Anjelah Johnson told us all about her new comedy special, and how a girl working Burger King's drive-thru changed her life
You might know her best as the woman behind the viral nail salon joke, or as the infamously bad King Burger employee Bon Qui Qui, but stand-up comedian Anjelah Johnson is back with another comedy special (her fourth!) and we couldn’t be more excited.
Johnson’s forthcoming special, Mahalo & Good Night, will air on Epix September 29th at 10 p.m. It was filmed at the Hawaii Theater in Honolulu, Hawaii, and offers up another dose of Johnson’s singular style, riffing on her friends, family, marriage, and her addiction to crime dramas.
HelloGiggles had the chance to chat with Johnson about the special, her stand-up comedy career, and her very sweet relationship with her husband. Read on to find out what to expect from Mahalo, and the hilarious job Johnson really wants.
HelloGiggles: I’d love to start by asking about your new special — what can viewers expect?
Anjelah Johnson: I am constantly evolving and growing, but I stay true to my roots of telling a lot of stories about my family, my marriage, and the things that I experience firsthand, giving my storyteller, observational point of view. So I talk about things from my marriage to the time I got a massage and my massage therapist fell asleep on me. I talk about my husband and I [buying] our first home and how that relates to my crazy addiction to crime dramas, and how I feel like I’m in an episode of one.
HG: What do you like about putting out stand-up specials and watching how people react to those, versus doing live shows?
AJ: Live shows are amazing, because you get that instant gratification of that laugh in the moment, and you get to experience something with this particular group of people — and it’s different every single show. I can do six shows in one city and all six of those shows are going to be different, because the people sitting there are different. I can be doing the same material, but the way it’s received, the people that I’m looking at while I’m telling the story, it just feels different every time.
And then when I release a special, the comments that I get from people on Twitter or wherever, who may not have been able to make it to one of my live shows, or maybe I’ve never gone to their city before — or their country before — just to see that my comedy is able to touch people even at home is amazing, because I watch comedy at home, too, so it’s cool to see that I get to be a part of that.
HG: Who are some of the comics you love most?
AJ: You know what, I love my friends — the guys who open for me. Mal Hall is my guy who opens for me usually, I try to take him everywhere I can, he’s hilarious. Nate Bargatze is one of my good friends; he used to open for me a long time ago, and now he’s just blowing up doing his own thing. Fortune Feimster, Jo Koy, my friends — I really enjoy watching them and supporting them.
When I first started, I would say Ellen DeGeneres, George Lopez, and Brian Regan — those are comics that I admire. I look up to them, and I am so honored to get to say that I do the same thing they do. But most of the comedy that I watch is my friends.
HG: I’d love to ask you about your famous nail salon joke — were you surprised that it took off the way it did 10 years ago?
AJ: Absolutely, I had no idea that was going to happen. I mean, nobody knew YouTube was going to happen. It was right at this perfect timing where this brand new thing called YouTube came out, so if you got an email with a video in it, then you definitely watched it, because that was a new thing, receiving a video in an email. So it was that perfect timing of this funny, relatable joke with this new thing called YouTube, and it just blew up.
HG: How did you feel when it went so viral?
AJ: It was amazing. I didn’t know how to handle it, to be honest. Because this was back when MySpace was hot, before Facebook, and my MySpace page blew up with friend requests from all over the world, and I didn’t know how to handle it. I started getting people requesting me to come perform in their cities, and I really only had about 12 minutes of material at the time. It kind of propelled me to where I am, to be honest.
HG:What about Bon Qui Qui? What’s her origin story?
AJ: Bon Qui Qui is a little bit of a lot of people I’ve met throughout my life, more specifically my brother. Just ghetto fabulous, no filter, he says whatever he wants to say, he’s got tattoos all over, he’s just this ghetto, hilarious, no-filter kind of guy.
And then, many years ago now, fresh out of high school, I was in Memphis, Tennessee and I met this girl in a Burger King drive-thru, and she changed my life. She was just a hot mess, and I had never experienced anybody like her let alone in life, but in customer service specifically. It just really changed my life, and it stuck with me. So when it came time to create that character, that was my go-to ghetto character.
HG: What was she like, the girl at the drive-thru?
AJ: Similar to my brother — she had no filter, and her customer service wasn’t really customer service, it was like I was bothering her by coming through the drive-thru. It’s hard to explain, it was just an experience I laughed about and remembered for a very long time.
HG: I wonder if she’s seen your impression and sees herself in it.
AJ: Probably not! She’s probably like, ‘Don’t nobody talk like that.’
HG: I’d like to ask about your relationship with your husband, Manwell Reyes; you guys are one of the best couples ever. How did you meet?
AJ: We met through mutual friends, actually; my old roommate married his best friend, and I saw him at their wedding. Nobody introduced me to him at their wedding, and I wasn’t going to introduce myself, so I didn’t actually meet him there I only saw him. And then I went home, and I cyber-stalked him on the internet. Girl, yes. I went to my friend’s Facebook page, and I clicked on her new husband’s page, and I went through all of his friends until I found that afro that I saw at the wedding.
And then I did my research on him — I found out who he was, he was in a band, he did music, and just did all my research, and then I let it go. I didn’t message him on Facebook, I didn’t even tell my friend, ‘Hey, I looked up that guy from your wedding. Can you introduce me?’ I didn’t say anything. I just kind of let it go — for two years.
HG: Wait, what?!
AJ: Yes, girl! I was like, ‘Mm, your loss! You snooze, you lose.’ That’s how confident I was in myself. And I went on with my life for two years, and then next thing you know I get a phone call from my friend who got married that day two years ago, and she was like, ‘Hey, I want to hook you up with somebody. I don’t know if he’s your type, but look him up online — his name is Manwell Reyes.’ And as soon as she said his name I was like, ‘Ding ding ding!’ I remembered my research from two years ago. Mm hm. I didn’t even tell her right away that I looked him up, I didn’t even tell him for a while.
HG: So what was your first date like?
AJ: It was a group date; he was on tour, and on his off day he flew to L.A. and we went to lunch together with my friend and her husband and their daughter, and it was like, okay, if we like each other enough at lunch then we’ll go do our own thing the next day. We liked each other enough to go for a second one-on-one date, like it’s The Bachelorette, so we went shopping.
He’s super into fashion, I didn’t know this at the time, but now it all makes sense. But he’s super into fashion, and he loves when girls wear high heels, and it’s sexy, and I wanted to get some new shoes, so I took him to DSW [Designer Shoe Warehouse] — strike number one. So we’re at DSW, and he’s trying to point out any kind of heels or wedges, and I’m pulling out flats and Converse. And so that was strike one. He says I was being cold to him; I say that he was just used to girls fawning over him because he’s so hot, and I was not gonna do that. So I think I was just being regular, not fawning. I was just being a normal person, and he thinks I was being cold.
But by the end of the day I warmed up enough — he tells people that he was getting ready to fake a stomachache and go home, because he was not trying to have it, and then I warmed up. By the end of the night we exchanged a hug that was magical; it was so warm and firecracker-y that it was like, whoa, that was special. And then he went back on tour and we dated via Skype and Facebook and text messages.
HG: For how long?
AJ: Not very long, because we met in August, and we were officially boyfriend and girlfriend by October, and then we were engaged by Christmas Eve.
HG: No way!
AJ: Yeah, and then we got married the next June. That was 2011 when we got married.
HG: Wow, a whirlwind!
AJ: Yeah! It happened very fast. They always say, ‘When you know, you know.’ And it’s like, what does that even mean? That’s just so cliché. But it really is when you know — you know. You can’t even describe it.
HG: What’s something people would be surprised to know about you as a couple?
AJ: He’s more emotional, like he watches romantic comedies and he loooves Hallmark movies. Hallmark Christmas movies are his jam. That’s where he’s at. And I am more of the cyborg, I wanna watch Law & Order: SVU, Criminal Minds, anything crime drama — that’s where I want to live, and not use a lot of my emotions. And he’ll just watch a Hallmark movie and cry.
HG: So what’s next for you, career-wise?
AJ: I hope more film and TV; I hope more acting. I feel like I moved to Hollywood to be an actress, and stand-up is what blew up, so for the past 14 years I’ve been trying to be an actress and I’m still trying to be an actress.
I’ve had four one-hour specials now, which is amazing and I can’t believe that this is my life and I get to be a stand-up comedian and I get to tell jokes all over the country and I get to film these hour specials for people to see all over the world. That is amazing, and not everybody can do that, so I’m so grateful that I get to do that. But at the same time, I moved here as a dreamy 20 year old, saying, ‘I want to play a rape victim on Law & Order: SVU,’ and I am still waiting for my opportunity.
HG: Should I tweet this story at the producers?
AJ: OMG, please. My fans do it all the time. If I do an Instagram Story where I’m watching SVU, or I’m just talking about how much I love it, which is basically every other day, people will tweet ‘@NBCSVU, when are you going to have @AnjelahJohnson on?’
So they’re probably annoyed, but yes, please do. I’ll be an extra.