By Nick BeJeaux
Tomorrow night, Los Angeles comedian Anjelah Johnson will back in BR to be perform at the LSU Union Theatre.
Dig Magazine had the opportunity to interview Johnson on Monday, and asked her about her jokes, acting career, becoming famous over-night, and The Donald.
DIG: You’ve performed here many times before – why do you keep coming back?
Anjelah Johnson: Cuz they’re paying me to [laughs]. But this time it was last minute phone call I got from the University asking me to come perform for the students. I had an opening, and it happened.
DIG: You’ve been performing for about 10 years now, and you are most known for your character Bon Qui Qui and the Nail Salon bit. How do you feel about that character and that joke?
AJ: You know… it’s a blessing and a curse, for real. I’m honored that I have a joke and a character that my fans can relate to and want to come to my shows to see it. Not every comedian or performer has that kind of loyal fan base that comes – literally – just to hear that one joke or that one song. It’s an honor to have that, but at the same time it’s that one joke that you get tired of doing because it’s the same joke.
DIG: You really blew up after that bit came out in 2005. What was it like performing before all of that?
AJ: Actually, you’d be surprised. I just started doing stand up right when that joke took off – so I was very brand new. So when people saw that Nail Salon joke, they were like ‘hey when are you going to come perform in Atlanta?’ and I was like, well I only have about three jokes – I started comedy like yesterday, you know? So it was very new for me and I was suddenly in this position where I had to write a lot more material and keep growing with it because the demand was there.
DIG: That’s a lot to take on all at once; it must have been stressful.
AJ: It was so much pressure. You get these thoughts in your head – a lot of fear, and a lot of doubt – like ‘oh this joke isn’t as funny as the Nail Salon joke’ or ‘this character is not as funny as Bon Qui Qui.’ If you’re not careful, that fear will back you into a corner, and you’ll stay there because you’ll be afraid to take any risk. I was afraid to fail, especially when the bar was set so high.
I had set the bar so high without even knowing it – it was my first time and I didn’t know what I was doing. So there was a lot of fear that I had to battle, but at the same time I was like ‘well, I have nothing left to lose, so let’s do it.” That ended up very well for me, and soon after I did my first hour special on Comedy Central about four years later. Getting a special on comedy central four years after starting stand up, that’s pretty unheard of.
DIG: So do you feel like you’ve surpassed that bar you unknowingly set?
AJ: Oh yeah, I feel like I’ve gotten to the point where the Nail Salon joke is just an added bonus and not a crutch. I’m very confident in the rest of my material and that if people come to my show and I don’t do that joke, they will still enjoy themselves.
DIG: When I see you on stage, it’s just you and a mic. Is most of your show improv, or is it more or less scripted?
AJ: Ha! I whish. I honestly whish I was better at crowd work and reading the audience. That kind of traces back to that fear about going off-script and trying something new – because you’re afraid to fail, you know? So I end up sticking to what I know what works. But every now and then, I’ll improvise with the audience and get a laugh – then I’ll get scared and go back to my written material before I ruin everything [laughs].
That will come with practice – I have it a little bit – but the best at improv are just naturals. If I didn’t let fear hold me back so much, I would do more improv.
DIG: What areas of life are you exploring for material these days?
AJ: You know, I got married about four years ago, and my husband supplies me with material every day [laughs]. I’ve learned how to talk about our relationship and us; and that is very relatable to everyone – whether you’re married, single, gay straight, whatever; everyone has relationships.
My number one goal is to connect and relate to my audience. I want them leave feeling like I get them and I know them, and they get me. I want them to feel like ‘Oh my god, if she lived here, we’d be best friends.’
DIG: So do jokes that are more relatable to an audience make the best comedy?
AJ: For me personally, yes. But that’s for me because that’s my style. When I look at people in the audience point or look at each other when I’ve made a joke, I’ll know that I’m on to something. But what they don’t have is my perspective, or my point of view, on that particular topic. I guess that’s what sets me apart from anyone else – I talk about something that is relatable, but it’s something that happened specifically to me.
DIG: You’ve taken on a number of roles in films, animated ones too – The Book of Life for instance. How is working on something animated different from being on stage, or on camera?
AJ: To do animated work, you can show up in your pajamas, with no make up on – it’s you and the sound booth with the director. On camera, you have to deal with hair, make up, wardrobe, co-stars – but you get to play off of the other people on camera as well. In the sound booth, it’s all you.
For me, I feel like it’s less pressure, but you do have to give a little more because it is just you. You’re not asking and responding; you’re watching something on a screen and trying to match the audio to what’s happening. It’s completely different from being on set.
DIG: Much of your material is rooted in being half Mexican, half Native American, so how do you feel about Donald Trump?
AJ: Ugh. I can’t wait until this part is all done, and we can just be done with him and his antics. I’m surprised by how many people are taking him seriously, and that’s actually kind of scary that some people are listening to him, and are like ‘yeah, I’m going to vote for that.” I hope that when it comes to that time, the people who aren’t buying what he’s selling come to the polls. I just hope to God I’m not wrong.
DIG: Many comedians have taken aim at him. Have you? Do you plan to?
AJ: I’m not a political comedian – I don’t attack people whether I agree with them or not. I definitely keep my material around stories that relate to people and bring positivity and joy, not bashing somebody I don’t agree with. I can see how it is material for some people though. I will say everything is interesting right now, that’s for sure.