50 years. 50 queers.

Paul Bellini

Paul Bellini

Apr 14, 2014

Name: Paul Bellini
DOB: September 12, 1959
Occupation: Writer/Teacher
Favourite Book: ‘Two Sisters’, by Gore Vidal
Favourite Movie: ‘Vampyr’ by Carl Dreyer
Favourite Music: Anything from the mid-1970s
Favourite Gay Person At/Over 50: Gore Vidal
One Word About 50: Fabulous

Let’s be honest, young people get old, too. Fuck you!” Paul Bellini declares with a laugh. The 54-year-old iconic Canadian writer who became internationally famous for the unpretentious and unexpected way he wore a white towel is rocking his 50s and not lamenting being out of his 20s. Now teaching sketch comedy at The Second City and George Brown College, he is passing on his considerable expertise and élan for writing, sketch, standup and stage performance to a new generation of hungry acolytes.

The self-proclaimed late-bloomer is enjoying middle age as he continues to chart new courses in his personal and professional lives. However, the road has not always been without its potholes—and in some cases, sinkholes. “I had my first boyfriend at 37 years old, I was single until I was 37, which made me feel like a total fucking loser in my mid-30s,” Bellini confesses. “I remember crying my eyes out one night in Halifax. I was there to work on This Hour Has 22 Minutes and I lived alone in this big old house and I felt so lonely. I just wept myself to sleep.”

While he got the boyfriend situation sorted out in those approaching years, he found that turing 50 was fraught with challenges and anxieties. “Turning 50 was kind of traumatic,” he recalls. “I was experiencing a little bit of distress because my career was sort of in the process of dying at the time. Now it is completely dead,” he admits. “I was having financial troubles and I remember thinking, ‘It should be easier when you get older, not harder’. I was in this relationship that wasn’t quite working, my financial situation was desperate, it was a terrible time. It was fucking horrible, to be honest. But 40 wasn’t good, either.”

I just spent three or four hundred bucks, I really should have just spent it on blow and hookers.”

Even his 50th birthday party was a night of drama. It could have been scripted for one of his Kids In The Hall sketches. “I remember I had a big party. Scott [Thompson] had rented a condo, but he wasn’t in it because he was in North Bay shooting ‘Death Comes To Town’, so I said, ‘Scott, can I have the party at your swank condo?’ I had all these friends come and we spent all this money and got all this booze and invited all these people,” he recounts of what turned out to be an unforgettable night, but not for the right reasons. “I remember it was a weird kind of evening because at one point I looked around and I thought, ‘It’s a room full of people who all hate each other, and I’m right in the middle of it,’ he says with a laugh.

My boyfriend at the time was this very angry guy who drank a lot and managed to ruin every party. I don’t even mind saying it because he would acknowledge it, he would be the first to agree. He wrote a song about it. His name was Steve and he lives in the States now,” continues Bellini of his bizarre 50th. “Steve had a black cloud over his head and he would bring that to every party. It was a very difficult evening for me because the whole time I thought, ‘I just spent three or four hundred bucks, I really should have just spent it on blow and hookers’, he says, laughing. “It was an evening full of tension. I don’t think I’ve ever had a really big party since.”

Bellini’s birthday drama may well have been the perfect narrative and a bit of a harbinger for what was also happening in his life: his career was imploding and he was in a dying relationship. Not exactly a fun place to be in when you are taking the big plunge into mid-life. However, that catharsis and chaos led to new opportunities. “The writing career gradually died entirely by about 2011,” he recalls. “A friend of mine suggested I become a teacher, so I’ve started teaching courses on comedy writing at Second City, which I enjoy, and then started doing it elsewhere. I’m at George Brown College as well. That has really helped. It puts me in touch with young creative people and I get energy from them, fostering their ideas, helping to launch their careers,” he says enthusiastically. “I’d almost rather be working with this new generation of comedians and helping them out than sitting in a boardroom trying to convince some fat, idiot executive why my little idea should be on their network.”

At the same time his career was taking on a new form and direction, so was his personal life when he received an unexpected message from someone whom he hadn’t spoken to in almost two decades. “I got a Facebook message from my [now] boyfriend Georges Chartrand. He was in Timmins and we had met 17 years earlier when he was 20. He used to come to my place and we’d smoke pot and watch TV and then I lost track of him. At the time I remember thinking, ‘what does this kid want?’ He’s a very passive, quiet person. I should have made a move on him. I could have had him then,” Bellini says with a chuckle. “All of a sudden we were back in contact and I thought, ‘I’m just going to go for it.’ So I asked him if he was looking for a relationship and he said, ‘only if we can be together in the same city’. Well, I was never moving back to Timmins, so I said he would have to come to Toronto. He was more than ready to do that. I don’t think anything was happening for him in Timmins. Not even the Shania Twain Museum could keep him there” he says with a laugh. “He moved down here [Toronto] and we’ve been together for three years.”

Bellini’s previous experience and the clarity that comes with being a late bloomer has helped him create a successful relationship with Chartrand, who is 15 years his junior. As a lot of single gay men get into their 50s and 60s, more and more they are finding a growing age gap between themselves and their potential partners. There is an art to addressing those differences, according to Bellini. “A young boyfriend has energies that I don’t have, and interests that I don’t have. There are some bridges that you just don’t cross together. You learn how to divide your time together, what you can share and what to leave alone. I think that’s really important because if you’re living together you’re always together. You want to make sure that you have room for yourself and personal growth.”

One of the things that concerns me is the fractionalization of the community with all these different little sub-categories and the angry sniping on Facebook.”

As Bellini continues to explore and enjoy new territory in his 50s, he sees that there are many challenges that befall many gay men as they get older—both with how they perceive themselves and others and the fear they may be aging out of relevance. “A lot of gay men have trouble being relevant in their older age,” he observes. “I find that weird, because you become an elder statesmen. You have all of this knowledge and wisdom. There was a workshop I attended at the 519 Church Street Community Centre called Remaining Relevant. I thought, ‘is it that hard?’

What’s interesting is that in my lifetime I’m seeing the collapse of things like publishing. Certain things are being killed by the Internet because they are no longer financially viable,” he continues. “It does leave older people at a loss because those are some of the things that we grew up with, that were important, that we used, that are dying before we are. I think maybe the biggest challenge—and this is for all older people, not just gay ones—is what do you do when your institutions are gone? Also, the worst one, is how do you deal with the stupidity of youth? In the day and age of Google, there should be no excuse for people not knowing things. In my day, if someone dropped an obscure reference, I would have to go to the Timmins Public Library and spend hours looking it up,” he says laughing. “Now you just Google something. Yet people seem to be stupider and stupider. I find that frustrating. Although I have to say that most of my students are fairly bright. Comedy writers, by nature, should be curious and well-informed people.”

Aside from those crumbling institutions, Bellini sees other issues that make him furrow his brow. “One of the things that concerns me is the fractionalization of the community with all these different little sub-categories and the angry sniping on Facebook. There’s so much misguided activism based on words, word choices and nonsense like that,” he posits. “You have to hang on to yourself, as Bowie said. I think it’s hard because first of all, you want to show some respect for other peoples’s experience because they aren’t yours. Other people have their own issues.”

I want to know that I’m healthy, viable, still living it up and still pumping it out!”

For me, the best thing was meeting Trans people, because their struggles are utterly unique,” he explains. “I can appreciate their struggles without ever having to go through any of those issues. I feel like I’ve learned something from Trans people. However, angry Trans-activism makes me feel upset, like I’ve done something wrong. I don’t think anyone wants to be told they are an unintentional sexist or agist or racist. I just want to say, ‘oh fuck you!’ At the same time you do have to understand that everyone is going through their own shit. I always tell people, ‘you know what, rich, privileged white people also have horrible things happen to them. They have tragedies in their lives, so let’s get off the soap box’. I mean that for everybody.”

It’s that elder statesmen thing where I’ve lived a bit of a life and I have the opportunity to impart that wisdom: let’s all be nice to each other. I’m like an old lady, I just want everyone to get along,” Bellini says of his current ethos. “I also like to think that my best years are ahead of me in terms of my creativity and my ideas. I think the important thing is to make the most of these senior years, because once you hit that 75-and-up mark and you start to get into those dire health issues,” he continues. “I have a lot of people I visit in the old age home, and their bodies are shrinking and their minds are rapidly evaporating and they’re riddled with problems. They can’t walk, they can’t use their hands, they have colostomy bags, and I’m thinking, ‘wow, there’s nothing to look forward to at that part of life’. So, let’s be viable now.”

In the spirit of being a late bloomer, elder statesman and being viable in the moment, Paul Bellini looks to his late friend, Harley Walker, who was murdered a few years ago by a man he took home one night. “He was a friend and a role model for me,” says Bellini of his late friend. “When he died, some people said he walked into his own demise, that it was some how his fault. It wasn’t. He was not a cautionary tale, he was not a dirty old gay man as some people wanted to paint him. He was 72 and living his life exactly the way he wanted to live it. He had a wonderful life right up until he was killed. That’s how I want to live my life. I want to know that I’m healthy, viable, still living it up and still pumping it out!”

Photo credit: Andre Tardif

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