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Bella Blair: Jamaican sensation

TOP TALENT: Toni ‘Bella’ Blair

SHE HAS taken the world wide web by storm with her hilarious YouTube sketches, earning her a host of fans throughout the world.

But in being an internet sensation, Toni ‘Bella’ Blair is also filling a significant void: that of the Jamaican female comedian.

While male Jamaican comics like Oliver Samuels, Shebada and dynamic duo Ity and Fancy Cat have enjoyed widespread fame and notoriety, there has been a noticeable absence of Jamaican women enjoying the same levels of comedy success.

Enter Bella Blair. The 23-year-old, who hails from the parish of St. Andrew, found fame as a vlogger (video blogger), thanks to her hilarious comedy characters and sketches.

There was her comical take on things Jamaican Christians say – “Di devil is a liad” was just one example. Then there was the brash young woman, who, whilst on a date with a doctor, objected to the suggestion of having garlic bread and water as an appetizer, exclaiming: “You mean fi tell me say me come outta mi house fi eat bread and drink water?”

But one of her most notable characters was Poonchie – the self-appointed make-up expert, who gives a ridiculously over-the-top tutorial for women, noting: “Dis mascara ya – will mek it [so] when you blink, di whole place feel breeze!”

In short, Blair, who graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Media and Communication from the University of the West Indies, is a fast-rising comedy sensation, who, like the late great poet Louise ‘Miss Lou’ Bennett, is bold in delivering her material in Jamaican dialect.

Here, she talks about becoming a YouTube star and flying the flag for Jamaican comedy.

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Tell us a little bit about yourself
My name is Toni Blair, but I am also called "Bella" or by the names of the characters I created over time as a YouTuber. I started in the arts at the tender age of four and won my first silver medal in the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission competition for dub-poetry. Can you imagine; four years old playing the congas and presenting my piece?

What sparked your love of the arts?
My dad was a visual artist and my mum is a free-spirited individual. That combination I think allowed them to be supportive whenever I expressed a desire to be involved in the arts. My teachers saw my love for the arts and encouraged my involvement in all aspects: music, drama and dance.

What inspired you to start creating your videos?
I had just got my new computer and at the time, in the second year university, we were learning how to edit for television production. I was at home and I needed to edit something, so I decided to do a short vlog about “things ghetto girls say.” I posted it on YouTube and people loved it, so I continued.


COMEDY CAPERS: Blair’s character, make-up ‘expert’ Poonchie

Were you ever apprehensive about sharing your videos online?
I was never apprehensive about sharing my videos because I was confident enough that at least one person would like them.

Did you expect your videos to garner such attention?
No, I really didn’t. I was actually surprised that my numbers were going up at the rate that they were. A fellow YouTuber, Trabass, helped me in the beginning stages. He thought I was funny and we did a collaboration and that drove traffic to my channel.

When did you realise you had such a gift for comedy?
I always knew I could act but I did not know people found me funny until I started making YouTube videos.

Are any of your comedy characters – Poonchie in particular – inspired by people you know?
Poonchie is inspired by a good friend of mine, Dejah. I always admired how free she was in expressing herself and how free she was with the use of her language.

Have you ever been on a date that went as badly as the one you portray in your blind date with the doctor video?
Never!

Most of the best-known Jamaican comedy exports are men. Why do you think no contemporary female Jamaican comics have been able to enjoy the same popularity as the likes of Oliver Samuels or Ity and Fancy Cat?
This may be a question for the social scientists. That’s what they are, right? The people dem who study behaviour and dem tings deh. The people who can tell why some people gone ah lead and the other people dem don’t gone nowhere.
In truth, I am happy that our little island, despite the many things we face, has been able to present to the world the likes of these male artists, who have made a great impact on the lives of so many people.
I think the [male-female] representation is disproportionate due to the patriarchal design of our social and political systems, but with technology, I am afforded a voice and a platform and maybe we can inspire a movement.


BAD DATE: Blair's hilarious blind date sketch

Who are some of your acting/comedy inspirations?
Miss Lou [Louise Bennett], Oliver Samuels, Jamie Foxx and Eddie Murphy

What’s the best and worst thing about being a YouTube sensation?
The best thing about being a YouTuber is that you have a lot of freedom to do whatever you want and present your content however you wish. There is no worst thing.

What do your parents and/or other family members make of your success?
My family supports me in all I do, as long as it’s for good.

What advice would you give to any aspiring female comedians?
You are not less of, you are gold. You may have to work twice as hard but make sure you achieve your goals.

Anything else you care to add?
I live by the philosophy “I am because, you are.”

For more information, visit facebook.com/thebellablair Follow Bella Blair on Twitter: @TheBellaBlair

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