BABE #268: ANJELAH JOHNSON - Actress, Comedian, Musician
Anjelah first moved to Hollywood to pursue a career in acting, and quickly realized that her additonal knack for comedy came with many more opportunities to further expand her talents. Beginning in 2007, her comedy bit “Nail Salon” and MADtv’s “Bon Qui Qui” skit became viral catalysts for her successful career as the comedian, actress, producer, musician, dancer, and entrepreneur she is today. We had the pleasure of chatting with Anjelah via phone call, when we learned that her many years in the spotlight haven’t hindered — but actually strengthened — her genuine, humble and of course hilarious nature. Anjelah’s dedication to not only her career but her family, friends, community and hobbies is certainly something to be admired and celebrated.
Hometown: San Jose, California
Current city: Los Angeles, California
Alma mater: Lincoln High School
Very first job: Great America Theme Park
Hustle: Actress, Comedian, Musician
Babe you admire and why?
So many. I have so many influential women for different reasons. The obvious, starting with my mom, who sacrificed so much for her children. My assistant (Ja-Kee Sisneros)— is an amazing woman whom I admire, and her selflessness and work ethic are also very admirable. My friend Erica Greve, who runs a nonprofit organization rescuing women and children from sex slavery, has dedicated her life to it and sacrifices so much for the cause.
How do you spend your free time?
I love, when I have free time, to spend it with family and friends. If I’m home, I want to go to my friends’ houses or have my friends over at my house and just hang out. We’ll have food, open a bottle of wine and just have our community.
What would you eat for your very last meal?
Something Mexican. Chile verde, a crunchy chicken taco, chips and salsa. Something Mexican for sure.
If you could have coffee with anyone in the world, who would it be?
Oprah. I met her recently (I was hired to perform on a cruise ship while she was having her Girl’s Getaway Cruise) and it wasn’t enough. A few minutes is not enough.
What’s something that always makes you laugh?
“Friends.” My husband and I have watched it every day. We’ve gone through the whole series multiple times in our seven years of marriage and we just love that show. We always laugh and we love the jokes. We know what happens in each episode—we know everything, but we still laugh, every single time.
Tell us about your hustle.
I have a multilayer hustle. I moved to Hollywood to be an actress; I had no idea I was going to turn into a stand-up comedian. My hustle has gone from acting, stand-up comedy, producing, music artist, dancer, entrepreneur, social media influencer, trying to be a good wife and a good dog mom. All of that is part of my multilayer hustle.
What does your typical workday look like?
When I’m doing stand-up, my day starts with waking up early, going through TSA, getting on a flight, flying across the country, landing and sometimes going straight to my sound check. Then, I do my show and a meet-and-greet, go back to my hotel, sleep for a few hours, get up the next morning and then fly to the next city or back home. That’s sometimes one day. When I’m not touring, on a typical day I’ll wake up, have my coffee, have my prayer time and start my day off with peace and intention. Then, I sometimes go to the gym or a yoga class, depending on my meetings. There’s always traffic everywhere in LA, so it usually takes an hour to get wherever you’re going. Usually in the car is when I make my phone calls. I call people back, I call my family, my friends. That’s usually when my business gets done is on my way to a meeting, I’m calling people [saying things] like, “Hey, we need to work on this for merchandise,” or “We need to make sure we have this video ready to go.” Usually my drives are when a lot of my hustle is happening. I go to my meeting, then I drive to my next meeting, and there’s more hustling on the phone.
How did you get started on your journey into the industry?
Acting came first. I moved to Hollywood to be an actress and I had no idea I was going to be a comedian; it kind of fell in my lap. Stand-up comedy ended up being what took off for me. It’s so great to have dreams and goals, but it’s also very important to stay open-minded, have your eyes alert, your ears alert, ready for adjusting and shifting as God or your higher power, whoever you refer to, makes way for opportunity. You can be available to receive the opportunity, not fight it because it doesn’t look like what you set out to do. If I’d said, This isn’t what I set out to do; I’m an actress, and not moved forward in my stand-up comedy career, I wouldn’t be where I am in my acting career. Every acting gig I’ve ever had came out of stand-up comedy, because the director or the casting director or the producer saw my stand-up and they knew I would be good, so they pitched me for the role. It's one of those things where even if it doesn’t look like what you set out to do, if it sits right in your spirit, be open to moving forward in it.
What was it like getting your first “big break” in entertainment?
What’s funny is that there were a bunch of little moments, but one that sticks out the most to me is when the Nail Salon video first went viral on YouTube. I was at a place in my life where I didn’t have an agent, I didn’t have auditions, I didn’t have any opportunities coming in my life. It was like overnight; because of the video going viral, I had meetings out the door. I had auditions. I had all these opportunities I’d never had before. I started getting messages from people online, from people all over the world—people in Australia, the Philippines, the United States. I remember in that moment, feeling overwhelmed, and talking to my sister telling her everything that was going on. I said, “This is either a little phase I’m going through, or this is the beginning of the rest of my life.” That's exactly what it was; It was the beginning of my career.
Tell us about your journey as “Bon Qui Qui.”
I never imagined Bon Qui Qui would be as big as she is, never would have imaged that thing would blow up as big as it did. I have a lot of other funny things that haven’t blown up like that. I don’t know what it is about this that took off, but I’m so grateful it did. It opened up so many doors for me: the ability to be a music artist, and tour as a music artist, and get a record deal with Warner Brothers Records. I don’t want to say I would have never been able to do that [as Anjelah], but it would have taken a lot of creativity and reinventing of myself to do, and this just kind of lent itself perfectly to that. It was a very cool experience and opportunity because of that character, and I still can’t even tell you why that character is so successful.
How have your past professional experiences and lessons prepared you for the work you do today?
When I worked at the theme park (my very first job), one of the games I worked was a big, giant scale. I had to guess people's weight, then they had to step on the scale and if I was within five pounds, I win. To get people to play the game, I would talk to them on the microphone as they were walking by, and I was funny. I was making people laugh, and that's why they would stop and pay to play my game. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was 14 years old, working at a theme park, doing stand-up comedy. I was on a microphone, making strangers laugh, and I had no idea that's what I was doing. From my very first job, I've definitely had some preparation for what I’m doing today. Even as I got older and I was 20 and I was a cheerleader for the Oakland Raiders, that kind of taught me how to be a public figure. I had to do meet-and-greets as a Raider, I had to learn how to shake hands with people, and make eye contact with them, and how to take a photo with them. I had to learn how to sign an autograph, I had to learn how to present myself in front of large groups of people. Even with that, that was preparation for what I’m doing today.
What can be done to create more equal, uplifting (and well-paying!) spaces for women in the entertainment industry?
I think it starts with us — lifting each other up, linking arms with each other and realizing there's room for all of us. Whatever field or industry you’re in, you can uplift your fellow sister, encourage her, open the door for her, even if it might mean somebody is sitting next to you instead of beneath you. That all comes back to you, and that all works in your favor. You opening the door for someone else is just you sowing seeds and allowing the opportunity for someone to open the door for you, too. You are putting that good seed out there in the universe, and I think the more we can link arms and realize we aren’t each other’s competition, but we’re actually each other’s help, is when we’ll see a lot more favor and opportunity and equality come our way.
What’s the gender ratio like in your industry? Do you see it evolving?
The stand-up comedy world has definitely changed over the years. It was definitely more of a man’s world and every now and then you would see a woman in it. Back in the 80s, female comics like Ellen DeGeneres and Joan Rivers were few and far between. It was mostly a man’s world. I think the climate is changing a little bit. We see more female comics out there succeeding, which is fantastic. I think we owe a big thank you to Chelsea Handler for opening a platform on her talk show, “Chelsea Lately.” She would have a round table where she would invite comics every episode and promote where they were going to be performing, and introduce all of us to these new comedic faces. There was always a woman included.
What are some of your dream roles for the future?
I would love a multi-cam sitcom! We recently sold a script to NBC (myself producing alongside America Ferrera and Kevin Hart), but they ended up not moving forward with it. That’s also part of my hustle—you dream. You take a risk, you get vulnerable, you put it out there, you take a chance and sometimes it goes, but sometimes you get a no. It's about dusting yourself off and getting back up, continuing on, fighting for what you believe in, continuing to dream and not giving up. I would love to see a project like that, that I’m producing, make it all the way to people’s TV screens. That’s the goal for me, for sure.
Who are some women in the industry you look to for inspiration?
My friend Iliza Shlesinger, who’s a comedian. I literally just called her yesterday for some advice. [...] Other women in the acting world, like my friend Diana-Maria Riva; she played my mom in the movie “Our Family Wedding”, and she has coached me for auditions so many times. She’s just been a listening ear. She’s given me advice as well, and she’s someone I come to as an actor, to be encouraged and inspired by. And then my producer, Teri Weinberg, is a badass woman who is a boss lady, and I love her so much. She’s produced shows like “The Office” and “Ugly Betty.” It's been a pleasure and an honor to work with her and learn how she does things.
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
I always tell people: “Do you, and do you well, because there is no one like you.” In my industry—if I get an audition, it’s tomorrow at 11 a.m. and it’s to play Detective Rodriguez on this new crime drama. I’m going to show up to this audition and there's going to be 15 other girls who look exactly like me. Latina, brown hair, whatever. They are going to look exactly like me, and we are all going to be in our blazer, and we’re all going to be ready to be the next Detective Olivia Benson, and we’re going to give it our best. You would look at that and think, “Oh, a dime a dozen.” But that's not the case. No one has your childhood. No one has your trauma. No one has your victories, your overcoming story. No one has the sweat and tears you put into your craft. No one has your story, because there’s only one and it’s yours. Anytime you’re walking into a job interview, a board meeting, a class, walk in confidently — knowing there is no one like you and your story is unique. Do you, and do you to the best of your ability. Do you well.
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