Tone Bell On Stand-Up Comedy and His New Role of Tedward on ‘Bad Judge’
Tone Bell. Sounds like a musician’s stage name, right? Turns out, his full name is Michael Anthony Bell, and his nickname “Tony” was shortened even more to Tone. But while he has a unique name, he now potentially has one of the most memorable character names in television history. On Oct. 2, Tone Bell will premiere his role of “Tedward,” the bailiff on NBC’s “Bad Judge.” Now that’s a name that’s hard to forget.
Backed by executive producers Adam McKay and Will Ferrell, and starring Kate Walsh as Judge Rebecca Wright, “Bad Judge” is a new comedy that plays off the irony that Wright is a hardcore modern-day judge—but can’t seem to make good judgments in her own life. This show seems one to watch this year.
Bell is also a stand-up comedian that has appeared on many late shows. His talent for comedy won him NBC’s Stand Up for Diversity, a talent search which landed him a development deal with the network. This led to Bell playing RJ the bartender on “Whitney” in 2012.
Despite his busy schedule, Bell tries to perform his stand-up routine up to four times a week at venues such as the Hollywood Improv, the Westside Comedy Theatre, and Flappers Comedy Club. You can catch him live on Sept. 30 at 9 p.m. in a show titled “Can I Kick It?” at The Nerdist Showroom; and on Oct. 2 on NBC with the series premiere of “Bad Judge,” as well as on “Adam Devine’s House Party” on Oct. 23.
With Adam McKay and Will Ferrell as two of the executive producers, and Kate Walsh, John Ducey, Ryan Hansen, and Miguel Sandoval as your fellow cast members, what’s it like to be in such a melting pot of comedy gold?
One would think it’d be hard to keep up, but everybody is so gracious about everyone being an individual that everyone has their own place. You can’t be a winner in every scene. But when we have scenes when we get to play a bit, that’s when it gets fun. There are definitely some scenes where we try to outdo each other but then you have to give credit [to the person who won]. It’s been a pleasure to work [with this cast] and the guest stars have been unbelievable.
How did you get cast for the role of Tedward?
Initially, I didn’t go out for the role. I don’t really fit the profile of a bailiff because I have a beard. I’m not going to shave anytime soon. You think of a bald head, tight goatee, clean-shaven, like 6’ 2” to 6’4”, chiseled. I was like, I’m not that dude so probably not. But, they asked to see me again. I went in for the audition and they kept on seeing me. I went in and met Kate [Walsh]. She was amazing. Then they offered me the role. [But] the reason I took the role is because the teacher’s name in the pilot is my fourth-grade teacher’s name, Thorpe. (He says jokingly…mostly.)
What attracted you to the role and “Bad Judge” in particular?
This project is with Gary Sanchez. I know a friend who has worked with him before and he said it was a lot of fun. NBC has been a fan of me since I worked on “Whitney,” so I decided let’s go make NBC home again. Everything worked together. Kate was super silly. When we went to go test, it was so much fun. I’ve never had a test where I left like, “Man even if I don’t get a job offer, that was fun.”
I’m very big on changing everything [in the script]. [I’ll say] let me make this mine more so than what they wrote. (He jokes.) I’m still going to get the point across…and [the producers] said, “That’s great, do it.” I was like, “Really?” We’re going into episode six now and we all have a really good time on set.
What about the role challenges you and what do you enjoy about it?
I think one of the funniest things aboutthe courtroom is that she’s a really good judge, but her [personal] judgment is a little off. She’ll teach that lesson and embarrass someone. I play, essentially, her work husband. [I love] the fact that my character doesn’t say much in the courtroom and he always wants to. Bailiffs don’t get to talk other than the “all rise”, etc. I started this little game during one scene of the show. My character’s going to be doing something ridiculous in the background, [but] definitely on-camera. The producers told me to keep doing it. It’s hilarious. Now the crew is giving me suggestions, [such as] painting watercolors, playing with an Etch-a-Sketch, making puzzles, filing my nails, all of these things I shouldn’t be doing in the courtroom.
What should we expect in the first season of “Bad Judge”?
The first three episodes, you get to learn all about the characters, who they are, and where they belong. By episode three, you get to see the relationships come to life and [learn] what everybody means to each other. It’s a great mix of people, different cultures. I think it will really resonate with a lot of people. Liz Brixius from Nurse Jackie is our showrunner now and she’s just incredible. The writing staff is great. It’s going to be fun to see what adventures happen. I think the court cases are good lessons to be learned and you get to see the people live, and the judgments and the decisions that they make outside the courtroom.
You perform stand-up frequently in clubs all around Los Angeles. What made you want to be a stand-up and what first attracted you to comedy?
I grew up [watching] The Cosby Show and as [a fan of] Richard Pryor. I’m an only child, so I told a lot of stories to my parents. I would give them details about what happened at school everyday. Before I was a full time comic, I was in the corporate world. I was working for Anheuser-Busch. In the corporate world, every couple of years, when you’re in marketing and sales, they move you to different cities. I went to Dallas, but I didn’t know anybody in Dallas. So, [I asked myself] how does a dude meet dudes? Just [friends] to watch football with, drink beer, and hang out. I didn’t just want to approach another man at a bar and be like, “Man, you come here a lot?” How was I to approach a man to hang out with? I liked to write and be creative, so I [figured] I could do stand-up alone. If I didn’t meet anybody, it could be a hobby. If I did, we could hang out. And it worked out. I met some people, and within six months, people were like, “Yo, do you want to come out of town? I got $300 for you to do 15 minutes an hour away.” I said, “I will take your $300. I will do 15 minutes and I accept.” Then I just fell in love with it. I’m addicted to it now. I did it as a hobby, but in 2011, I took a layoff and moved to LA. Within a year, I got a deal with NBC and I was on “Whitney.”
How active are you in the LA comedy scene?
Hopefully [I perform] at least once a week, hopefully twice, if I can get off of work in time. [“Bad Judge”] is a single-camera comedy, so it’s like shooting a movie. We never know if we’ll get off in time. But I’ll book three to four shows a week, but most promoters understand if I can’t be there.
“Bad Judge” premieres on Oct. 2 on NBC.