This week, we’re highlighting 20 talented writers and performers for Vulture’s annual list “Comedians You Should and Will Know.” Our goal is to introduce a wider audience to the talent that has the comedy community and industry buzzing. (You can read more about our methodology at the link above.) This year, for the first time, we asked the comedians on this list to answer a series of questions about their work and comedy under quarantine. Next up is Joyelle Nicole Johnson.
When did you feel that you were funny enough to make a legitimate go at comedy?
I’m 14 years in, and before that I spent a year going to comedy shows just watching and learning. Watching other comedians bomb consistently made me think, I can at least do that.
Describe your comedy in five words.
Storytelling dumb shit someone did.
If you weren’t a comedian, what would you be doing?
I was once a private yoga instructor for trust-fund kids in Manhattan. Cushiest job ever. That. I’d do that.
What of your work do you think you’re best known for?
Being the bomb-ass feature for heavy-hitting headliners. Hannibal Buress, Maria Bamford, and Ilana Glazer have put the most money in my pocket!
What’s some of your work that you’re most proud of?
I am an abortion rights STAN. I’ve worked with Lizz Winstead and her organization, the Abortion Access Front, since its inception. We travel the country to red states and do comedy shows for clinic workers, raise funds, promote awareness, and do anything they need as support. It’s always my proudest moment when a clinic worker in middle America comes up to me after a show, smiles, and says “Thank you for caring about us.”
How has quarantine affected the way you approach your comedy and your audience?
We have to get comfortable with silence. Early on, that’s a vital piece of advice I received. And it’s compounded in quarantine, because a lot of the shows have little to no laughter. It’s made me more confident in my jokes and delivery.
What have you done in quarantine for comedy that you thought you would never do?
Gone live on Instagram. Yuck!
Who are some of your favorite comedians right now? Who is putting out work that excites and inspires you?
Gina Yashere and Michelle Buteau are two of the hardest-working, beautifulest, Blackest, funniest women on the planet. They deserve every single bit of success they are realizing right now. Not only am I inspired by them, I am also super lucky to call them my friends.
What is the best comedy advice, and then the worst comedy advice, you’ve ever received, either when you were starting out or more recently?
Best two pieces: At one of my first open mics, a comic told me, “If there’s anything you say in private conversation that makes someone laugh, write it down.” My first year in comedy, Chappelle told me, “Don’t listen to what anyone says, including me. With that being said, move to New York.” (I lived in L.A. at the time.)
Worst: I got offstage after a painful bomb, and the comic after me was dancing to whatever song was popular at the time. I think it was “Soldier Boy.” A man who was not a comic turns to me and says, “See? You should be doing something more like that when you’re onstage.”
Tell us one story from your childhood that is a good representation of your life.
My mother sent me to asthma camp when I was a kid. Yes, that’s a real place run by the American Lung Association that my mom found before Google. One night, the counselors announce an exercise where we all walk into the woods and drop off each camper, alone, to hang out in abject darkness for a few hours. I was 10!! In my head I said, Hell to the no. So they take us out, and every 100 yards they leave an asthmatic child, crying. They get to “my” spot and say, “Joyelle, here’s where you stay.” Me: “NOPE.” Them: “But you have to.” Me: “No. I don’t.” So they drop another kid there instead, and we keep going until it’s down to just me and another girl. The counselors acquiesce, “Fine! You two can stay here together, but don’t tell the other campers!” The adults (read: teenagers) leave, and the girl turns to me and says, “Thank you for making a big deal because I didn’t wanna do this either!” Thus began my life of not doing anything I didn’t wanna do.
Assuming quarantine ends at some point, is there anything about the way that comedy or the industry in general has changed that you hope continues post-quarantine?
I think the industry has finally realized the importance of representation. Inclusion riders and the new requirements for films to be eligible to win Academy Awards make me hopeful. Gone are the days of writers’ rooms, casts, and production crews with zero women and POC.