COURTESY ANJELAH JOHNSON
Anjelah Johnson, a new member of MADtv, will perform locally on Feb. 14. The Los Angeles resident said her comic timing comes from her family. "My whole family is funny."
Life full of laughter
With the backing of a supportive family, a MADtv cast member hits the improv scene
As the strike by the Writers Guild of America continues in Hollywood, one cast member of MADtv is using the extended downtime to take her comedy routine on the road.
Valentine's Day shows: 7:30 p.m. (dinner and show) and 10 p.m. (cocktail show) Feb. 14
Place: Manoa Grand Ballroom, Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii, 2454 S. Beretania St.
Tickets: $65 first show; $25 second. Tickets available at Jelly's, Flyin' Hawaiian Balloons, military outlets and UH Campus Center.
One of four cast members to join the sassy comedy skit show last fall, Anjelah Johnson had taped only two shows of the 13th season before she got word that they'd be on hiatus indefinitely. Since then, the comedian has taken to the stage solo, performing stand-up at venues mainly throughout the West.
Johnson, 25, had just enough time to introduce new character Bon Qui Qui to the public and meet her fellow MADtv actors at a photo shoot before receiving strike notification; it was enough time for the 25-year-old to gather impressions, including some of scene stealer Bobby Lee. "(Lee) is very crazy. He warned me, 'All the stories you hear about me are true.'"
Pre-MADtv, Johnson gained Internet attention on YouTube with the skit "Nail Salon," which has been downloaded more than 5 million times since the video debuted in 2007.
A fan of the comedic stylings of George Lopez and Ellen DeGeneres, Johnson took an unconventional route to entertainment. A former NFL Oakland Raiderette and lifelong cheerleader, she was named Rookie of the Year and performed in the 2003 Super Bowl.
Johnson said she took that initial foray into entertainment as a sign from God to continue. Then a college student, she packed her belongings and headed to Los Angeles, where she has been living for five years. Positive results from Fishes & Loaves, the improv class offered at her L.A. church, led her further into show business.
The San Jose native of both Mexican and American Indian heritage credits her large family and her spirituality for her level-headedness in an unstable business. Johnson's mother comes from a family of eight children, and her grandmother is one of 22. The middle child of five, Johnson said her family was initially hesitant about her choice of career, with the exception of elder sister Veronica, 28.
"My sister was gung-ho and supportive and she paid the bills when I went on auditions. It was just new for the family, but now they're totally supportive ...I've got a lot of cousins, aunts and uncles all around me. My best friends are cousins, siblings and family."
Her career has taken off in the past year. It was just last April that Johnson performed her first stand-up set during a visit to Hawaii. With the help of a transplanted cousin working at Ryan's Grill, Johnson performed a spontaneous 10-minute routine of stories and jokes.
"I never really give a strong opinion on stage," said Johnson. "I don't do politics. I guess that's why I don't get heckled."
The controversial comedy of MADtv can be at odds with Johnson's personal beliefs offstage. "A lot of the characters on the show -- they're on the edgier side. My comedy is very clean comedy. The edgier material pushes the limits, but they are very understanding of where I'm coming from."
Since moving to L.A., Johnson has also appeared in guest spots on "Love Inc." and "The Shield." Though she would like to do film roles as she continues in comedy, she said she'd also like to work with the "youth of today and be able to encourage them in what they want to do. ... I didn't have a troubled childhood, and the source of my comedy comes from a joyous place, not one of sadness."