Surprise Emmy Nominee Mary Lou Belli on Directing ‘The Ms. Pat Show’ and Forging a Career in Black Comedy

I have to tell you — I've been around a long time, and not everybody gets that opportunity or chance. “I guess I feel like I've got it all. “I feel blessed that I get to play now in both spaces [of comedy and drama]. I am genuinely humbled.”” /> I get heartfelt stories, and I still get to blow shit up!” she says.
Pat Show.” BET is hardly a regular player in the awards conversation, nor is its streamer that launched in 2019. The true tiny-but-mighty nominee this year is Mary Lou Belli, who made it into the comedy directing category for "Baby Daddy Groundhog Day," Episode 5 of BET+’s “The Ms. No one was more shocked by the recognition for "The Ms. Pat Show" than Belli, who has devoted decades of her career to projects that have been criminally overlooked.
“I didn't ever presume that I knew more than I did. “It’s the fact that I respected the environment,” Belli says when asked why she thinks she found such success working in Black television. And I was always respectful when asking things I didn't know.”
Belli, a white woman, has gotten many of her most prominent directing credits on shows like “Sister, Sister,” “Eve,” The Hughleys,” “Girlfriends” and “The Game” — beloved Black comedies. A quick look at Belli’s filmography reveals a clear trend.
Around 2016, Belli stepped away from that world for a bit to try her hand at some dramas, racking up credits on shows like “Dynasty,” “Station 19” and “NCIS: New Orleans.” But a meeting with Patricia “Ms. Pat” Williams brought her back home to sitcoms.
I was entering a space where I was the person who hadn't been there before, and I felt accepted, and I gave that back.” “He didn't know about acting. “And with D.L., for example, it was a two-way street,” she continues. We never patronized each other. He was respectful when I would [critique] him.
“This was like nothing I've ever seen,” Belli says of the first scripts she read from “The Ms. Pat,” follows Williams, a Black woman who now lives in a suburban white neighborhood after a painful childhood selling crack cocaine while suffering sexual abuse. Pat Show.” The series, based on “Rabbit – The Autobiography of Ms.
We hit it off,” Belli says. We’re friends to this day." “D.L. Hughley was a huge, huge advocate at the beginning of my career. “I still have pictures of his wife holding my first child!
And while he didn’t nab that role, he did end up leading his own sitcom, where he brought on Belli to direct four episodes. Belli first met Hughley as he was beginning to make his transition from stand-up comedy to acting. At the time, she was working as an acting coach, and Hughley was preparing to audition for a Denzel Washington movie.
Pat Show” for a second season almost immediately after Season 1 debuted. BET+ renewed “The Mrs. And earlier this month, one week before Emmy nominations and one month before the premiere of Season 2, the series was greenlit for Season 3.
“I’m so pleased. It was my big return to sitcoms,” Belli tells Variety.
It has become her way out of intolerable obstacles that most people would never heal from.” “I read [“Rabbit”] while I was doing the first season. I could hardly come to work the next day, because after I finished it, I wept and couldn't stop,” Belli says. “And you realize: humor has been her solace.
Still, all of these shows were critical darlings that fans and industry insiders alike could have predicted would pick up at least a nod here or there. Among the pleasant surprises from this year's Emmy nominations was widespread love for series like “Abbott Elementary,” “The Great” and “The White Lotus,” which held their own in categories full of favorites lauded heavily at the SAG Awards, guild awards and last year’s Emmys ceremony.
The series was led by Tracee Ellis Ross, who Belli had first worked with on “Girlfriends.” After that, there was “Second Generation Wayans” with Damien Dante and Craig Wayans. Belli’s first significant project at the network was “Reed Between the Lines,” of which she directed seven episodes.
Given the breadth of Belli’s work throughout the years, Primetime Emmy Awards recognition seems long overdue. But Belli doesn’t see it that way.
But that process happened organically. For example, Belli credits “Girlfriends” creator and showrunner Mara Brock Akil with making her a better director on the 20 episodes of the show that she helmed, which only led to more work down the line. As time went on, Belli’s creative community became similar to those of figures like Norman Lear and Kelsey Grammer — white producers who became known for championing Black voices in comedy.
“And BET has always been kind to me.” “Part of a director's job is getting that next job. And when you get asked back, you're reaching across with trust on both sides,” she says.

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