Thursday, May 29, 2008

Anjelah Johnson Nails a Career in Comedy 

Posted by James at 10:12 AM ET

By Kelli Skye Fadroski
The Orange County Register

Comedian Anjelah Johnson always knew she wanted to be an entertainer. For as long as she can remember, she's loved being the center of attention, constantly in performance mode, and entertaining her parents, three siblings and family friends.

She's is big on family, pulling from her own experience growing up in a large Mexican family that does everything together.

"Even if you're not related to us we still make you feel like you are," Johnson says in her act. "You know what I mean? As soon as you walk in we'll make you a burrito, we'll ask you for a ride to the store real quick or we'll probably spank one of your kids."

Now, at 26, Johnson performs at radio comedy festivals and in comedy clubs across the country. She's currently on tour with new material and makes a stop at the Irvine Improv this weekend.

Johnson started out wanting to be a cheerleader. Growing up in San Jose, she joined Pop Warner cheer at 8 years old and continued to cheer through high school. She cheered while attending De Anza College, where she also took speech and theater classes.

Anjelah Johnson

To further her career and be in front of even more people, Johnson tried out to be Raiderette cheerleader for the Oakland Raiders. She got the gig and cheered the Raiders through the 2002 football season and performed during the big game when the Raiders lost 48-21 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl XXXVII in 2003.

She left the Raiders soon after and moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting. A dedicated Christian, Johnson joined a church comedy troupe in L.A. and after some coaxing from friends and fellow comedy enthusiasts, she took a writing and stand-up class where the final assignment of the course was to do a live performance at the Queen Mary in Long Beach. After just one real performance she was hooked.

She started gigging locally and working on her act that's purely observational comedy. Her "Nail Lady" bit, based on her experience getting a mani-pedi with her sister at "Beautiful Nail," quickly became an audience favorite. The act caught the attention of producers at "MADtv" and Johnson became part of the cast in November of last year. She was featured in many of the shows skits and even wrote her own skit starring a colorful character she created named "Bon Qui Qui." It became a favorite on YouTube, getting thousands of hits. Johnson was dropped from the "MADtv" cast because of budget cuts after the writers' strike.

Now Johnson spends her days writing and working on her latest stand-up comedy act and auditioning for a few small acting roles here and there.

She took a break from her touring schedule for a quick phone interview.

Does five minutes feel like a lifetime when you're a new comic on stage?

Johnson: It can at first, but now that I have my routine down and I'm performing for a good 55 minutes, towards the end I'm like 'Dang, man, I have four more jokes!'

OCR: Do you beat up hecklers at your show?

Johnson: I don't usually get hecklers but I get drunk guys that talk really loud. Once you get drunk, you don't know how to whisper anymore. I usually just point them out and start talking to them – I let them know that they're on my bad side with the "look."

OCR: Who are some of your comedic inspirations?

Johnson: Ellen DeGeneres is great. She has this natural style and she makes comedy look so easy. George Lopez too, I can relate to everything he talks about, growing up with a Mexican family and all.

OCR: What does your family think of your career and that you make fun of them?

Johnson: Now that I can pay my bills by doing it, they're into it. My sister was always supportive, when I first moved to L.A. she was like 'I know you can do it!' But my parents, in the beginning, not so much. They were kinda like "I'll believe it when I see it." But when I actually started booking things, my dad was like "Oh, I knew it all along."

OCR: Did you learn anything by being a Raiderette that you still use today?

Johnson: Believe it or not, that is how I learned how to take pictures with fans and sign autographs. You don't just sign your name; there is a real art to it and to get it done quickly, and have it represent you best. Doing that prepared me for all of this.

OCR: How was your experience on "MADtv"?

Johnson:I learned a lot about production and how things worked in that area, and I was able to write my own sketch. To have my sketch be produced, shot, to see other people saying the words I had written, and introduce this character, to actually bring her to life, was amazing.

OCR: As a comedian, is it hard for you to get out and date?

It's hard to date when you're not a comedian. I get really distracted when I'm dating somebody and I'm really focusing on my career right now so I'm trying not to date. But I'll let myself get distracted every now and again.

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