Youtube has made the careers of more than a few — Justin Bieber, the Home Invader guy, Grumpy Cat. Comedian Anjelah Johnson is also one of the beneficiaries of the Youtube bump, though it wasn’t really her goal to become an Internet sensation when she signed up for a stand up comedy class at a local church in Hollywood in 2006. “As part of the class we had to perform in a comedy club to graduate,” says the California native and former Oakland Raiders cheerleader. “My first time on stage, I was actually really good. I closed with this Nail Salon bit that ended up being the biggest joke I’ve ever written and I can’t get away from.”
Someone was recording the show and posted it to Youtube early in 2007 and by February the video already had 4 million hits. Today, the original video has amassed nearly 31 million hits.
Being successful on Youtube doesn’t always translate into cash, though. “ I didn’t do it right. I didn’t load that [Nail Salon] video. They could be making money off of me.” The clip did lead to more stand-up gigs and eventually an audition with MadTV, which she nailed using some of the impressions from her stand-up routines, one of which was a feisty cashier with a foul attitude named Bon Qui Qui.
The character was an amalgam of people like one particularly rude Burger King employee in Memphis, Tenn., but mainly she was inspired by her own brother. “He is the epitome of ghetto fabulous. I like to call him my ghetto gay. He’s got tattoos all over and he looks real tough but at the same time he’ll give me a fierce blow out on my hair. He’s like a trendsetter.”
Bon Qui Qui’s one sketch on the now defunct MadTV became Johnson’s next viral Youtube video, with 62 million enthusiastic viewers watching as the King Burger employee cuts customers down to size, literally telling them, “I will cut you.” That catch phrase became the title of a single produced by Johnson’s husband, a rapper in the Christian band Group 1 Crew. Of course, a Youtube video followed. Fashion designer Alexander Wang fell under the Bon Qui Qui spell as well, producing a video using the character to promote his Spring 2013 line that featured a particularly hilarious moment in which Bon Qui Qui calls Barney’s creative director and ultimate fashion world insider Simon Doonan, a “little baby toddler with a wallpaper shirt.”
Outside the realm of Youtube, Johnson has been busy working on material for her next one hour special set to air on Jennifer Lopez’s NuvoTV network in the summer. She also worked along with Minnie Driver and David Walton on the NBC pilot “About A Boy,” a television series based on the 2002 movie starring Hugh Grant. This Thursday Johnson appears in Miami Beach at the Colony Theater as part of the South Beach Comedy Festival.
Johnson’s comedy has moved beyond just viral videos; in her act she jokes about married life, her wedding day mishaps, her experience with the justice system (at jury duty, that is). But of course, the fans will never let her forget about her Youtube roots.
“I’ve done tons of shows where people will just show up dressed as Bon Qui Qui.”