by Andrew Wantuck
This week I spoke with Anjelah Johnson. She sells out all over the country from her YouTube clip called "The Nail Salon Lady." We spoke about being an Internet phenomenon, her experiences on MADtv, and how she manages to be a funny Christian.
Andrew: What are you working on right now?
Anjelah: Things are going really well. I start filming on Monday for Alvin and The Chipmunks, Part 2.
Andrew: Wow. That's a good gig. So whose voice are you? Somebody's girlfriend? Somebody's boyfriend - no, not somebody's boyfriend.
Anjelah: Well, I mean anything is possible. No, the chipmunks are the only ones who are actual 3D characters, animated, you know. Everybody else is real human beings, so I play their music teacher at their new school.
Andrew: Professional show business, here you come.
Anjelah: I know, and we're going to be filming out in Long Beach. So maybe I'll come stop by The Comedy & Magic Club on the way home. You're over here trying to interview me, and I'm trying to book dates.
Andrew: [Laughs] You are very young to have as much success as you've had in this business. How are you able to accomplish that?
Anjelah: Well, my friend, through Jesus Christ. Realistically, I don't know how this happened. I've just been rolling with the punches. I have no clue how this happened, and it's funny, because I get a lot of people, you know, asking me on youtube, "what did you do? You just uploaded your videos?" because they want to know how I did it so they could emulate it but it was really kind of, it sounds kind of cliche, but it was one of those like destiny things like this was supposed to have happened for me. It was supposed to have blown up like this. I couldn't even tell you - I didn't even put the video up on YouTube myself that eventually propelled me to where I'm at now. Everything just fell into place."
Andrew: The YouTube video that you're referencing, is called the "The Nail Salon Lady," how many people have seen the video?
Anjelah: The last time I checked, "The Nail Salon" was at, eleven million.
Andrew: So how does that register inside your head knowing that eleven million people have watched a stand-up bit that you have created?
Anjelah: You know, I don't get. I remember when I first started getting recognized on the street from that. That was really weird, and I was like "wait a minute..." and just hearing people quote me or things like that. I was actually at the airport once, and I was sitting by my terminal and I overheard people talking about me but they had no idea I was sitting a few rows behind them. It was really interesting. I don't how I feel about how all these people that have seen my stand-up. I'll be honest. I hate that video, because that video was taken when I first started doing stand-up. So I was fresh into stand-up, like four months. So me being the critic of myself that I am, I'm like oh my God, my stage presence. I'm totally talking with this crazy accent that I don't use in real life, and I hate it.
Andrew "That's really interesting. I guess the next question I have for you is you said you transitioned into stand-up and that was early on, that was like four months into it. What was your background prior to that, because I know you had MADtv as well, which is a sketch comedy group. A lot of people don't realize that there's such a division in performances there. There's two main divisions in comedy, sketch / improv performers and the stand-up community. You're one of their few people that's able to crossover and do both. So how did you get into the sketch world?
Anjelah: Not every stand-up comic can be a sketch actor. Not every sketch actor can be a stand-up comic. I started acting when I first moved to L.A. Acting was first, and stand-up kind of just fell into my plate. Somebody asked me if I wanted to take a stand-up class, so I took a joke writing class. Before that, I was in an improv class.
Andrew: Where did you study?
Anjelah: At my church actually. I started at the Oasis Christian Center, and I was in an improv troop. Then, I took a joke writing class, and then from there, the stand-up just kind of took off and then I ended up getting MadTV, I think, a year later after starting stand-up.
Andrew: Now tell me about your writing really quick, your writing style, in terms of stand-up. Some comics come up with a premise, then go stand up onstage and workout to the punch line. Some people literally sit down behind the scenes, pen and paper, punch lines, and then go up and tell them. Where do you fall in that spectrum?
Anjelah: I don't trust myself enough to just go onstage with a premise and try to figure it out. I, basically, talk to myself a lot when I'm getting ready, throughout my day, when I'm in the bathroom, when I'm driving, I'm constantly talking to myself and working things out that way. If I make myself laugh, then I go "oh, I better write that down" and so I write it down for later, and I'll write it out like that. Everything is usually observational, coming from a story or I'm kind of moving into a more storytelling kind of approach, not so much set up, punch line, but I've always been kind of like, "this is how I grew up...", "let me tell you this story...", "my dad used to do this..." That is my writing style.
Andrew: So in terms of the YouTube, having eleven million views, a lot of people haven't gone the avenue - you're kind of paving the way of going that route and being able to headline comedy clubs already, so with that said, was that a struggle for you? Most guys build an act over years and years and years by the time they get to headline, so you've got kind of thrown into it. Can you tell me about that experience?"
Anjelah: The first time I headlined, I had fifteen minutes of comedy, and what they did was they put like ten comics up before me to fill up the time, and I basically just closed the show. From that, when they saw I was drawing numbers, more clubs wanted to book me, so it kind of put pressure on me to write more material and to keep writing and writing. I pretty much developed my act into an hour act in about a year. Even though I started just working my way up from fifteen minutes, then headlining with thirty minutes, and then I got to like forty-five minutes. I definitely was propelled into it; I didn't know what to expect. I didn't know how things worked. I've only featured three times in my life, and even in those three times, I didn't even know exactly what featuring meant. You know, I was a feature doing radio, and I had no idea that features don't normally go do their own radio, but it's because the clubs knew I was drawing numbers. Of course, you walk that fine line of stepping on the toes of the headliner. But I had no idea that that's what I was doing, because I was just doing what they told me to. "Ok, you have radio at, you know, six a.m." "Ok, sure." Like I had no idea I wasn't normally supposed to do that. I had to figure that out the hard way after, I guess, offending a couple of people. That only happened a few times, and then I had to, eventually, start doing my own shows.
Andrew: Will you give me names of the headliners that said something?
Anjelah: Hell no.
Andrew: From MadTV what are some of the most popular characters that you have?"
Anjelah: Well, Bon Qui Qui is the one that blew up. I wasn't really utilized on MadTV like they could have. They really could have gotten a lot more out of me had they given me more opportunaties, but, I mean, right when I started there were rumers of the writer's strike, so they're trying to pump out scripts, you know, in the writings of the actors that they know how to write for. So I would get like one line or two lines in a sketch, because they're trying to just pump out the scripts before the writer's strike. So, basically, the only sketch that I really got to be featured in was the one that I wrote myself, which was Bon Qui Qui. That one blew up on YouTube like crazy. It's funny, because "The Nail Salon" was on the internet almost a year before my MadTV sketch was on the internet, and it's already surpassed it. Bon Qui Qui's at like fourteen million hits, almost fifteen million."
Andrew: Tell me about being a Raider's cheerleader.
Anjelah: Bad transition.
Anjelah: Who told you that?
Andrew: You did.
Anjelah: Oh Okay. [laughs]
Andrew: The question is. Did being a Raider's cheerleader help you prepare in some way for your eventual fame and/or stand-up?
Anjelah: You know, it sure did, actually. You know, being in front of crowds, a whole stadium of people. But I grew up performing, cheerleading, and being in competitions. That was definitely helpful, you know with the nerves that you get before going on stage and you're performing in front of hundreds of people. The pressure's on like I've been trained in that way as far as stand-up goes with the adrenalin and all that. The funny thing is, what I think the Raiderettes taught me most that has helped me in my stand-up career is after my shows in every city that I go to, I do a little meet and greet and there's a line of people like out the door who want to take pictures and I basically perfected my perma-smile picture from being on the Raiderettes, because you have to have your perma-smile down for when you took pictures with fans and mall signings and charity functions. You have to look the same in every picture, so, basically, I perfected my perma-smile for pictures after the shows."
Andrew: You are a devout Christian. How do you manage your faith with Hollywood stereotypes?
Anjelah: Basically when I moved out here to pursue acting, yes it was a dream of mine, and a desire of mine, but before I moved out here I had prayed about it and I was asking God "what do I do about it? What do I do with my life? What do you want me to do about it? Because above my will, I want your will for my life. And I really felt like God was sending me out here to the entertainment industry. So when I first moved here it wasn't so much a selfish reason or a self-centered reason, it was more like I am coming here because I want to do the will of God. So basically my approach to everything that I have done out here is kind of like following the path that was paved for me. I've been praying about all my auditions or gig. I'm not trying to impress the church or to know what would my pastor think about this, but more just about this is between me and God. Because I have have my own journey that's different from anyone else in my church, anyone else on set, you know what I mean? So it's my personal relationship with God and that drives how I go about my career.
Andrew: As a comedian do you ever write a joke that pops into your mind that does not glorify God in some way, but you still find it funny?
Anjelah: Well uh yeah. I do some jokes about being Christian and about how some people in the church like to disguise their gossiping as a prayer request, you know, and things like that. And I had this one church joke that I did that was so blasphemous, but it was so funny though, and it was funny because the opinion that I put on stage was actually one I disagreed. I said something about, I had an audition the other day to be one of the people who gets healed on the church channel.
Anjelah: I don't agree with it. I don't agree that those are fake people up there and that they're actors and things like that. I don't agree with that at all, but I just thought that that was such a funny viewpoint and I know people do feel that way. I think that's the edgiest I've ever gotten, but I don't preach at anybody from my microphone stand. You know what I mean? I definitely give them my opinion on things but even then I don't get that deep into it where I give someone a reason to heckle me or something like that. I don't talk politics. I don't talk religion as far as in a serious way. I'll poke fun at myself.
Andrew: What about, are there some comics that you admire out there that have taken a path that is very opposite from that, ie. George Carlin, and where did some of those guys we've grown up watching that have been almost anti-establishment enter your radar? Do you still respect some of the methods?
Anjelah: You know what? Funny is funny whether it's dirty or clean. What offends me is unfunny comics. I can laugh at anything if it's funny. If it's not funny then I'm offended, get off, your wasting my time. I grew up watching BET Comic View. That was my exposure to comedy. BET's Comic View, which every other word had to be bleeped out, but that's what I loved to watch. That's what made me laugh. The persona I bring on stage is the real me. I don't use foul language in my every day life so why am I gonna do it on stage? It doesn't make any sense and I'm not a grotesque kind of you know putting myself out there talking dirty in front of people or even with my friends. I'm not like that so there would be no point to bringing that onstage. Basically the growing thing on stage is an exaggerated version of real life for me.
Anjelah Johnson will be performing soon at The Comedy & Magic Club. anjelahnicolejohnson.com. ER