time I was in probably high school, midway through high schools, lower middle-class, or I would say probably middle class by then, and then by the time I went to college. Luckily, I got a scholarship, so my parents were breathing a little easier. Now, they're comfortable, but it was just the struggle, two parents hustling. They both had two jobs growing up. I grew up in that definitely suburban but not gated community. Still saw a lot of crazy shit growing up.

Tone Bell:
I wouldn't say I was too over-protected, but I saw a lot growing up. My buddy, James Davis, has a joke called Hood Adjacent, so I guess I was pretty hood-adjacent. As much as I didn't live in the shit, I was across the street from it. Just being a teenager has gotten some trouble here and there and just probably trying to be something I wasn't. Kind of get into performing arts in high school and took theater classes. Not at really the theater school, but started doing with sketch comedy with this group that I was associated with. My high school that I went to, I ended up going to a shitty private high school, actually, but also on the other side of being a black teenager in Atlanta, I've been to the parties and had to run from gunfire and seeing people get jumped and people get shot and all that kind of stuff. So there's a wide array of childhood.

Tone Bell:
Then went to college in Savannah and graduated 2004 from Savannah State. Then hopped around, went to San Francisco for an ad agency job, taught first grade before I did that, and worked for Anheuser-Busch for about seven years corporate, moonlighting doing comedy at night. Did a small stint of corporate work in Miami, New Orleans, and then I spent the most time in Dallas. It's where I got my comedy career started. And then when I realized sales and marketing wasn't for me, and I fell in love with standup, and then in 2011 moved to LA.

Joe Katz:
Wow. What a background. Because I watched your special, and you were talking about going to work for Anheuser-Busch, and I want to get into that because it's interesting that you go from that to this to this, and where you are today is awesome. But when you say you saw a lot of things, because I grew up in the Midwest. I grew up in Iowa and then I moved to Minneapolis and New York and LA, and I've seen so many different things, and we all go through different things, but when you say was it dangerous in your neighborhood or not really when you were growing up?

Tone Bell:
I would say by the time I was in junior high, high school, the eighth, ninth grade, I guess when I was 13, 14, I think our neighborhood was probably the most diverse neighborhood, and my parents still live in that house, but I would say we had very few, I would say, white neighbors or diverse neighbors. It was probably predominantly a black neighborhood or whatever, but a very nice neighborhood. And then by the time I got to junior high, high school, honestly the only white neighbors I had were probably old as fuck. They were all super-old. But it was a good neighborhood of just a nice working-class black community, but I wouldn't even call it a neighborhood. I guess it was more of a suburb. You drive into a neighborhood with a sign in front of "This is Wilshire Downs," or some shit like that. We didn't have like a label of the neighborhood.

Joe Katz:
It was just a neighborhood.

Tone Bell:
It was the neighborhood, but everybody took care of their house. It was dope. It was definitely a different feeling of that neighborhood from 12, 13, 14 from 5, 6 years before that, because it was a little different. I would say that was a little more dangerous, but as a kid, you don't know what you see. You just see your neighbors, but your mom's like, "Hey, I need to be able to see you." Whereas by the time I was 12, 13, the neighborhood was a little more, I don't know if it was safer. I think you could trust it a little more, and she didn't mind. We know the neighbors now, and your friends down the street, their parents do what we do, and they want to see the best for us.

Tone Bell:
But by that time, I was cutting grass in the summer. A week after and the weekends playing baseball and soccer and basketball. I definitely watched the levels, as a kid, of my parents do better and want more. I was never the kid that had Jordans growing up. I remember when Filas came out, and I wanted some, and they were a hundred bucks, and my mom got me Ocean Pacifics, and I was like, "I cannot." High-tech boots were a big deal, name brand, everything, and we weren't there yet, but I was like, "I can't wear this to school." My classmates would ruin you. It's happened plenty of times, but it was in that era of what are you wearing, what do you have on?

Joe Katz:
Oh, yeah.

Tone Bell:
I would look up friends down the street, who my parents were probably doing better, but they spent money on throw pillows and curtains. So we looked like we were doing better, but the clothes were just, it was like, "Man, I can't keep up." I was borrowing clothes and, "Hey, man. If you're not wearing this jacket, can I wear this starter jacket?" I remember my mom in fifth grade got me, I think it was called a ProStarter, starter jackets were huge, and I got a ProStarter, and I used to cuff the sleeve back so you didn't see that I didn't have the starter logo.

Joe Katz:
Oh, right. You had the ProStarter.

Tone Bell:
I had a ProStarter and man, it was ... Everybody else had the zip-up, but I had the pull-over with the big pocket in the front, and oh, man. It was embarrassing.

Joe Katz:
All the things we go through because we want to ... I remember Calvin Klein jeans, I'm a little older than you, but that was the whole thing in fashion, and everybody had to have certain things. Did you go through things like you got involved with groups that maybe weren't as good, or you kind of stayed away from that stuff?

Tone Bell:
No, not really. My group of friends were, we were, I would say, at best mischievous. By the time I got to high school and I started getting jealous of what I didn't have, it was work and pay for it. But we did a lot of stealing.

Joe Katz:
Oh, a lot of stealing.

Tone Bell:
Yeah. We'd go to Macy's, Marshall's, and TJ Maxx and stuff, and if we didn't steal it, we would change the price tags. Right?

Joe Katz:
Oh, the ticket.

Tone Bell:
Yeah. We would change the price tag, so we would take the yellow and red clearance tags, so we'd take a $4. If you could peel it off, we'd walk around the store, act like we were looking, and then we'd put it on a Tommy Hilfiger jacket. And so we get up to the register, "Man, this jacket's only $8." We were like, "I know. That's why I had to get it." So we'd put a clearance tag over something that was like $50, $60 bucks. So it was stealing, but we still paid for it.

Joe Katz:
Yeah, you paid for it.

Tone Bell:
But if they'd put the sticker on better, I wouldn't be able to peel it up. We switched stickers and stuff. If we wanted a wallet, we'd just take all our stuff from our pocket, put it in a wallet, and then use that wallet to take our money out to pay for something else. But in the meantime, we're stealing the wallet too.

Joe Katz:
Oh, wow. You were smart. You were good doing it. Wow.

Tone Bell:
We had some schemes back in the day. Not always the best kid, but never anything violent. It was more just like, "Hey, man. I've got to keep up."

Joe Katz:
Yeah, yeah. Was there that vibe in your neighborhood, the violent stuff, or not as much?

Tone Bell:
Like I said, we would go to some parties and stuff, and there'd be fights and stuff. Not all the time, but occasionally you'd see that.

Joe Katz:
Just normal.

Tone Bell:
Then just kids hanging out, and older kids come in. We'd be hanging out off Memorial Drive or something. They had a teen party or whatever, and you'd hear gunshots. I think when I was in Chicago, I saw my first gun fight when I was 12.

Joe Katz:
Oh, my God. Are you scared of that, or are you like, because you don't seem like that tough, that kind that's like, "Look, I'm going to mess you up." You seem like a nice guy.

Tone Bell:
I've never been afraid of a fight, but luckily, I haven't had to get into a lot of them. I used to work at my aunt's. My aunt had a store in the city off of Huntington Cottage Grove in Chicago, right across street from the projects. She had a little corner store, and she owned this little strip mall, a hairdresser, dry cleaner, and she had a very tiny little grocery store, just neighborhood store, and a kid that she helped raise, I saw him every summer. I think by this time, he's probably, I don't know, early 20s. He has a daughter, and he was getting into ... Remember when the radios had the face you could pop off?

Joe Katz:
Oh yeah, yeah, yeah.

Tone Bell:
So it was that '90s era of when you leave the car.

Joe Katz:
Oh, you'd take that off. Yeah.

Tone Bell:
Yeah, but I was working the register at 12, and I'm giving out cigarettes and lottery tickets, all this kind of stuff. I'm selling that kind of stuff, and then these two, I'm not going to say names, but these two guys came in, and I guess they were fighting over a girl. First time I've seen it. And one dude pulled a gun on this other dude, and he pushes his daughter, "Hey, go over there," and he didn't have a weapon on him, so he just literally grabbed a bottle of barbecue sauce. They were about to have it out right in front of the register in the store, and my aunt came down the steps after seeing it and just was, "I raised both of y'all. If y'all want to kill each other, go outside."

Tone Bell:
I've seen a lot of close calls, and I've been in a car that's been jacked. I think the craziest one was, I was probably five, six feet away, me and my buddy Dominic were probably five, six feet away from a dude that shot at a gas station after a party one night. You just hear gunshots, and you just run. This was pre-cellphone. Just had to figure out where we parked and everything. Then after it was really like, "Man, you can't be shooting at a gas station. That shit's super-damn."

Joe Katz:
Oh, my gosh.

Tone Bell:
But I would say those are very rare occurrences. I've seen a lot of stuff. My best friend now from high school, he runs Magic City, a famous strip club in Atlanta, but we grew up together. It actually took me until last year to realize that I was one of the only dudes in my crew that had a dad there all the time. Between some dads not being around and in prison or ... When we were in 10th grade, my buddy's dad got murdered right across the street from our school. It was crazy. So I've seen a lot of shit, but also never really thought back about it until I had a year of contemplating last year. You know what I mean? Started looking through life, and you see all that kind of stuff, and you go, "Wow, man." A lot of dark days, but a lot of light days too.

Joe Katz:
Wow. You have a lot of interesting friends, one that owns a strip club too.

Tone Bell:
Yeah.

Joe Katz:
Get free access to it.

Tone Bell:
We went a lot different ways, a lot of different industries.

Joe Katz:
Yes, yes, yes. You got entertainment, they got strip clubs, everything. You cover all the bases. You seem like this very kind of clean-cut guy. It's interesting to hear your background, so I'd like to understand what people, where they came from.

Tone Bell:
Yeah. I hear that often, and I guess I don't think about it, because I guess my friends and I from high school and college, we all still talk, and everybody's doing better than how we came up, but I think that's every generation's idea. Everybody's parents want you to do better than they did. Just being around it and seeing it, not being involved in it so much, but also it's right around the corner. I do hear that a lot of, "Oh, it didn't seem like you." Even though I went to a private school, it was not a good one. It was a very shitty private school. They're shut down now. There's so many scandals and all this. If you ever look that up, if you look up Chapel Hill Harvester, oh, man. The headlines that you will read, it's very culty. It was wild. Luckily, I didn't get too enthralled in it. It was different. It was very different.

Joe Katz:
Wow. Were you a popular kid growing up?

Tone Bell:
I went to such a small high school that everybody was popular.

Joe Katz:
Yeah. What about grade school. Were you a popular kid?

Tone Bell:
I was probably in the middle. I wasn't a lame kid, but I wasn't the popular kid. I was in the middle. I was funny, but I wasn't stylish, and girls didn't like me like me, but didn't dislike me. You know what I mean? I think I probably came into my own of having a little bit of swag probably my junior and senior year of high school.

Joe Katz:
Of high school.

Tone Bell:
Because I got kicked out of, well, I didn't get invited back my junior year, and so my senior year, I had to go to a different school, and I came from a different school, so that was different. "Oh." And that high school was small. My graduating class was seven.

Joe Katz:
Seven people.

Tone Bell:
Seven. I think it was the first year for a high school. It was a very small private school.

Joe Katz:
It sounds very fancy that you're at a private school.

Tone Bell:
It was shitty. Wonderful people, wonderful people. I would say all the teachers and the principal or the headmaster, everybody was great, but it was like if you ever go to a restaurant, and you're like, "This shouldn't be open."

Joe Katz:
Oh, yeah, yeah.

Tone Bell:
The food is probably great, but there's no way that y'all passed the inspection. It was kind of like that. Actually, now that I'm thinking about it, I think that's one reason my parents weren't worried about me returning to the school I was at, because it was some accreditation shit going on, and I think the senior class before me, a lot of people didn't get into college because like they didn't have the right credits, so they had to wait a year. It was like, "Oh, you're getting out of here anyway." And then I had to go to a different high school that allowed me to get the right credits for college.

Joe Katz:
Right. Oh, wow. So then you went on to college, and then from college, you became a teacher?

Tone Bell:
Yeah, I graduated '04, and then I taught first grade for a year after college, because I was 20, and I was turning 21 that summer, and I didn't know what I was going to do. And it was go back to Atlanta like everybody else, and I did not want to go live at home. I don't want to go back to my parents' house, so I stayed in Savannah for a year and worked. I started off as a permanent sub, and then took two classes and did a year. And then right before, I feel shitty about this, but right before, I want to say it was April, maybe early May, I auditioned for the HBO film Warm Springs with Cynthia Nixon, and I had a very small part in that, but, "I quit. Hollywood called. I'm not coming back."

Joe Katz:
Oh. Hold it. This was when you were a teacher.

Tone Bell:
Yeah.

Joe Katz:
Oh, and you got the part.

Tone Bell:
Yeah. It didn't end up making it, but yeah. So I went to Rome, Georgia, and shot for two days. It ended up on the cutting room floor, and I want to say it was Cynthia Nixon and ... Man, that was so long ago, I forget the other actor's name, but it was an HBO original film. And then I was like, "Okay, great. I'm out. Hollywood called." And then I was trying to audition for small parts, but I was working for this lady who did real estate, and I was doing all her copy. I could write back then, and I was doing Photoshop and all that kind of stuff, so I was doing all her mailers and email blasts, all that kind of stuff. And then through that, I got this advertising gig with Swivel Media in San Francisco, so I moved out West.

Joe Katz:
And so then you decided I'm not, because sometimes you think if you go into something, like teaching or substituting, "Eh." Before you know it, you just get caught-up, and 10 years go by, and you're still a teacher. But you were able to kind of move out of that.

Tone Bell:
Well, one is I don't know if I were in Atlanta what would have happened, or a different city what would have happened? But I know in Savannah, Savannah was 70,000 at the time that. The city's that big. For college, it was just small enough and just big enough to go, "Oh, I can have fun here, but I don't know if I want to live here." So just trying to figure myself out a year after that was great. It was great. I had a little small house. It was, I think, two bedrooms. It might've been 750 square feet, old school house, great big porch out front and nice little backyard, detached garage. I think I paid like $600 bucks a month for this house.

Joe Katz:
Oh, wow.

Tone Bell:
It was amazing.

Joe Katz:
And then you gave it up, because you got this gig in San Francisco.

Tone Bell:
No, I went back to Atlanta for a little bit, probably just shy of a year. And then I got this job, and I went to training in Chicago, and then moved to the West coast for the gig. I did that just for about a year, went back to Atlanta for six months, started doing the promotion job, the one I mentioned in my special, and then I got tapped by someone at Anheuser-Busch, and they're like, "Hey, do you got a resume? You have a degree?" And literally, probably a few weeks, maybe a month after that, I got a phone call and had one phone interview and then moved on to corporate from the agency.

Joe Katz:
Wow. And so then you did that for seven years.

Tone Bell:
Yeah. So I got about, I would say, four promotions over seven years. They kept me down in Miami for a few months. I was traveling a lot. It's almost like a paid internship when you first get in. So they give you this fun job of traveling, doing events, and just learning the company and all the perks that make you go, "Oh, I want to do this forever." It was almost like a paid-to-party thing. You know what I mean? You still do reports and learning what's on your dashboard and your KPIs and your ROIs and all this kind of stuff. It was great, it was great. The culture, a lot of fun friends, and I met a lot of people. Even to this day, people that I worked with, they still come out to the shows. A lot of my corporate friends who still work for the company, if I'm in that town, then they'll come out. But yeah, it was great.

Joe Katz:
So then how did you decide, "You know what? I'm going to leave this, and I'm going to try standup."

Tone Bell:
I got to Dallas '07, fall '07, and by January '08, I decided I wanted to entertain, I wanted to perform. They Weren't shooting a lot of stuff in Texas at the time. There wasn't a lot of TV and auditions and stuff like that. There might've been two agents that I remember, but I had a need to perform, and I just wanted to express myself. I think the easiest thing for me to do to at least get that out of my system was standup. It's a selfish thing, because if it works, I get all the credit, but if it doesn't work, I didn't waste anybody else's time.

Joe Katz:
Right. But standup isn't easy just to step in and be, "Hey, I'm going to be a standup."

Tone Bell:
Right, but I'm also in a city where nobody really knows me.

Joe Katz:
Oh, okay.

Tone Bell:
So if it doesn't go well, I lose nothing.

Joe Katz:
I see.

Tone Bell:
I don't know if I would have started in Atlanta just because I'm from there and I know so many people there, I don't know if I would have done it. But yeah, it was great. The community there, it was probably eight clubs when I started, and then a lot of spots around town. And then I had a company car which, Oh, I mean, that's ... I had free gas. I'd just drive to every show. So as a comic, I've never really struggled, because I had a day gig. I'm going 8:00 to 6:00, 8:00 to 7:00 with clients and stuff, and then I'd leave at 7:30, go hit the open mic, and then hopefully six months after that I'm doing book shows. Six months after that, I'm doing small towns and featuring for friends.

Tone Bell:
So that happened from, I think, top of '08 through '11. Top of '11, I was dating a girl. It wasn't working out. She moved from Florida to Texas to be with me, and then she didn't get the career, and she had no ambition, so it was, "You've got to go." And so as I'm driving, I was driving her back to Florida in her car, I told her parents, "Yo, she coming home." I think we had just crossed the Texas-Louisiana border, and I got a call, "Hey, you're being laid off," and I was like, "Oh, thank God. I've been trying to get laid off for two years."

Joe Katz:
Yay.

Tone Bell:
It was like a reverse affirmative action. I could not get fired. Being one of the only black people in this department out of hundreds, I could not get fired. I was trying to get let go.

Joe Katz:
You wanted them to.

Tone Bell:
Yeah. I wanted my severance so I could focus on comedy. And then they finally gave me a lay-off, and I was like, "I'll take it." And they're like, "Bring your computer and your car back," and I was like, "I'm handling some other business right now, but when I'm back on Monday, I'll buy one of those I-just-got-fired brown boxes, and I will bring everything back." And then they offered me a promotion with a crazy salary jump. I think it was probably a $40 grand salary jump, but I would have to travel about 90%, and I was like, "This is going to ruin this dream of doing standup. I think I'm getting really good at this." I said no to that. So that's April 2011, and then by August 2011, I moved out to LA.

Joe Katz:
Wow. So you turned down, they offered you $40,000 increase, and they said, "We're laying you off." Then they said, "No, wait. We're going to hire you and give you $40,000 more."

Tone Bell:
Right. HR called me, and then a different department called to say, "Hey," which apparently happens. We went through at one point, I think this was a year prior, I think in 2010, they had a cattle-call layoff. It was while we were at a conference, and then everybody with this position had to go into a room one at a time and figure out if you're getting laid off or a promotion. I beat that one. It was, "Bring your stuff in." Probably a hundred of us, and then you go in one at a time, your time slot, and they let you know if you're going to keep a job or if you're going to move or if you're going to get transferred to something. It's like being on the football team.

Joe Katz:
Right. If you're chosen.

Tone Bell:
And then you just get cut.

Joe Katz:
Right. Right. Right.

Tone Bell:
And then I made that cut. I probably bypassed about two or three cuts, but I didn't want to be, what was it, I think the role was a KAM.

Joe Katz:
Corporate account manager?

Tone Bell:
No, it was a K. I forgot what the fuck that stood for, but I did not want to be a KAM. I was 28 years old, and they would've paid me between $91,000 and $110,000 or something like that was the range. Great money for my age, but I'm not a beer guy. I'm not a sales guy.

Joe Katz:
Wow. So then you said no to that job. They laid you off, they brought you back, said $40,000, you said no to that. But you were making enough to just keep yourself going doing standup.

Tone Bell:
I had a nice nest egg, but I wasn't really making money off comedy. I was making gas money off comedy, but luckily, I had all those years built up of gas money and corporate cards so I could get dinner. A lot of my, I guess, clients really supported my career. My biggest clients were 7-Eleven and Circle K, and a lot of them were a lot of black people, a lot of people of color, a lot of immigrants and everything, who started a business. So people were like, "Hey, man. If you want to live this dream, invite us out, we'll bring the whole family." Very, very, very supportive, very supportive. I can invite them before I can invite my coworkers, because my boss hated it. Dude, my boss hated it. He was, "You can't have two jobs." And I was like, "What the fuck you talking about? This is a hobby. It was a hobby. I'm just doing this on the weekends. You go fishing on the weekends."

Joe Katz:
Do you think he was jealous?

Tone Bell:
He looked like Ron White.

Joe Katz:
Or just corporate-y?

Tone Bell:
Jealous? I don't know if it was jealous, but I don't think he wanted to see me thrive at it. I felt like he just had that, "Hey, your time is mine during the week." I remember him saying something like, "Hey, man. You work for me." I was like, "I kind of look at it like we work together." You know what I mean? "We work for the same company. You don't sign my checks." And then he actually said that one time, "Who do you think signs your checks?"

Joe Katz:
Not you.

Tone Bell:
And I was like, "Motherfucker, not you. You don't sign my checks. You might approve it, but you don't sign that shit."

Joe Katz:
Right. You ain't signing nothing.

Tone Bell:
One time we were at a Jimmy Buffet concert, because we sponsored Jimmy, and he was hammered. His wife apologized so many times, but he made me do standup at a tailgate party while he was fucked up, and it was so embarrassing.

Joe Katz:
And you did it?

Tone Bell:
That's when he was like, "I sign your checks. You're going to do some standup."

Joe Katz:
Oh, and so you did it.

Tone Bell:
I'm not even dirty, but I did the dirtiest set I could think of, because kids were around, and I'm like, "He's being a dick." I did all kinds of finger-blasting jokes and blow job jokes. Shit that I don't even do, and then they cut me off three minutes in, and I was like, "Yeah. That's what you get for putting me on.

Joe Katz:
That's right. You're like [crosstalk 00:28:15].

Tone Bell:
So I'm never invited to shows and stuff. Yeah. They tried to reach out in the last couple of years, but I'm very petty on them. If you didn't support me then, you can't support me now. I don't forgive shit like that. I hold a good grudge.

Joe Katz:
That was not a cool thing for him to do.

Tone Bell:
Right. And I've got a feeling even now, if he sees me on something or his wife sees me on something, he's like, "Yeah. You know, he used to work for me." Just knowing he said shit like that?

Joe Katz:
He's mine.

Tone Bell:
Oh, fuck. I couldn't stand it.

Joe Katz:
He's still mine.

Tone Bell:
I couldn't stand it.

Joe Katz:
Yeah. Yeah. Did you always want to do comedy and acting? Was that always the thing?

Tone Bell:
Yeah. I'm a huge Will Smith fan. Actually, like I said, last year I did a lot of self-discovery, but for some reason, I think the theme of Fresh Prince really resonated with me, so I always felt like Will Smith, family sending him out of town to have a better life. So I really attached to that idea, and I was like, "I'm going to do what he's doing." And life is happening how it happens. I've done the sitcoms and wanting to do that thing.

Tone Bell:
My mom asked me what I wanted to do when I was 12, and I go, "I'm going to do what Will Smith's doing." She's like, "So you want to be on TV?" At first, she was like, "Well, you want to be like a news reporter or something else?" I was like, "No, no. I want to do that. What are you talking about?" And she was like, "Okay, we don't know how to do that." She's the only reason why I went to college. I was going to just come straight to LA when I was 18, and she was like, "If nothing else, just do me a favor. Give me four years, go to college, graduate, and then you can do whatever you want." We made that agreement, and then after that, I did my four years, and I figured out how to squeeze my way into Hollywood.

Joe Katz:
But a lot of people go into standup, I see it here in LA, you see it, I'm sure, that are in the clubs. Very funny, very talented, super talented, but it's that next step. How do you get there? You see so many people, and some do, some get on great shows and all that stuff, but there are just some that are at the Comedy Store, the Laugh Factory, whatever they are, those are the clubs here in LA, where's that jump that took you to that next level?

Tone Bell:
I had a very different path. It's hard, because as soon as you book something or are getting noticed for something, people who are peers or striving for the same thing ask you how you did it or your advice or whatever, and it's very difficult for me to give advice, because my experience is just very different. Another comedian, Mark Agee, we moved out here and became roommates August 2011, and by September, I had booked two national commercials. I had no agent. I kind of crashed these auditions. Then the end of that month, I ended up doing this NBC, back then it was called Standup for Diversity. Now it's called Standup NBC.

Joe Katz:
Yeah, I've heard of it.

Tone Bell:
So I ended up doing that. I did it four years in a row. I did it from '08 to 2011, every year got closer and closer, and then I figured I cracked the formula of what they're looking for and how to be in the top 10, because I didn't want to win, but I did want to be in the top 10.

Joe Katz:
So I did it every year.

Tone Bell:
Yeah. So I traveled every year to just chip away at this. A bunch of people, that I respected and had great careers at the time and still do, had come through their program, and I didn't know how to break in. "All right. It's a lot of white guys to sift through and a lot of great black comics to sift through them and great, wonderful black actors to sift through, but how do I get noticed?" And that got me noticed by NBC, and so after November, December, I had a deal with NBC to be signed in January. I hadn't even been in town six months.

Joe Katz:
Wow.

Tone Bell:
So I had a holding deal with NBC for the next year. Then within 10 months, I'm a series of regular on Whitney on NBC. I hadn't been in town a year, and I'm a lead on the show. People were like, "How did you ...?" "I don't know. I played my cards right." But it's also I'm sleeping on an air mattress, really just stacking, saving money. We live in a very shitty apartment very, very, very high in the valley, me and Mark did, and luckily we never had to get jobs. I didn't have to be a way to valet or go find another.

Tone Bell:
I actually got offered a couple jobs in the beverage industry, and they were at night. "I need my nights. During the day, I might think about it, but I need my nights." So I just turned it down. I had, man, probably $50, $60 grand in the bank maybe, and I was like, "If I play this right, I should be able to survive at least for two years." Because I didn't want a lot. I was traveling a lot, so from all my previous jobs, I was able to save a lot of money for my age, and by the time I got out here, this is what this was for.

Joe Katz:
You said, "I needed to crack the code with the Standup for Diversity." What was that code that when you chipped away from '08 to '11, you got this one thing, you knew what it was?

Tone Bell:
Well, I was looking at who had won previously and what their story was. "All right. I need to prove three things in this very short six-minute set. Can I be witty enough in six minutes to give them a surprise?" Just doing that 180 in a joke. You think I'm going this direction, but it's going that direction.

Joe Katz:
Right. And take that other.

Tone Bell:
To have a perspective of who I am and where I come from and just how I observe things. And like, "Here's my perspective on the world and life, so this is my angle and humor." And then, "Can I create another character and do an act out? So can I show you I can write, can I show you I can act, and can I show you I have a perspective?" If I can do those three things in six minutes, I should have enough attention to-

Joe Katz:
To get their attention.

Tone Bell:
Yeah, to draw you in to go, "I want to see more of him." I'm going to leave you just enough to go, "Man, I'd watch more of him."

Joe Katz:
Right. So you cracked the formula of what to do to get their attention and want them to help you.

Tone Bell:
Well, and all the guys who also I was fans of. You know what I mean? I would see a lot of comics I was really fans of in previous years of this, and so it was, "Oh, man. I'm a fan of that dude already." They're smart, and they can act, and also becoming my peers at the same time. But also, who do I want to be as a comedian? I want to be a storyteller. So it was how do I do that, to drop these small nuggets on you at the same time, but also want you to want more. I guess it worked out in real time.

Joe Katz:
Hey, guys. Thanks so much for watching the first episode with Tone Bell. It was so great speaking to him. We have so much more. Actually, we have a second episode, so I want you to tune in. He's talking all about working with Andra Day and Lee Daniels and all about his fashion and style. Make sure to subscribe to the show on your favorite podcast app. This has been a production of Evergreen Podcast. A special thank you to executive producer Gerardo Orlando, producer Leah Longbrake, and audio engineer Dave Douglas.

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