A Viral Sensation

A Viral Sensation

Online and off, comedian Anjelah Johnson knows how to elicit laughter and bring joy to others.

After a comedy bit about getting her nails done was posted to YouTube, funny woman Anjelah Johnson achieved a kind of overnight success. “I went viral before that was an actual term,” she says, recounting her early career. “Like, that meant something totally different back in the day.”
 

This was in 2006 when YouTube was still in its infancy and Myspace was the reigning social networking site. Soon, Johnson found herself with messages from people all over the world asking her when she was going to come perform in their town. But she had one problem—that bit was one of the first she had ever written.
 
“I was like, ‘Oh my God, I only have like 12 minutes of material that I wrote in this stand-up comedy class that I did,’” she says. “I better write more material.”
 
Johnson originally moved to LA to become an actress, however, her unexpected success in stand-up spurred her to focus more on comedy. It was a prescient decision as she soon got another sign that this was the right career path. In 2007, a character she created for the now defunct comedy sketch show MadTV became her second viral hit. Bon Qui Qui, a churlish fast food employee known for telling customers off, subsequently became her own entity, with Johnson creating music videos and merchandise for the character.
 
Today, the 37-year-old comedian has several comedy specials under her belt and a packed touring schedule. Her latest one, the Technically Not Stalking Tour, will hit Harrah’s Resort in Atlantic City on Sept. 20. Johnson spoke with South Jersey Magazine just before hitting the road, telling us about her career, going viral and bringing joy to people, online and off.
 
Being thrust into a world of comedy…
I remember it was overwhelming because it was during Myspace days. Remember Myspace? It was like I would get messages all day, like thousands of messages, from people all over the world that were like, “Hey, I saw your video. When are you coming to perform in fill-in-the-blank? Australia? Philippines?” Like anywhere you can think of. … And so that’s kind of what propelled me into writing more stand-up material when the demand became crazy because of this viral video.
 
For the people…
Sometimes when we get into our artist’s brain, we like to prove ourselves to people. I want to prove that I’m more than just this one joke; I’m bigger than this one joke. And we get into that like artist brain, but then when you step outside of yourself and you realize what you’ve actually done—so, me personally, I step outside of myself and I look at the fact that I have brought so much joy to people because of this joke. … Millions upon millions of people not only find this joke to be funny but they share it with their mom, they share it with their best friends. … And when I step outside and I look at that, I say to myself, why would I want to stop that? It is something that’s so special and means something to people. Why would I want to just stop it because I personally am over it? Because I don’t do what I do for me. I do what I do for people. I do what I do because I bring joy to people.
 
On creating an indelible character…
In the beginning [of my career], people would come to my shows dressed as Bon Qui Qui all the time and it was amazing and beautiful. And I would love to take pictures with them and it would be fantastic. Not as much anymore but every now and then. Like every Halloween for sure there’s still people dressing as Bon Qui Qui. Every Halloween I get tagged in those photos and I love it.
 
And I got to experience so many things. I got to be a music artist through Bon Qui Qui’s lens; I got to be a performer and sing with a live band and dance and do music videos. So, I’m so grateful for this character and all the experiences that she brought me. And who knows? Maybe she will come out of retirement and do more stuff in the future. Right now, she’s definitely on vacation on some island somewhere.
 
Having that aha moment…
The very first time where I was like, “Oh, wait a minute, I think I’ll be a stand-up comedian,” is again Myspace. I get this message [and] they were like, “Hey, would you come and perform at our holiday party in December?” And I was like, “Sure.” … And then they go, “OK, it’s for a—it’s a Mormon Christmas party.” And I was like, “Oh, I’m not Mormon.” And they were like “No, no, no, it’s OK. We’re just inviting comedians who work clean to come out and perform and then we’ll do like a competition and whoever wins the comedy competition will get a prize.” … So I go. I do like 10 minutes of material and then I tie for first place with another guy, so we split the cash prize. And I ended up winning $600. … And when I left and they gave me $600 for doing 10 minutes of material, that was the most money I have ever made in one day in my entire life and it blew my mind. And I was like, “Oh my God, $600. I’m going to be a comedian.” And that’s when it all changed.
 
Paying her dues…
I worked at this comedy club that was not even really a comedy club. It was like a restaurant and they turned into a comedy club years ago. I had just started doing stand-up so this is like 16 years ago. Their green room was the manager’s office’s bathroom. So I’m in a bathroom where there’s a toilet and a sink. They have a couch and a coffee table—and this is not a big bathroom. This is a small bathroom; they have a love seat, two-seater couch, a coffee table and a toilet. Who is going to eat nachos
next to the toilet? Are you kidding me? It was disgusting.
 
Family matters…
It really depends on what I’m talking about but if it’s something super simple, just mentioning them or whatever, I’ll just say it. But if I’m going in deep on a story, I’ll run it by them and be like, “Hey, can I talk about this?”
 
They all love when I talk about them in my act and when my fans relate with them. … There was one instance where I did a joke about my dad. And my dad is very frugal; he’s very cheap. And I would talk about it on stage and the kind of gifts he would give us and like the hassle he would go through just to get a coupon and pay with a coupon to get $3 off a pizza. … And I remember there was this one show [and] my dad was there in the audience and he laughed. He loved all the material; it’s funny. But there was one moment where it was after the show at the meet and greet and I’m standing out by the merch table and my dad comes up to me and he says something to me and I go, “Oh, hi, Dad.” And then some woman behind him goes, “Oh, you’re the cheapskate.” And I saw my dad’s face just kind of dropped and he like laughed it off, but I know it was hurtful. He would never admit that it was but I know that it was a little hurtful. And then I got offended cause I was like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, lady. I can talk about my dad in my story but you can’t go calling him names.” So after that I definitely stopped doing that particular joke about my dad. I still talk about him and how frugal he is but I’m more aware when I do talk about family and how some [fans] don’t know boundaries.
 
The current state of self-promotion…
Yeah, it feels like you have to be on all the platforms now. Like you can’t just be a stand-up comedian. You have to be a stand-up comedian with an Instagram following, with a Twitter following, with a Facebook following. You have to have content that you’re putting out all the time. You have to have videos that people can watch and laugh to remember you, otherwise they’re not going to spend money to see you on tour. They’re going to spend money to see this social media person who doesn’t even have an act but they have millions of followers. … So it’s like you have to have all your bases covered to be a part of everything and it’s a little overwhelming.
 
On the new tour…
It’s the evolution of me and my stories and my life. But I delve into relationship stuff and I talk about how I may or may not have technically stalked or not stalked my husband before I met him and that may or may not be how I locked him in today.
 
A long-awaited return to Atlantic City...
I have performed in Atlantic City once and I think there were probably 30 people in the audience, so I’m hoping there’s more this time. That was probably 10 years ago that I performed in Atlantic City and I don’t think people knew who I was but I’m hoping word has spread and people will come this time.

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Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 16, Issue 5 (August 2019).

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Author: Brittany Ann Morrisey

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