Bill Bellamy Reflects on Being ‘The Rutgers Comedian’ Before Big Break

The Newark native practiced stand-up on his fellow classmates in the '80s. This month he’s hosting a star-studded Valentine’s comedy special at NJPAC.

Newark comedian Bill Bellamy

Newark’s Bill Bellamy is hosting NJPAC’s Valentine’s comedy show. Photo courtesy of NJPAC

As a student at Rutgers in the mid-1980s, Bill Bellamy received a trial-by-fire education in comedy.

When small campus collectives put on talent or fashion shows, he was always the first call for hosting duties—a golden opportunity to practice his stand-up and establish his Newark-born-and-raised voice in front of captive classmates. “I was hosting little café nights telling my five-cent jokes,” he says. “I ended up being the Rutgers comedian.”

Upon graduating, Bellamy began his professional career by playing now-defunct local spots in East Orange such as Club 88 and the Peppermint Lounge, “the number 1 place for entertainment on a Thursday night,” he says. Comics like Bernie Mac, Chris Rock and Steve Harvey also got started there. “We were all coming up in the game—young guys trying to make our mark, trying to get on TV,” Bellamy says. “We didn’t know that all these jokes would pay off.”

More than 30 years later, after making his mark in Hollywood and performing all over the country, Bellamy is returning to his old haunts and duties. On February 11, he and four other comics—Eddie Griffin, Adele Givens, Tommy Davidson and Smokey Suarez—will take the stage at Newark’s NJPAC for the Valentine’s All-Star Comedy Show. The star-studded lineup performs at 7 and 9:30 pm. Tickets range from $50.50–$100.50.

The event represents a nostalgic, full-circle moment for Bellamy. Though he has played this show before, Bellamy’s enhanced hosting role lets him show off his personality and engage more with the Newark crowd. “It’s a home-court advantage,” he says. “I know all the Jersey jokes, I know all the funny stuff about Jersey, so I’ve got the cheat code.” Hosting also allowed him to hand-pick a diverse comic ensemble; Bellamy is eager to see the reactions to his group of “super friends.”

Bellamy broke out in the early 1990s on MTV and continued to find roles in television and movies—most notably Def Comedy Jam, Any Given Sunday and Insecure. But the comedian, 57, has remained loyal to his roots, visiting his home state to see family a few times a year and exuding Jersey’s underdog spirit. “That’s the beauty of my perspective,” he says. “I always want to show my fans that I never forget where I come from, and I’m very proud of where I come from. And now that I’m in a position to bring entertainment to my city, why wouldn’t I do that?”

Considering Bellamy coined the phrase booty call early in his career, NJPAC attendees can also expect some Valentine’s Day humor. “It’s obviously a date night and it’s a love weekend—people are trying to step their game up,” he jokes, before providing this advice for the evening: “Show up and show out.”

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