(AllHipHop Features) Over the last four years, television sitcoms such as Truth Be Told, 9JKL and Disjointed were added to Tone Bell’s IMDb page. Unfortunately, those programs eventually got canceled, but that didn’t stop the Decatur, Georgia native from continuing to find his name on call sheets in Hollywood.
Bell appeared in the 2018 film Dog Days alongside Nina Dobrev (Degrassi: The Next Generation, The Vampire Diaries). Not long after playing characters in Ken Marino’s rom-com, the two 30-something actors are once again sharing screen time on the new TV series Fam.
The CBS show follows recently engaged couple Nick and Clem as they take in Clem’s 16-year-old, out-of-control half-sister Shannon (played by Odessa Adlon). Industry veterans Sheryl Lee Ralph, Brian Stokes Mitchell, and Gary Cole are part of the cast as well.
Besides Fam, Bell is set to crack jokes during his Can’t Cancel This one-hour comedy special airing February 22 on Showtime. The network is also the cable home for It’s A Party, an Atlanta-set movie where the All Def Digital alum joins Hip Hop artist-turned-actor Open Mike Eagle.
In my latest Conversations article, Tone Bell breaks down Fam and Can’t Cancel This. The longstanding OutKast and Goodie Mob fan also shares his views on modern-day political correctness and explains why he’s not interested in being a plastic surgery patient of Michael “Dr. Miami” Salzhauer.
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AllHipHop: I saw an interview where Nina joked that your off-screen relationship kind of felt like a real marriage because it has good chemistry but no sex. How would you describe it?
Tone Bell: I didn’t know she was going to do that. When I saw that, I was like, “That’s a pretty good description. I’m not mad at it.” Yeah, we do. Nina and I did a movie right when we started doing the show. It's called Dog Days, so we had already worked together and known each other for about a year and a half before we started doing the show. So when we started doing the show, there ended up being, like she said, a lot of chemistry. People always ask if we're dating for real. I know it looks like that but sometimes you get along and it just works. So it’s everything but the romance and the sex, just like a regular marriage.
AllHipHop: Were you brought into this project at the same time? Did you know the other person was going to be cast on the show?
TB: Kind of. I think the ball started rolling for me a little bit quicker. I had already unofficially signed on. Then the casting process started. I met Odessa, then [Sheryl Lee] and [Brian Stokes], and then I heard about Gary. Then I was like, “Where’s my wife?” I got a call from Nina. She was like, “Should we do this?” I had already thought about it, but I was thinking there’s no way we had just done a movie and then we do a show together. It was like a dream come through. We just work so well together it worked out. It’s been great. We didn’t really know, but we talked about it. Then we both gave it a thumbs up and we both made that phone call. I think hers was announced first, so officially she had the job first then they announced me a few weeks later.
AllHipHop: One of the things I found interesting is that the show doesn’t really address the fact that Nick and Clem are in an interracial relationship. Do you think TV audiences have gotten to the point where they can just accept the fact that it’s an interracial couple and it’s not really important to the story?
TB: I think some people are always going to think “I rather hear about the elephant in the room.” But as soon as you point to the elephant in the room, people go, “Oh, I got it. Why don’t you discuss something else?” There’s never a perfect scenario. If it’s going to be a show that’s rooted in race or difference of ethnicity, that’s what you’re going to go for and other conflicts don’t arise - people are still people, so there are other problems that happen that need to be fixed. This is something that’s going to take a while anyway, so why don’t we show how to do it right. It’s other things to get mad at other than somebody’s skin color. Nina talked about it early and I even talked about it with my friends and my parents. You never see [a show], or at least it's been a while or I can’t name one, where you see an interracial couple and the black family is more well off or more affluent than the white family. It’s not something that’s discussed. It’s just: people grow up different, but what are the similarities, what are the difficulties, what are the conflicts? At the end of the day, people all have the same problems if you look past the elephant in the room. I think that’s something we do very well.
AllHipHop: You mentioned before about working with Gary Cole, Sheryl Lee Ralph, and Brian Stokes Mitchell. What was it like working with those veteran actors?
TB: I’m from Decatur, Georgia so to work with Sheryl Lee and Brian - I grew up watching them. Gary as well. When I found out Stokes was going to be my dad, I was like, “You mean Trevor from Fresh Prince?” Even though he’s done so many Broadway plays, the man is so talented, but growing up watching Fresh Prince, that’s what I know him from. That was a shock to me. I walked into work and I’m like, “You’re my dad?! I know you!” Sheryl Lee, the same way. You’re talking about Dreamgirls. You’re talking about an unbelievable career. You’re talking about Moesha's momma. So I get the chance to work with people I grew up with and kind of feel like I already know. They're so much like my real parents. You can check my Instagram for that. It’s crazy. Then Gary Cole, seeing him on Talladega Nights - you have so many performances and comedic geniuses that just add to this pot. As we get rolling seasons in, I think it’s just going to be seamless.
AllHipHop: I didn’t think about the fact that Brian Stokes was on Fresh Prince.
TB: You don’t remember the proposal? The proposal where he’s bungee jumping and the cord is too long and the whole family’s watching it.
AllHipHop: Oh yeah, he was the fiancé.
TB: Yeah, he was Trevor. They watched the VHS tape of him bungee jumping and it did not go right.
AllHipHop: That made me think about when Will [Smith] did it in real life, and his kids were like, “We’ve seen this. It didn’t work out well.” [laughs]
TB: Exactly. [laughs]
AllHipHop: I remember we did an interview for Truth Be Told. There was an episode on there where you had this shower scene. Then I was watching Fam, and I was like, “This guy has another semi-nude scene?” What’s going on with that? Is that in your contract?
TB: Man, if you watch any show I’ve ever done - and I’ve been on a couple - any show I’ve ever done, within the first three or four episodes, my clothes come off for some reason. For some reason, I got to strip down, be naked, put clothes on or something. I was like, “This is not what America wants to see.” I keep thinking it’s not going to happen. I probably should just get some abs so this is worth looking at. I think every writing team and producers are like, “Look at him. He looks fit. Let’s have him take his shirt off.” Then they realize I don’t have abs and they’re like, “Man, I think we got to stick with it, but he should really do some sit-ups.”
AllHipHop: Hey, you could always go to Dr. Miami.
TB: I ain’t painting no Conan the Barbarian abs on me. As my boy Sydney [Castillo] says, I’m going out "Team Regular Body."
AllHipHop: With these jokes, I’m looking forward to seeing your one-hour comedy special. That’s kind of like a rite of passage for a comic. What does that mean for you?
TB: It’s the first one out the gate. I had a half-hour special come out a couple of years ago. I took the last couple of years working some TV, started getting in some films. Being on the road the whole time, it finally felt like it was a great intro. I’ve been doing stand-up way longer than I was acting. Probably no one knows that only because when I got to Hollywood, TV kind of hit quick for me. But it’s absolutely a rite of passage. It feels good to have a body of work out there that I’m proud of. Knowing that everyone’s not going to love it, people might have problems with it, but hopefully, you’ll watch it and talk about it. It’s like 40% nice, fun stories and perspective, then there’s some “Look, this is what it’s like, my version of being a young, black male right now.” I think a lot of it is small conflicts like what happens on Fam. You can take one of these scenarios I talk about in my special and it can be written into a show. But this is stuff that’s just so personal to me.This is my experience so you can’t debunk that. And it’s still funny.
AllHipHop: The title is Can’t Cancel This. Do you think cancel culture and PC culture have hurt the art of comedy?
TB: I think it hurt how free sometimes we want to think or be able to contour a joke, but it does make you have to think harder. I would say this is the best way to describe it - we do a multi-cam show with a live audience and sometimes we don’t get new pages until right before we’re about to shoot the episode in front of the audience. It puts that pressure on and gives that good kind of stress. I think that’s what comedy is going through right now. You might have to say what you want to say differently so you don’t rub the wrong elbows. It didn’t use to be like that, but now you don’t want to jar anybody the wrong way. It does make you want to mold it differently and go, “How do I say the same thing without stepping on any toes?” I think it’s a gift and a curse. Some stuff is a little more free and some stuff should have been a little more constricted. It’s just a new model to the same game. And Can’t Cancel This is just a play on how many shows I’ve been on since I’ve been in Hollywood: here’s one thing I’m doing that you can’t cancel.
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Fam airs Thursdays at 9:30 ET/8:30 CT on CBS. Stream episodes at cbs.com.