INTERVIEWS

The Comic Next Door: Anjelah Johnson

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Local San Jose comedian Anejlah Johnson was thrust into the spotlight with incredible speed.  After being an Oakland Raiderette, Johnson went to LA and within two years of open mics and clubs became an internet star with her stand-up bit on nail salons. Within a few months she was featured on MADtv and then her self-created character Bon Qui Qui became an international star with over 100 million views on YouTube. All this from a comic that works clean, relies on her faith to get her through a day and has a mighty chipper attitude.

 biography-image2DNA: You’re a San Jose girl, is half the Santa Cruz Civic going to be filled with Johnsons?

Johnson: There will be a lot of my family there, for sure. This is my first time performing in Santa Cruz and I really don’t know what to expect. It’s next door to San Jose, but it has its own market, its own people and I’m not sure if it’s real hipster or laid back?

It’s just like San Jose but everyone wears Birkenstocks (laughter). Is it hard for you when you have friends and family in the audience?

No, I like it when they are there. I have jokes about them, and I like them to hear their jokes. None of the jokes are mean spirited and I know they will have a good time. I’m very excited about my brother-in-law coming because I’ve recently started doing a lot of jokes about him. He’s Vietnamese but he’s super white, because he was adopted by a white family. He was born in Vietnam, and they flew him here and now he’s white. He listens to country music, chews tobacco and goes hunting on the weekends. I’m excited for him to hear it.

Do you try bits out in smaller venues before you do a bigger show?

I mostly play theatres. So I write as I go and adjust little things. Basically, if I can make myself laugh I’ll try it onstage. I feel like I have a good enough understanding of my audience and my fan base, but there are still times when I miss the mark and I’m reaching. But I will mix new stuff in, I’ll give them all my hitters and then I’ll throw in a new one. Or if I’m trying something new I can adjust , onstage, to see if it’s working. I just finished a club week in San Antonio, which was awesome, eight shows and eight opportunities to try some new things that worked. So I’m excited to use that on the road.

I do open mics all the time, and I don’t know why you would miss it, but having gotten so big so fast, do you miss the smaller rooms?

Here’s the thing. I never wanted to be a comedian. When I first started doing stand-up, I took a class at my church for free and the first bit I wrote was the nail salon bit, and it blew up like crazy. So it was immediately that bookers were like “Do you want to do my Tuesday night here, or Wednesday night there,” but I was never the one hustling to try and find stage time. In my heart I wanted to be an actress and was going to acting class. And then the nail salon video blew up on YouTube and the demand became crazy.  People were requesting me. So I thought I might as well write more jokes that people might want to hear. I started writing more material. Anytime I would do an open mic or a random Tuesday night at a dive bar that nobody has heard of I would get so much anxiety. It wasn’t my hustle, it wasn’t my dream. I would get anxiety and it would make me really nervous. After the video went viral I would be performing on the weekends to several hundred people who were coming out to see me. I would get great energy and great response so I got really spoiled and used to that. Then when I would come back and do an open mic I would think, “Whoah, I don’t like this feeling at all.”

Welcome to my life.

I know, that’s the life of a comedian, that’s the hustle. There are so many people that feed off that. My friend Mel Hall is a great comedian and I’ve been working with him on the road. He helps me with my writing and I admire his hustle, he’s always writing new material. When we get back from the road and having just finished a week long great series of shows, the next day I’m sitting on couch resting watching Law and Order SVU and Mel is writing new jokes and trying to find an open mic somewhere.

Well, you’re skill set is multifaceted, you sing, you dance, you act and you do comedy. So you’re not like a stand-up comic who only has that. C’mon Anjelah, we got to stay on it every night or else we’re worthless.

I never thought about it that way.

Do you ever have to deal with hecklers at your shows?

My hecklers are just drunks. I rarely get somebody heckling my material or disagreeing with me and wanting to shout out their opinion. I rarely get that guy. What I get is drunk distractions. People who are really excited to be there and “whooing” a little too much and being a distraction for everyone else. This past weekend in San Antonio, this drunk women kept standing up and fist pumping like she was at a dance club. She would stand-up and fist pump every now and then like she was really excited about my jokes. When I play a big crowd, I play to the left side of the room, then I play to the right side of the room and every time I faced in the direction she was sitting she acted as if I was talking directly to her. So I would turn away to ignore her. You can only call so much attention to a heckler before it disrupts the show. At that point you need to lean on your security.

It must be tough being a clean comic and having a heckler. It would be awkward for fans to see Anjelah Johnson flip it and lose her mind on somebody.

I have had to get people kicked out. There have been times where I thought, “If I wasn’t a clean comic I would go off on this person.” Luckily for me I have the alter ego Bon Qui Qui that I can easily just turn on and give them some attitude and sass. Learning a couple of go-to zingers that would draw enough attention to get security helps—but I want to make sure that the audience laughs and doesn’t feel too bad for that person.

On the other side of things have you ever had super fans, borderline stalker kind of fans?

No. . . I do have fans that will come to every show within a few hundred mile radius.

Do they dress as Bon Qui Qui?

Oh yeah, I’ve had people dress as Bon Qui Qui. A couple of guys have come, dressed in drag. That’s always hilarious. Back in the day when it was Myspace and not Facebook and my video was starting to get popular on the internet, I had a lot of people messaging me on Myspace that would think we were friends. It was all so new to me that I would make it a point to respond to every single person. I didn’t know that you didn’t have to. I would get hundreds of messages and it got overwhelming. I would sit there for hours replying to people. I would think, “Oh my god, I have to go to work,” but I have to respond to these people. One day a friend told me, “You know you don’t have to do that.” But because I would reply people would think we were friends. I would reply, “Thanks for writing to me.” The next day they would message me again and be like, “How was your day? What’s up?”

That’s a really cool thing to do as a rising star but you blew up and doing that became an impossible task.

Yeah, the first video that went viral was my stand-up bit about the nail salon in January 2007 and then I joined MADtv in May and I only did a few episodes on MADtv and then there was the writer’s strike that year. All shows went off because of the strike, and when the show came back there were budget cuts and by budget cuts I mean me. After I was off the show, then Bon Qui Qui blew up on the internet. And at that point I bet they were wishing they had kept me on the show. It was the highest most viewed video of any MADtv sketch. They were probably like “Dang it.” Actually, that’s just me putting words in their mouths.

Are you getting a lot scripts and auditions thrown at you?

You would think. I do say no to a lot of things. I have different boundaries of things I will do and things I won’t do, you know? So that limits the work available to me. But I do have more opportunities because of my stand-up, for sure.

Who in the comedy world and has reached out to and you and said, “I’m a fan, let’s work together?”

Over the years I received a lot of support from people. I did an episode of the George Lopez show. He was very kind and supportive. Jo Koy is one of my really good friends and have worked together and support and help each other. Sometimes for comics it becomes competition and really it shouldn’t be. We’re all doing our own thing and the more we can help each other out and be each other cheerleaders the stronger our community is. There are enough people out there willing to tear us down, peers should link with each other and offer “congratulations on this” or “cheers on that.” So, Jo Koy is on my support team and part of my support system and I’ll go to him with questions and about my business or comedy and we discover together.

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Interviews
02/11/2014

Comments

One response to “The Comic Next Door: Anjelah Johnson”

  1. Wes says:

    Great Interview, DNA!

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