Not many people older than 30 know of comedian Anjelah Johnson, but her success from a YouTube video posted longer than six years ago still sells out arenas nationwide.
Johnson is The Nail Salon Lady.
With around 30 million hits, “Nail Salon” has more views than Christina Aguilera’s “Genie in a Bottle.” Comedy Time, not Johnson, released the clip, and, though Johnson doesn’t get any money from the clip’s success, it led to an audition with MadTV. Johnson landed the spot on MadTV and stirred up her next social media storm. Her videos as MadTV character Bon Qui Qui, a hot-tempered, filter-free fast food employee, have gone viral too. One of Bon Qui Qui’s sketches has more than 60 million views to date.
If Johnson, a former Oakland Raiders cheerleader, doesn’t ring a bell from her nail salon or fast-food bits, you may recognize her from television and movie roles. Her YouTube fame led to an hour-long special on Comedy Central, guest-starring features on shows such as “Ugly Betty” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and movie roles in films such as “Our Family Wedding” and “Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel.” Johnson recently landed a co-starring role in the pilot for the television adaptation of “About a Boy.”
But with YouTube roots, Johnson is best known for embodying this generation’s redefinition of climbing the ladder.
And although she’s grateful for the unconventional platforms that led to her success, Johnson is out to prove that she is no viral-video mishap or one-hit-wonder, that her fame is no fluke or passing storm.[divider]
Mustang Daily: Which of your jokes or bits is your favorite?
Anjelah Johnson: It changes from time to time. Right now, I do a lot of material about my husband because I’m recently married. I like telling the story of when my husband got kidney stones, and I had to rush him to the hospital. Before, when I didn’t have any jokes about him he’d be like, “Babe, when are you going to talk about me in your show?”
MD: What’s it like being YouTube famous?
AJ: I’m very grateful because, before the YouTube day, you had to book a legit set on a night show or call David Letterman or whatever, and now you really just need to have a hit video on YouTube that goes viral. It’s easier, but then you never know if your video’s gonna go viral or not. My videos that went viral, I didn’t even upload them. I wasn’t trying to go viral, it just happened, and I’m blessed it did.
MD: “Nail Salon” and “Bon Qui Qui” — Do you feel pigeonholed by those comedy routines?
AJ: I know people know me because of those, but I don’t feel pigeonholed exactly. It’s like, “Oh she’s the girl who does Bon Qui Qui” or “Oh, she’s the girl who does the nail salon.” But I hope they know I can do more than those things, and I’m aware that I can do more than those things. I guess it could be compared to any band doing their hit song from 10 years ago that they know everyone loves to hear. It’s like, “Oh my gosh, this song again for 10 years.” It’s a love-hate relationship. I love seeing everybody get so excited but at the same time I’m like, “Ugh.”
MD: Will you do your claim-to-fame bits at the San Luis Obispo show?
AJ: I’ll present them in a new way, not so much word for word. But, they’ll be in there.
MD: What was your first gig?
AJ: Well, I mean my first stand-up gigs were a bunch of little open mics, but after I took a stand-up writing class, I performed at a club in Long Beach and that was my first time in front of an audience. It went amazing. It was a great show, and I feel like, had it not gone really well, I probably would have never done stand-up again. It wasn’t like I wanted to be a comedian at that point — it was just something I did for fun. But because it went so well, I ended up doing it again and again and ending up here, talking to you from San Luis Obispo.
MD: What was your worst gig?
AJ: When I first started, I did a show at the Improv for their Latino night and, at that time, I didn’t really have my own voice or point of view, so I was trying to be who I thought people wanted me to be. So I started trying to be extra Latino, like really putting somethin’ extra on it. But audiences can see right through you, and so it was such an awkward show. That, and then there was a show, a whole weekend of shows, actually, in Pittsburgh where nobody really showed up to the shows. I was coming off selling out shows in way bigger arenas, and then the very next weekend I sold like only 19 tickets. And even the 19 people that were there, someone must’ve put a gun to their head to get them in because they didn’t want to be there.
MD: The best?
AJ: That Pittsburgh weekend was the best and worst for me because it caused me to get out of my bubble and take more risks and more chances on stage. It was a growing, learning weekend for me, but it was definitely rough.
MD: What should audiences expect at the SLO show?
AJ: They should expect a really good time. To be able to come to San Luis Obispo is great. Being from California, I’m well aware of San Luis Obispo, so I’m excited to be there in that city. If you’ve seen my special on Comedy Central or Netflix, you can expect that same storytelling vibe with new stories to tell.[divider]
Cal Poly students and the San Luis Obispo community can see Johnson in person and off the “small screen” on Friday.
Otter Productions, Inc., Cal Poly Arts and Associated Students, Inc. (ASI) are bringing Johnson to the Christopher Cohan Performing Arts Center.
“The Performing Arts Center shows skew more adults — symphonies and Tony Bennett and Bill Cosby — but this really skews younger,” president of Otter Productions, Inc. Bruce Howard said. “You all are the ones that live on YouTube, Myspace and Facebook more so than my generation, and she’s a huge sensation coming out of that media. We’re reaching out to the student population because the Performing Arts Center is smack-dab in the middle of your campus.”
Ticket sales have been strong so far, director of Cal Poly Arts Steve Lerian said. He expects Johnson’s show to sell out or almost sell out and said her ticket sales have been “comparable to other upper-level comedians,” referencing Lewis Black as an example.
“I’d say this is probably our first big social media star,” Lerian said. “She’s got a lot of buzz right now, and she’s very current.”
ASI gave out 250 tickets to Cal Poly students through a Facebook competition, but Cal Poly students who did not win tickets can still buy them for 20 percent off the face value at the box office, Lerian said. Tickets range from $30 to $40 without the discount.
The show begins at 7:30 p.m.
Update: Click here to read a review of the show.