Article Thumbnail

Deflating the Urban Legend of Mr. Belvedere Sitting on His Balls

Thirty years after its finale, ‘Mr. Belvedere’ — and this legendary testicular mishap — has become part of internet lore and even slang. Is any of it true?

Typically, for a celebrity urban legend to take off, it has to include some sort of salacious sex act. For instance, there’s silent film star Clara Bow getting gangbanged by the USC football team, Richard Gere tunneling a gerbil up his butthole or Rod Stewart being rushed to the ER for a cum-y stomach pump. These rumors usually couple sex symbols — people that haters want to take down — with accusations that they’re a ho, secretly gay or (why not) both. 

But only one star managed to reach the heights of an urban legend for a relatively chaste reason. He was just a jovial bloke who had the misfortune of sitting on his own balls and birthing not only immense pain, but a legendary piece of television history, too.

That man was Christopher Hewett, better known as Mr. Belvedere.

If you don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of 1980s sitcoms, then you may have missed Mr. Belvedere in syndication or when it ran on ABC from 1985 to 1990. The show centers on the Owens family, who for some inexplicable reason, hire a formal English butler to help them around their modest home in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. Lessons are learned and laugh track hilarity ensues. The show starred baseball legend Bob Uecker and Hewett, a British actor who starred in numerous Broadway productions, as well as Mel Brooks’ The Producers

Until the internet age, the show was probably most famous for its Leon Redbone theme song:

That, or an epic Very Special Episode that had one of TV’s first AIDS-centered storylines, making for some awkward punchlines to say the least. (I mean, yikes, but hey, they still did more to bring attention to the crisis than Ronald Reagan did.)

These days, however, Mr. Belvedere is mostly known for the time Hewett allegedly mistakenly sat atop his balls.

Comedian Scott Bowser considers himself a Belvedere Balls obsessive, and he (like many others) first came across the story in Jay Mohr’s 2004 book about his time on SNL, Gasping for Air Time: Two Years in the Trenches on Saturday Night Live. “At the time I was obsessed with reading every book about comedy I could get my hands on,” Bowser tells me. “For the most part, it’s just a hacky recount of him not being as funny as his coworkers and having panic attacks, but the part that killed me was the Belvedere story.”

In the book, Mohr recounts a particularly memorable story that Adam Sandler related to the SNL cast. It went like this: When Sandler was just starting out, he landed a role on Mr. Belvedere. The day of the table read, the entire cast as well as the writers were waiting around for Hewett to arrive. When he finally did, Sandler was struck by the vision of this older, posh British man walking into the room in a chic sweatsuit and a matching, monogrammed attaché case. As he sat down at the table, however, a melodic, very British “Good morning, everyone!” quickly turned into howls of pain when, as he landed in the chair, his nutsack became trapped beneath his ample ass. The pain was supposedly so intense that Hewett had to be carried out on a stretcher. 

Now, this being an Adam Sandler story, you have to wonder about its veracity. After all, a story involving crushed testicles fits perfectly into Sandler’s juvenile humor wheelhouse. You can just picture Sandler’s British-by-way-of-Brooklyn accent as he imitates a stodgy Brit crushing his bangers into mash. And maybe it was too good to be true. Because as the story started to become legendary in the alt-comedy scene, cracks in the testicular wall began to appear. For instance: Sandler never appeared on Mr. Belvedere.

Then again, Bowser later heard that Mohr had mistaken the tale as one of Sandler’s when Sandler was actually repeating a story he’d heard from another comic — Doug Benson. “I was told Doug Benson was roommates with the guy who played the oldest son on the show,” says Bowser. “He came home from work early one day and was like, ‘You’re not going to believe this: Mr. Belvedere sat on his balls and had to be taken away on a stretcher.’”

To that end, Benson started making the podcast rounds in 2012 claiming the story was his. This included an appearance on Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast! in which Gottfried brought up the story and said he was filming another show around the same time and the rumor about Hewett’s crushed sac was making the rounds. Benson replied that Sandler got the story from him and confirmed Bowser’s version — Benson was roommates with actor Rob Stone, who played the oldest son on the show, and he gave Benson the devastating yet hilarious news about Hewett’s scrotum trauma. 

Benson swears his straight-laced roommate would never make up something so outlandish, but it’s still second-hand information. Plus, as a longtime ER nurse tells me, she’s never seen someone come through with a ball injury caused by errantly sitting atop them, even if it’s theoretically possible (the testicular trauma she’s witnessed mainly involves kicks or jabs). Not to mention, a very unscientific Twitter poll I conducted found that while 60 percent of guys had sat on their own balls, most described the pain as a sharp pinch, not a “carried out on a stretcher” level of agony.

Besides, as writer Ashley Friedman points out, it probably doesn’t even matter if the story is true or not — it unites us all the same. “It feels like the kind of story that you would hear about, say, a math teacher at your school who had been there for 70 years, but instead of resonating solely with kids who went to one elementary school in Englewood, New Jersey, it’s for all of us,” she says. “There’s something very unifying and sweet about that. And while it’s crass, it’s not lascivious or darkly sad like the rumors about the ALF dad smoking crack with teenagers.”

She’s right, of course, but I still wanted a definitive answer.

I finally found it — where else? — but on Reddit. Roughly a year ago, longtime TV writer Jay Abramowitz, who worked on Mr. Belvedere, did an AMA about his experiences during the heyday of 1980s and 1990s sitcoms. There was obviously one question everyone came to ask, and Abramowitz delivered: “One day, we writers were in the office of our showrunner, Liz Sage, going through a script and minding our own business. The director, Don Corvan, burst in, and told us they’d shut down production and we weren’t going to believe why. According to Don, Chris Hewitt — Mr. Belvedere — had been in the previous weekend’s Christmas parade. Chris had been standing in a car waving to his zillions of fans when the car broke suddenly. Chris lost his balance — the man wasn’t particularly steady in the first place — and toppled awkwardly, crushing his cubes in the process. Ever the trouper, he’d come in for rehearsal anyway, but the pain in his manly member became too much and he had to take to his bed. Whether he ever passed out or not is, sadly, beyond the scope of my knowledge.”

Abramowitz went on to add, “I neglected to mention earlier that the male writers on our staff spent the rest of the day trying to reproduce Christopher’s accident. We all failed, and were therefore skeptical of his explanation of the cause of his testicular discomfort. Try it yourself and please let me know if you succeed.”

Abramovitz’s account is backed up by Mr. Belvedere Executive Producer Jeff Stein, who once told an interviewer, “Yes, it’s true. Mr. Belvedere did sit on his own balls. He fell backwards riding in a convertible in the Hollywood Christmas Parade. We had to shut down for a week while he healed. Pat Rickey, our producer, prefaced this revelation with the statement, ‘Now, you can’t tell anybody this…’”

Despite this more or less official confirmation — and the fact that the Urban Dictionary now terms any instance of ball-sitting a Belvedere — Bowser still gets wistful about what remains unknown. He wonders what episode had to be shut down due to the testicular mishap, and more fatally, if the nut crack was the very moment Mr. Belvedere “jumped the shark”

“Maybe that’s when the show stopped working,” he reasons. “Maybe everyone in that writer’s room realized that they would never write something funnier than that. I know I couldn’t.”