I was born on the Jersey Shore and grew up in a middle class household in the late 1950s and 1960s. My earliest ambitions were to become a famous scientist and to be funny. I worked hard at both through grade school, and the science aspiration got me A’s but the funny aspiration got me kicked out of class for “cutting up.” (If I’d been funnier the teachers wouldn’t have kicked me out.) In high school I found a more productive outlet by starting an underground newspaper called “The Tongue” and writing biting satire about my teachers, fellow students, and high school life. Of course, that too got me in trouble. I was beginning to understand that funny and trouble seemed, at least in my case, interconnected.
College (I went to Swarthmore College) was a more sober undertaking, although I did hit the stage in annual comedy sketch shows and played Motel the Tailor in the college production of Fiddler on the Roof. I was sure that would be my last time on stage, but I was wrong.
After graduation I spent a few years in Washington DC as an economist working on energy and environmental projects for the federal government. While I enjoyed it, I found myself reading Coal Weekly one afternoon and saying to myself, “I’m not a Coal Weekly kind of guy.” I quit my job and went to business school. Now I’m not saying I didn’t get a good business education at Wharton Grad — I did — but for me the best part was writing and performing in the Wharton Follies, an annual musical revue put on by students.
Upon graduating, I got a job at CBS, then HBO, where I started the Comedy Channel that became Comedy Central. After that I was President of Court TV, then worked for a while as a consultant to a bunch of television companies. Most interesting project: commercializing 3D television. Least successful project: commercializing 3D television. Too bad. It was really cool.
After I left the TV business, I took some writing courses and found I loved writing. Constant Comedy is my first book, not counting a humor book I wrote with a couple other guys while at Comedy Central. I hope to write some more books, but hey, who knows? I play piano and drums and I’m married to Carrie Livingston Bell and have two grown children. And that’s pretty much the story.
Constant Comedy: How I Started Comedy Central and Lost My Sense of Humor
"CONSTANT COMEDY: How I Started Comedy Central and Lost My Sense of Humor" is the story of the birth and early years of Comedy Central as told by someone who was there from the very beginning.
In 1988 Art Bell, a mid-level employee at HBO who had always loved comedy, decided the world needed an all-comedy channel. Starting a new television channel required a plan and millions of dollars. He had the plan.
Art’s bosses didn’t like the idea, but he refused to give up. His plan eventually found its way to the chairman of HBO and within a few short months, HBO announced that they would create the first all-comedy cable network. The Comedy Channel was on the air for one year before merging with a competitor to become Comedy Central. Then the real fun began.
In this unique and funny memoir, Art pulls back the curtain on Comedy Central’s early days, where he overcame skeptical management, quirky comedians, and his own inexperience to ensure that the idea of an all-comedy channel would become a reality. He reveals what it was like to work in the television business and how creativity struggles and sometimes prevails in a corporate environment. As you’ll learn soon enough, the business of comedy is anything but funny.