Comedians to know 2020

Joyelle Nicole Johnson.
Photo-Illustration: Vulture and Photo courtesy of the actor

This week we’re spotlighting 20 talented writers and performers for Vulture’s annual roster “The Comedians You Should and Will Know.” Our goal is to bring the talents that rock the comedy community and the industry to a wider audience. (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 quarantined comedy. The next step is Joyelle Nicole Johnson.

When did you feel you were funny enough to legitimately get into comedy?
I’m 14 and before that I spent a year attending comedy shows, watching and learning. Watching other comedians bombing constantly made me think, I can at least do that.

Describe your comedy in five words.
Telling some bullshit someone did.

If you weren’t a comedian, what would you do?
I was once a private yoga instructor for the children of the trust funds in Manhattan. The coziest job ever. This. I would do this.

What work do you think you are best known for?
Be the bombshell feature for hard-hitting headliners. Hannibal Buress, Maria Bamford and Ilana Glazer put the most money in my pocket!

What job are you most proud of?
I am a STAN abortion right. I worked with Lizz Winstead and her organization, the Before access to abortion, since its creation. We travel the country to the Red States and put on comedy shows for the clinic workers, raise funds, raise awareness and do whatever they need as support. It is always the moment I am most proud of when an employee of a clinic in Central America comes 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 need to be comfortable with silence. At first, this is essential advice that I received. And it’s made worse in quarantine, because a lot of shows have little to no laughs. It made me more confident in my jokes and delivery.

What did you do in quarantine for the comedy that you thought you’d never do?
Party live on Instagram. Yuck!

Who are your favorite actors at the moment? Who offers a job that excites and inspires you?
Gina Yashere and Michelle Buteau are two of the hardest working, beautiful, blackest, funniest women on the planet. They deserve every piece of success they achieve right now. Not only am I inspired by them, but I’m also super lucky to call them my friends.

What’s the best comedy advice, then the worst comedy advice, you’ve ever received, whether it’s just starting out or more recently?
Best two tracks: On one of my first open mikes, a comedian said to me, “If there’s something you say in a private conversation that makes someone laugh, write it down. My first year in acting, Chappelle told me, ‘Don’t listen to what anyone says, including me. That being said, move to New York. (I was living in LA at the time.)

Worse: I walked off the stage after a pain bomb, and the comic after me was dancing to any popular song at the time. I think it was “Soldier Boy”. A man who was do not a comic turns to me and says: “See? You should do something like this when you are on stage.

Tell us a story from your childhood that is a good representation of your life.
My mother sent me to an asthma camp when I was a child. Yes, this is a real place run by the American Lung Association that my mom found before Google. One night, the monitors announce an exercise where we all walk in the woods and drop off each camper, alone, to hang out in abject darkness for a few hours. I was 10 years old !! In my head I said No way. So they take us out, and every 100 meters they let an asthmatic child cry. They come to “my” place and say, “Joyelle, this is where you are staying. Me: “NO.” Them: “But you to have to. “I don’t. I don’t.” So they drop another child over there instead, and we keep going until there’s just one more girl and me left. The advisers nod, “Fine! You can stay here together, but don’t tell other campers! The adults (read: teens) walk away, and the girl turns to me and says, “Thank you for getting a big deal because I didn’t want to do that either! So began my life of doing nothing I didn’t want to do.

Assuming quarantine ends at some point, is there anything about how the comedy or the industry in general has changed that you hope to continue after quarantine?
I think the industry has finally understood the importance of representation. The inclusion riders and the new requirements for films to be Oscar-eligible give me hope. Gone are the days of screenwriters, actors and production teams without women or POCs.

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