Bill Bellamy's Career in Comedy Started on Stage at Rutgers
The Rutgers alumnus reflects on his time at the university before hosting a pair of NJPAC performances on Saturday
In the late 1980s, Bill Bellamy was preparing for career on Wall Street until he realized how much he enjoyed telling jokes as a student on stage at Rutgers.
“I was always funny, but I wasn’t going to be a comedian,” said Bellamy, whose first experience with standup was hosting a student coffee house event as a favor to a friend. “The light was lit at Rutgers. While I was up there on stage talking, I thought, ‘This is kind of fun.’ ”
Before landing high-profile gigs, including HBO’s Def Comedy Jam, that catapulted him to celebrity status in the ’90s, he cut his comedic teeth in college, performing at a bars, clubs and events in and around campus.
“There was a little bar, the Corner Tavern, that used to do a comedy night. I remember one time I won $200 in contest there,” he said, adding that would have bought him a lot of Bolis back then from Stuff Yer Face. He even honed his act for the talent portion of a “male beauty pageant” hosted by Delta Sigma Theta that he entered as a student. Soon Bellamy was headlining big Rutgers venues.
“I remember performing at the RAC, which was crazy, and the Livingston Gym,” he said. “I was starting to get that buzz.”
After graduating from Rutgers University-New Brunswick in 1989 with a major in economics and minor in marketing, Bellamy held down a 9-to-5 as a sales rep at first as he explored the possibility of a career in comedy. He performed at comedy club open-mic nights in New York and New Jersey, winning over audiences from Showtime at the Apollo to the Stress Factory.
“I think in Jersey we have a pride about ourselves. We are gritty,” Bellamy, who grew up in Newark, said of his experiences coming up as a comic. “You cannot cheat the game in Jersey. You’ve gotta be funny to make people laugh in Jersey. They won’t ‘ho, ha’ you there.”
His success on the standup circuit led to his 1992 appearance on HBO’s Def Comedy Jam. That national spotlight launched Bellamy’s career as an MTV VJ and host of MTV Jams in 1994, which then led to multiple roles on big screens (Love Jones, The Brothers, How to be a Player) and small (Fastlane, Meet the Browns) and several televised comedy specials.
On Saturday, Feb. 10, Bellamy returns to his hometown to host his annual Valentine’s All-Star Comedy Show at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center. The two shows (7 p.m. and 9:45 p.m.) also feature comics Luenell, Radio Big Mack, “The Gangster of Comedy,” Capone and Bruce Bruce.
“It’s gonna be a fun date night. It’s laugher and all types of special guests,” he said. “I’m really just putting it on for my city. I want to show my city all the pride and love I have.”
Bellamy, who resides in California, said he visits family and friends in the Garden State regularly. On a trip home this fall, he even joined the thousands of students and alumni at his alma mater’s homecoming weekend – his first in 15 years.
“I loved it! I bought so much Rutgers stuff you would have thought I was a freshman! I renewed my love for my Scarlet Knights,” he said. “It’s so different now on campus. When I was at Rutgers, it was the blueprint for what it was going to be. It expanded and is so vast now. I love the vibe of the university, it feels big time.”