When one Googles Paul Bellini, his name appears in the drop-down menu after the typing of the first ‘L’. His Wikipedia entry appears at the top, detailing his numerous and varied film and television credits, both behind and before the camera. Nominated for three Emmys for his writing for television’s Kids In the Hall, he went on to win three Geminis as a writer for This Hour Has 22 Minutes.
Perhaps his most famous role to date is the be-toweled character on KITH, a silent zephyr, who began showing up on the program during The Touch Paul Bellini contest. With himself as the prize, the winner was awarded the singular honour of gently prodding Paul with a stick. He appeared on many subsequent episodes, and as the country’s affection for this mute, all knowing character flourished, Paul Bellini fan clubs began exploding nation wide, outstripping The Kids In The Hall in numbers and enthusiasm.
In 2002 he began writing for the magazine, Fab, a queer-centric circular out of Toronto. His column was concise, zippy, and anecdotal, running the gamut from various aspects of the gay scene (nude camping, bathhouses, lesbian baby showers) to celebrity interviews ( Bea Arthur, John Waters, Sandra Bernhard, Melissa Manchester). His little column soon became the toast of the gaybourhood and beyond, and after a decade of this, he recently sat down and wrote a compendia of his favourite pieces, entitled, appropriately enough, The Fab Columns.
SB: Who or what has inspired you in your career?
PB: My gods as a kid were Warhol, Dali, Chaplin, Lou Reed, Hitchcock, Gore Vidal, Goya, and Russ Meyer. Musicians I liked included Nile Rogers, Brian Eno, Morrissey, Bette Midler, Iggy. Later in life it was all about film, as I fell madly in love with Visconti, Dreyer, Ford, Bresson, and especially Ozu. So various people influenced various things. My writing style comes from equal parts Lester Bangs and Pauline Kael. My visual sense comes from Carl Dreyer, particularly Vampyr, my favourite movie. My comedy influences are Chris Rock, Dean Martin, Sandra Bernhard, and Beatrice Arthur.
Have you a system or set of rituals when you sit down to write, and if so are they different for TV, printed page or song?
All writing is the same as far as the physical act goes. I like to wear as little as possible, usually just underwear and T-shirt. I love to have a puff beforehand. I don’t think I’ve written a word in the past thirty years without smoking some pot first. I always type on a computer keyboard because I can type 70 words a minute with complete accuracy, so when I write, I like to think about the scene first, then type it out in one long barf. Afterwards, I’ll play with it, making edits and additions and whatnot. Rewriting is the best part of writing in a way. I love to find the perfect word or phrase. I allow myself to be inspired and usually find something great. I never have writer’s block. That’s just laziness. Writing is almost always a joy.
Do you listen to music when you write?
Not necessarily, but I tend towards stuff I can ‘tune out’. I remember once Scott and I were trying to write a sketch for Kids, and we were having a terrible time. Then it occurred to me that we were listening to PJ Harvey’s Rid of Me, and that noisy bitch wanted too much attention, so I replaced it with kd lang’s super mellow All You Can Eat, and the sketch came pouring out of us.
As a child, what did you want to do/be when you grew up?
I always wanted to be a writer because writers in movies smoke and drank and were often fat. I figured, this might work for me. But I also secretly harboured a desire to be the manager of a really posh hotel. I saw Rod Taylor in the movie Hotel as a kid and thought ‘That looks cool.’
Why always comedy? Any yen to probe the dramatic depths?
Even when I write drama, I can’t resist putting in jokes. You know, I have to admit, I sort of hate comedy. Yet I write it, I teach it, I do it on stage. But I find something vulgar and pathetic about wanting to make people laugh. I do think comedy is an excellent tool for making people think. The closest I will ever get to drama is a very dry satire.
Mouth Congress: explicate.
I could never play an instrument. I took violin for a year, and was horrid. But I longed to have a rock band like all the other cool kids. Finally, after hearing a beatbox in 1984, I thought fuck it, I’m starting a band. But being a goof, I didn’t know how, so I just set up the beatbox, a tape recorder, and a tiny amp in the basement and jammed with whoever dropped by. The basis of Mouth Congress was me and Scott Thompson on vocals (!), Gord Disley and Rob Rowatt on either bass or guitar, and of course the beatbox. Later on, other brave souls wandered in. No one ever had a clue what was happening, but we just kept jamming, and we recorded everything. It was bliss, so chaotic and with such low expectations. We built our sound on improvisation and shocking topic material. When I hear people talk about weird bands like The Residents or Half Japanese I think fuck them, Mouth Congress was way better than any of them. I loved it, and it remains my favourite preoccupation.
If you could live in any time in history…?
New York City in the early to late 1970s. The era of Warhol and the Velvets, of Studio 54 and the Meat Rack, the nucleus of sexual freedom and artistic expression and musical innovation. Cock, dancing, Sondheim, more cock, more dancing, and waking up with a view of the Empire State Building. Heaven. (But I check out the minute AIDS rears its ugly head in 1979.)
Anything new on the horizon you care to share?
I am becoming an experimental filmmaker. Yes. Stop laughing. I won a tiny digital camera at a Christmas party. At first, I just shot with it conventionally – people, events, vacations, etc. Then one day I discovered the black and white function. It was raining, so I went outside with a battered umbrella and shot tons of footage of me walking in the rain. It looked great. I shot more rain footage, often from inside my car. It looked even greater. Now I have a friend editing it into a 14 minute experimental film. I have plans to shoot more experimental films, one where I spin around in various locations (called The World Revolves Around Me, and Not the Other Way Around) and a film shot with the camera in my breast pocket (called A View from My Heart). Once they are edited and scored (with old Mouth Congress instrumentals, of course) I will enter them in various experimental film and video festivals.
Thank you for being so generous with your time, sir. One final question: Do you believe in God?
The vastness of the universe and concepts like infinity boggle this little girl’s mind. Where does space end? Is it in a box? What’s beyond that box? Who created God? The more I think about this shit, the more freaked out I get. So yes, it is convenient and more than a little hard not to believe in a deity, but really I just don’t know, which makes me mostly agnostic. I always thought atheism was as pretentious as any dopey religion. How can anyone be certain about anything? Admit that you don’t know and move on. I hate fundamentalists the most. Killing in the name of God is the biggest sin of all. Religion is fucking stupid, even the nice ones like Judaism. My dream would be to dismantle the Vatican, sell all that gold and other assets, send the money to poor countries, and ship those pedophiles off to jail. A-men!
The Fab Columns is available at amazon.com
Samantha Bennett is a writer and comic who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org where she cheerfully encourages feedback.