Comedian, actor, writer - those three words all describe Michael Anthony "Tone" Bell II. The Decatur, Georgia raised entertainer has managed to successfully incorporate that trifecta of talent into his burgeoning showbiz career. Bell's professional path has already included award-winning stand-up performances and stints on Single Ladies, Bad Judge, and Whitney.
Bell is now on the verge of taking on his first lead role in a network series. NBC's new sitcom Truth Be Told places the 33-year-old comic alongside former Saved By The Bell teen idol Mark-Paul Gosselaar, former Love That Girl! actress Bresha Webb, and former Total Request Live VJ Vanessa Lachey.
Truth Be Told follows two ethnically diverse couples as they explore issues of sex, race, religion, and other topics that will sure to have viewers engaging in their own lively conversations. Bell takes on the roll of stand-up comedian Russell, and Gosselaar plays his best friend Mitch. Russell has tied the knot to Webb's Angie while Mitch is married to Lachey's Tracy.
The series is based on the life of DJ Nash, who also serves as an executive producer. Will Packer (Ride Along) and Pam Fryman (How I Met Your Mother) have taken on the task of executive producers as well.
AllHipHop.com connected with Tone Bell to get his thoughts on Truth Be Told. The star of ADD's YouTube series The Green Room also shares his favorite emcees at the moment, addresses white rappers using the n-word, and reveals whether he has ever sneaked a peak at a girlfriend's cell phone.
What's it like starring in a lead role on a network series?
It’s nuts. I was - and still am - a huge Will Smith fan. It’s crazy to grow up watching Fresh Prince on NBC, being influenced as a comedic actor, and now starring on the same network as one of your idols. It’s f*cking insane.
How involved were you with the development of your character?
Well, other than the fact that my character and I share the same careers, not too much. The creator, DJ Nash, and our EP, Will Packer, were nice enough to let me lend my comedic voice to a role inspired by one of our white creator’s best friend - who’s black [laughs].
Mark-Paul Gosselaar plays your best friend on the show. Are there ever any Zack Morris jokes on set?
Not too much. As iconic as we all know that role was for our childhoods, it’s the past. Being an actor now makes me respect a fellow actor’s old work. But to answer your question, yes! One time, we were all laughing about something during a promo shoot, and Zack - I mean Mark-Paul - said “time-out,” with the hand gesture. Immediately, I was like, “what the f*ck… did you just?” He just laughed and said, “yes.” It was kind of dope.
The show's creators have said they hope Truth Be Told sparks debates in households around the country. What are some of the controversial topics that will be covered on the show?
I think it could most easily be summed up as “social conduct”... which, if you can imagine, would be the way we handle race, sex, porn, religion, dating, marriage, drugs, parenting, and maybe caring.
The tagline for the series is "Best Friends. Real Talk. Uncensored." Are there any topics that will be off limits?
We’re not out to offend anyone. However, we do want you to raise an eyebrow or two. Life is awkward, so to make it less awkward, let’s discuss. Also, we’re still network television, so we have some rules to abide by.
There's a segment in the pilot where your character and Mark-Paul Gosselaar's character talk about using the n-word. White rappers using the n-word is a very touchy subject in Hip Hop. Where do you stand on that?
I don’t really have an opinion to be honest. I understand why most black rappers/people would find the use of the word tasteless from a non-black artist. I also understand if a white rapper grew up in an all black neighborhood, has all black friends, and has been referred to as a “n-word” their entire life and felt comfortable to use it.
It’s that individual’s reality. I’m not saying what is right, but I could understand the argument. My art of comedy comes from what I know. I’d refuse to let someone or group of people tell me not to deliver my truth. I would want to hear any rapper/artist’s real story. But, if it’s just to rhyme with another word… f*ck that.
Speaking of Hip Hop, the couples on the show seem to be huge fans of Jay Z. Who are some of the rappers you're listening to the most at the moment?
I'm a big fan of Wale, Pusha T, Run The Jewels, K.R.I.T., Scotty ATL. I could go on. I’d be lying if I said Drake wasn’t in that rotation. And actually I sat behind A$AP Rocky on a flight once, nice dude. I didn’t write home about the first album - maybe I didn’t give it a chance, like I should have - but his sophomore album was dope. I’m also going backwards a lot, listening to early Talib [Kweli], Little Brother, T.I., early Eminem, Dungeon Fam, and Ghostface [Killah].
Russell and Angie's interactions have some very realistic relationship moments. Have you ever checked a girlfriend's phone while she wasn't looking?
Once 10 years ago. I wish I hadn't. I found exactly what I was looking for, but it makes you more paranoid in the future. I wish I had just let karma handle it for me. Maybe that’s happening right now, it just took 10 years [laughs].
Do you plan on continuing to perform stand-up?
Stand up will have to find a way to quit me before I quit it.
Ultimately, what do you hope the audience takes away from watching Truth Be Told?
There are things that happen in all of our day-to-day realities that we sometimes question, yet we say nothing. Why is that? I hope TBT helps you - us - take away that filter and ask that question or provide that answer aloud.
Truth Be Told premieres Friday, October 16 at 8:30/7:30 central on NBC.