Jon Bell is prepared to live and die by the skit show sword but hopes Black Comedy will find an audience ready to look beyond colour
It’s either funny or it’s not. That’s Jon Bell’s attitude to his new skit show, Black Comedy. The writer and performer isn’t interested in “polite laughter, because it’s made by indigenous people”. He compares the situation to an episode of Seinfeld.
“You know when his dentist converts to Judaism? Jerry goes to his Rabbi, who asks ‘Does this offend you as a Jewish man?’ and Jerry goes, ‘No, it offends me as a comedian’,” Bell says.
“I think it’s a little bit like that. I’d like us to be genuinely funny, or genuinely not. Live and die by the sword.”
Bell’s conversation is peppered with biblical references, which he says comes from being the kid who sat in Sunday school and asked a million questions. This inquisitive tendency led to one of his favourite characters, Hezekiah, who quizzes Noah as he prepares to build his ark.
“Like, ‘Are you going to subcontract that? Not putting you down. Just saying, you’re not really a home handyman’,” Bell says.
“It’s a nice little twist on the fact that Noah has to go and build this huge ark. I like the idea that it’s slightly emasculating him.”
Bell grew up in northern NSW, and started to study law in Sydney, but quickly found it wasn’t for him.
“What I probably wanted to be was on LA Law,” Bell says. “I did a year of uni, hated it, and then I got into performing arts.
“Then I went home to look after my daughter, and I sort of raised her as a single dad. I couldn’t do any performing arts stuff because I had to have a nine-to-five and be a responsible dude. So that’s when I got into writing. I’m coming back into the performing arts now.”
Bell’s flair for writing drama was firmly established with The Gods of Wheat Street and Redfern Now. He says he became “the funny guy” by accident.
“I’ve put scripts to Screen Australia, serious ones, and said, ‘Or, I can make this one about two brothers whose car broke down in a fast food drive through’. And they’re like, ‘Why don’t you do the funny one?’ I don’t know how I became a funny guy.”
Black Comedy has cameos from Matt Day, Jeff McMullen, Deborah Mailman, Sacha Horler and Brooke Satchwell.
Jon Bell (front right) with performers from his new skit show