Stand-up comic and actress Anjelah Johnson came through Houston last summer to tape her first special for Comedy Central. Hair Balls spoke with Johnson, a former NFL cheerleader, who appears in the just-released film Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel and will soon be seen in the upcoming Our Family Wedding with America Ferrera.
Hair Balls: The obvious place to start is why did you tape your special in Houston? Most people choose their home town or New York, Los Angeles. You chose Houston, why?
Anjelah Johnson: I get hometown love from Houston. I don't know how it happened, but ever since my first time performing in Houston, it was literally sold-out shows and hometown support. I kept coming back coming back to Houston year after year because it was literally such good energy in Houston, great crowds, and a really positive vibe. Sometimes you get a crowd that's like, 'Ah, entertain me, impress me.' Then you get crowds where people come out to laugh and just have a good time. That's pretty much what Houston's about. So when they asked me where do you want to film your special, I was like, 'Houston. I'm definitely going there.' No question.
HB: At one point in the special you seem to lose the crowd a little when you do a black guy/white girl joke. Then you start the next bit and you're just one sentence into the piece about Vietnamese manicurists and people are whooping and hollering because they know what's coming. It's like when people recognize the intro to a hit song, they start clapping just two bars in.
AJ: That black guy/white girl joke is one of my favorite parts of the show, to see how people are going to react. It's something that is true, but ...it has a little bit of a shock value to it. At first the audience is usually, 'Oh my God, no she didn't!' but then it's, 'That is true, though. That is true.' And then I love to flip on them and go to another ethnic group. So the people that were like, 'Ah, that's messed up,' are like so okay when I go to a different ethnicity. They're like, 'Yea!' and cheering. So I have to put them on blast on for that. 'You didn't like the black guy joke, but this one [about Vietnamese manicurists] is okay, huh?'
But you're right, it's like the first two bars of your favorite song, when people hear it coming, they go crazy.
HP: That's become like a signature bit for you.
AJ: It has. Sometimes I think, 'I won't put it in the show tonight,' but then people start asking for it. They start shouting it out and that's just really distracting when I'm on stage. (Laughs) I'm sure it's the same for musicians, to have people shout out for their favorite songs.
HP: After you finish your routine, you have a group of hip hop dancers come out and close the show. And you come back out with them. That surprised me.
AJ: When I was first offered this one-hour special, I knew I wanted to touch on a few things. I'm a female in a man's world, because comedy is all about the men. I wanted to showcase other women who were doing well in what people usually think of as a man's job.
So I have the Beat Freaks, who are an all-girl break dancing group. They're featured on America's Best Dance Crew. Usually it's all boy flipping around, spinning on their heads and I have a group of all females that are doing the exact same flips and jumps and turns and spinning on their heads moves. They open my show and then I come out at the end with them as well. And I have a female DJ, which is also seen as a man's job. So me, the dance crew, the dj, we're all an up-to-date version of Rosie the Riveter, a young, urban, hip group of women saying, 'This is how we do it now.'
HP: It would seem that your crowd would be a little young to remember Rosie the Riveter...
AJ: My crowd goes from five-year-olds to eighty-year-olds. It's so crazy how vast my fan base is. I have the young junior high girls watching me on YouTube and then they show their moms. Then the moms get together and come to my show. So I'll have a group of ten mothers who are like, 'My daughter just loves you,' and I'll have kids, and young professionals who are watching me on their computers at work in their cubicles, and I have the gay community which has embraced me, which I'm so grateful for, and then the Latinos and Asians ... it's so crazy. I just love that I can look out into my audience and see so many different kinds of people.
We've added some matinee all-ages shows to my tour because my younger, YouTube fans can't really come to a comedy club.
HP: You talk about Asians in your bits, you talk about Latinos and about young people, but you don't really talk about gays, not for or against, really. What do you think attracted them to you?
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AJ: It was funny, when I was touring and started seeing a big gay crowd out in the audience. I thought, 'I wonder what it is about me that they like? Hmmm.' The only thing I can say is one of my characters, Bon Qui Qui, is just ghetto fabulous and has this real diva attitude. People can see some of her in themselves -- just like I do, which is why I can portray that character so well. I think that diva aspect attracts people.
I also got a lot of feedback from the lesbian community who thought I actually was lesbian, but even when they found out that I'm not lesbian, they still support me.
Mostly, I think it's because I don't bash anyone, I just love everybody. Even though in my show, I'm putting different ethnicities on blast, it's actually like I'm calling us all out on that diva behavior, or that tendency to date outside of your own group or whatever the joke is about. We all do those things, we all recognize a little bit of ourselves in those characters, even if that character is Vietnamese or black or whatever, and you're not.
Anjelah Johnson's stand-up specialThat's How We Do It! premieres at 10 p.m. December 28 on Comedy Central. Visit www.anjelahnicolejohnson.com for more information.