On a warm spring Sunday afternoon, in a park close to his St. Louis home, four-year-old Marvin Bell somehow managed to fall into the murky waters of the lake. After being rescued by a still unknown good Samaritan, Marvin Bell was quickly escorted home by two of his older brothers while the third rushed ahead to prepare there mother for the spectacle about to arrive. Stunned by the sight of the algae covered toddler, Mom Bell found herself speechless. In an already near baritone voice, young Marvin Bell announced to his bewildered mother, “I didn’t drown all the way, I only drowned a little bit.” Mom Bell spent the next several minutes in hysterical laughter over the way her soaking wet son had described his near fatal ordeal.
This was the first time Marvin Bell would say something that would elicit a hysterical response. Too young to realize that this ability was a gift, it would be years later before Marvin Bell would recognize his ability to ‘say things funny’.
During his college years, Marvin Bell had found inspiration in the talents of many famous stand-up comedians. One of these was the late, great comedy genius, Flip Wilson. Marvin Bell’s ability to imitate the well-known comic’s alter ego known as “Geraldine” amused almost all of his friends and associates. One of those not amused verbally attacked the mimicry one evening as he and other friends rode in a crowded car to a concert at Washington University. From the back seat came enraged words of disdain for the comedian and his “Geraldine” character ending with the statement, “I’m going to send that sissy a photocopy of my middle finger and tell him to shove it up his punk ass.” From behind the wheel, Marvin Bell immediately replied, “He’ll probably send you a photocopy of his ass and tell you to do it yourself.” This filled the car with laughter for the remainder of the journey.
Still, Marvin Bell did not see his quick wit as a viable talent. Even though he tinkered with the idea for a long time, nothing would happen for nearly a decade. It was the early spring of 1982 when a friend challenged Marvin Bell to back up his talk with some real action and go for it.
A few weeks later, On April 10, 1982, Marvin Bell found himself at a dance in a hotel ballroom, in front of some three hundred people debuting his stand-up comedy routine. As he likes to tell it, “Only two people laughed. One guy laughed because no one was laughing and another guy laughed at him.” Fortunately the veteran comedy duo ”Zack and Mack” had come to see their friend’s performance and were pleasantly surprised by what they saw and heard. They gave Marvin Bell words of encouragement. and invited him to their weekly live comedy workshop held at Maurice’s Goldcoast Lounge near downtown St. Louis. The workshop was created and designed to help the up and coming comedy artist by providing a venue where they could learn, practice, and hone their craft.
In the weeks, months, and years following his debut, Marvin Bell became a regular at Zack and Mack’s Comedy Workshop at Maurice’s Goldcoast Lounge. Dedicated to perfecting his talent, Marvin Bell worked diligently to improve his performance, his material, and his overall presentation. At the same time, he found himself under the tutor ledge of his friends “Zack and Mack”. They graciously mentored him on the business of comedy, the professionalism of the performer, and the humility required to really respect the art form. These lessons would be the foundation on which Marvin Bell would build his career.
With the workshop as his classroom and “Zack and Mack” as his mentors, Marvin Bell learned and excelled. In less than a year’s time, he was being hired and paid for his performance by small social groups around the city. He was gaining popularity, respect, and most importantly, confidence. A boost to that confidence came in 1983 when Marvin Bell submitted a tape to the Showtime television’s “Funniest Person in America” contest. Preliminary results named Marvin Bell as the Funniest person in Missour.
There would be one more addition to his education as a performer that would prove to be instrumental in preparing Marvin Bell for the world of the professional performer. When afforded the opportunity to appear in a production of the Charles Fuller play “The Brownsville Raid” being presented by the St. Louis Black Repertory Company, his mentors, “Zack and Mack” vigorously urged him to take the role. Despite his lack of theater experience, Marvin Bell proved to be a natural actor. His performance was greeted with admiration from his peers, positive reviews from the media critics, and an invitation to audition and appear in future productions. For Marvin Bell, the experience of that and future theater performances taught him how to better use his voice on stage, how to take advantage of what ever lighting was available, and let him know that his talents weren’t confined to the comedy stage. Over the next three years, Marvin Bell would appear in five more “Black Rep” productions as well as a David Mamet piece with the “2nd Act Theater Company”.
With his confidence building and a support system in place, Marvin Bell decides to take his act on the road. Less than six months after his comedic debut, a previous scheduled trip to New York afforded Marvin Bell his first opportunity to test himself in a venue outside his hometown. Despite the difficulty that came with securing an audition spot at any of the New York comedy clubs, Marvin Bell persevered and was awarded a spot in the Monday night line-up at the Rick Newman’s very popular “Catch A Rising Star’, one of New York’s premiere comedy clubs. A nervous, petrified, and excited Marvin Bell stepped onto the stage knowing he had just five minutes to perform and immediately proceeded to lampoon the Big Apple audience with some of the same material he had succeeded with back in St. Louis along with a few quips he had written specifically for the east coast crowd. As he left the stage, the response of the crowd confirmed all his hopes and negated his fears. He knew at that moment that he had made the right career choice.
Over the next two and a half years, Marvin Bell would utilize all his scheduled vacation time to travel out of state where he would perform wherever he could get on a comedy stage. In Atlanta, New Orleans, Kansas City, and Dallas, Marvin Bell found himself repeatedly successful in his endeavor to stimulate the funny bones of comedy club patrons. In Houston, Texas, his triumph was met with offers for paid engagements. A two-week stint in the fall of 1984 and a six-week engagement early in 1985 were all wonderfully successful.
In the summer of 1985, a talent competition sponsored by Coors beer and held annually had decided to expand itself to four other cities, Memphis, Chicago, Cleveland, and Knoxville. The producer was a fan of Marvin Bell and hired him to host the string of talent shows. Considering the successful reputation of the contest and the guaranteed paycheck from the assignment, Marvin Bell decided it was time to say farewell to his ‘good government job’ and pursue his dream fulltime.
Armed with contacts made through his past performing engagements, recommendations from the Houston clubs and his mentors Zack and Mack as well as other comics he had met along the way, Marvin Bell began performing at clubs through out the country. By the end of 1987, Marvin Bell had relocated to sunny Los Angeles where he would not only find steady work at clubs, colleges, and aboard cruise ships, he would also land appearances on numerous stand up comedy television programs including A&E’s “Evening At the Improv” Fox’s “Comic Strip Live”, and VH-1’s “Stand-Up Spotlite” with Rosie O’Donnell.
After careful consideration, Marvin Bell decided that his west coast success would best be augmented by attempting to establish himself on the east coast. With that endeavor in mind, Marvin Bell made his way to New York City where surprises awaited him.
Before leaving Los Angeles, Marvin Bell’s second appearance on VH-1’s “Stand-Up Spotlite” had been taped at a Long Island New York comedy club. The club owner remembered Marvin Bell very well and was excited to learn he had moved to the Big Apple. He immediately offered Marvin Bell work in his club. In addition, many of the east coast bookers were familiar with Marvin Bell either from personal contact or reputation and were happy have him on their roster. Within weeks after making the move, Marvin Bell was regularly performing in many of the New York clubs including the very popular and prestigious “Dangerfields” in Manhattan. By the end of 1995, Marvin Bell was not only a local comedy club staple, he had begun to work the renowned resort hotel of the famous “Catskills”. These bookings have led Marvin Bell to other impressive engagements including the fabulous “Princess Hotel Casino” in the Grand Bahamas and numerous engagements at the popular resort villas of South Florida.
These latter appointments along with his regular work on the ‘Fun Ships’ of “Carnival Cruise Lines” help to keep Marvin Bell happily performing to this day.