EXCLUSIVE: Anjelah Johnson Will Never Escape Bon Qui Qui -- and That's OK With Her
By Emily Krauser
Robyn Von Swank
Anjelah Johnson has come a long way from the nail salon bit and Bon Qui Qui persona that made her famous.
The MadTV alum gets stopped for those two over-the-top but very recognizable comedy gems, but her years in Los Angeles, time on the road and family life have provided plenty more storytelling material -- an hour's worth, in fact.
The very personable actress chatted with ET ahead of the premiere of her fourth comedy special, Mahalo and Goodbye, about just how much her husband, singer Manwell Reyes, and mom have influenced her latest work, why Bon Qui Qui is never going away and her years as a Oakland Raiderette.
Considering she revealed to us that one of the stories in Johnson's show is about a massage therapist that fell asleep while working on her, we know there are plenty of laughs ahead!
ET: Your new special is here! What topics are you hitting in this new one-hour?
Anjelah Johnson: I'm a very observational storyteller and I'm always relational -- a lot of stories stem from relationships, whether it's me with my husband, me with my mom or my siblings. So in this hour, it's kind of the evolution of me. The first hour [2009's Anjelah Johnson: That's How We Do It], I was young and single, and I would talk about the way guys hit on me or dating. Now I'm married, so I talk about my first time buying a house with my husband and that whole experience and how I'm basically a full-grown child. Let me tell you, I will never not call my mom to ask her, "Have my leftovers been in the fridge too long? Can I still eat them?"
Your brother was a big influence on Bon Qui Qui. (Johnson is one of five siblings.) It sounds like they're still having a major influence on your material today.
So much. This special I'm talking a lot about my mom, and I give a more honest depiction of the character of my mom -- more of who she is and being more honest with that. And more stories with my husband. As long as we're still married, he's going to provide me with plenty of material, let me tell you. My family is infused throughout my act, for sure.
You're known as much as Bon Qui Qui as you are as Anjelah. I can imagine that can get frustrating after a while. Have you ever considered retiring her?
I have tried to retire Bon Qui Qui for like 10 years. (Laughs.) But I've come to the conclusion that fans really do love her and want to hear from her, and I do what I do for them. Don't get me wrong -- I do it for myself as well. I do it because I have dreams and I have goals, but when it comes down to it, the ones who are paying their hard-earned money to see me perform, I take into consideration what they want to hear. I've realized that I can never not do the nail salon joke and I will have to talk about Bon Qui Qui for eternity
It's like the band that can never stop playing their first two hit singles.
Yes! I'm very lucky, because not everybody gets to have what I have, so I don't take it for granted which is why I'm not shelving either of the characters or stories, and I continue to bring them to people because I realize how lucky I am.
Miley is a massive Bon Qui Qui fan. Have you met her yet and talked shop?
You know, we haven't. I remember when she used to do videos a long time ago, and she's talked about me in interviews before, and I was actually at a wedding that she was in, but I didn't go up to her. I didn't want to be that person at the wedding.
I'm surprised she didn't come up to you. She's done the voice in videos and everything!
It's hilarious! Maybe she didn't recognize me without my weave. That might've been it. There are multiple, multiple weaves in there [in character].
You've spoken before about how you wished you had a more Latina last name grown up. Have you found that with both gaining more fame and social media being as big as it is now that you do have more of a connection to your Latina fan base these days?
There's definitely more connection. I think people are more proud, and they get to say thank you for doing it for us. A win for me is a win for them, so that's fun and that's exciting and I'm honored to do that. It's always nerve-wracking when people say they look up to you or that you're a good role model. It's such a double-edged sword, because you realize you've been put on this pedestal and you have to make sure that you don't do anything to get torn down. The second you make a mistake or do something that they don't consider a good role model to do, you're not in that standing anymore.
So I'm honored to be a role model for other Latinas and women, but at the same time, I always encourage people to do you and do you well. Don't try to be anybody else, because that's what I do. I do me. I'm not trying to impress anybody. I'm not trying to please my pastor at church. I'm not trying to even please my mom, to be honest. I'm just living my most authentic true self, and it's really just me and God and my husband now. Where I'm comfortable in that is how I move forward.
Have you noticed that women have been more accepted in comedy from when you first started, or is it still just as difficult?
Both. We've grown so much and there are so many more female comedians today than there were even 5 years ago or 10 years ago. With all these new forms of media -- Instagram, Twitter, Facebook -- anyone can create their own content. You have Melissa Villasenor who was just doing YouTube videos, and now she's a cast member on Saturday Night Live. That's amazing! So we would be lying if we said there was still no opportunity for women, but it's still a challenge. Comedy is still a guy's world. There are still biases. If you're walking past a comedy club on a date night, and you're like, "Let's go see a show," and you see a guy's name on the marquee, most people would stop if they had the time and the money. But if they see a woman's name they've never heard of, they're probably going to check their phone to see what movies are playing in the area before they actually take that risk, so we definitely are not equal by any means. I mean, my friend, Iliza [Shlesinger], just posted on her Instagram the other day... pictures of the people who were headlining for the next couple of months [at the Improv], and she was the only girl.
Sometimes I do. I love performing. I loved that time, but I'm grateful to be pursuing my dream. Acting is my dream. That's why I even tried out to be a cheerleader in the first place, If I'm being 100 percent honest. I wanted to be an actress, but I didn't know anything about how to be one. I had a friend that was living in L.A., and she said, "If you move here, I'll help show you the ropes and help you get started." At that same time, I had another friend tell me she was a cheerleader for the Oakland Raiders and their auditions were coming up and that I should totally go try out. I was like, "No, that's not really my thing," but then I said, you know what, I'm going to use this as my sign if I'm supposed to pursue the entertainment industry or not. If I make the squad, I'll do it for one year, and I'll move to Hollywood and I'll try to be an actress, and if I don't make the squad, then I'll just have to figure out something out and I'll know this wasn't meant for me. I made the squad, we went to the Super Bowl that year . I came home from the Super Bowl, packed up my room into my station wagon, and the very next weekend I drove to L.A. I've now been a Los Angeleno for 14 years.
That's really inspirational! Are there other fellow comedians you're excited to watch these days?
I'm really excited for all the fall shows that are about to come out, like Designated Survivor. My friend Nicholas Gonzalez is on a new show called The Good Doctor. I watched that and it was awesome. I'm looking forward to seeing all the shows that I auditioned for and did not book. [laughs]. And Instagram stories! I'm all about Busy Philipp's Instagram story and Angelique Cabral's from Life in Pieces. She just had a baby and she stories like everything about her life, and she's hilarious. She's storying while she's breastfeeding and in the middle of the night, and she's complaining about her neighbors that are really loud. It's really funny.
Anjelah Johnson's new one-hour special, Mahalo and Goodnight, premieres Friday, Sept. 29 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on EPIX.
For more fall TV shows to tune into this fall, watch the video below.