Influenced by the titans of comedy with the last names of Pryor, Bruce, Harris, Carlin and Mabley, Luenell is becoming a comedy super star in her own rite. Although she’s short in stature her unique brand of humor towers about cookie cutter comics and has won her scores of fans everywhere. Ever since she was ten years old after seeing the musical South Pacific, she knew she wanted to be in show business. The Arkansas native who currently resides in Los Angeles continues to leave audiences laughing in the floor on television, the movies and in venues across the nation with her comedic genius. On television she has demonstrated her bold and brazen humor with notable performances on The Tracey Morgan Show, Comedy After Dark and on BET’s Comic View. it is without further ado that we ask you to Live, Laugh, Love ….Luenell.
PRIDEINDEX: Hi Luenell, it’s great to have you on the telephone. How are you doing today?
LUENELL: I am doing great. I am enjoying a beautiful sunny Southern California Sunday.
PI: Thanks for responding to my interview request so soon. I see you all the time on comedy series such as BET’s Comic view; I am one of your biggest fans I love you! A few years ago you appeared in Miami around Memorial Day but I wasn’t able to get there. I do hope to see your performance live in person someday soon.
LU: I thank you for your interest in me. Regarding Memorial Day weekend you’re referring to when I do Sizzle Miami. I have been doing that annually for about the last 3 years. And it’s one of the most fun gigs I have and I look forward to doing that each year. I hope they do not stop booking me! I am not sure why I respond so quick to interview request maybe it’s because I am one of my own favorite subjects and anyone who wants to talk to me then I am willing more than to talk to them about me. So I just want to thank you again, to thank your readers.
PI: Let’s talk about your appearance at Sizzle Miami. It speaks to your brand’s appeal to the gay and lesbian audience. Why do you believe your gay and lesbian fans love you so much?
LU: Throughout history gay and lesbian audiences have always been able to recognize pure and sincere talent. They have adapted themselves to the best of everything such as the best comedians, singers, the Whitney Houston’s, Barbra Streisand’s, Madonna’s, and the iconic people who keep their talent pure and natural. And I have been open about my own past sexual experiences and my alliances with the theater and gay folk. I learned how to do makeup and dress from the wonderful gays of the San Francisco area where I was brought up long before the era of AIDS, and crack. I think it’s the honesty and the fact that I really know what I am talking about is what bonds me to my very loyal gay following.
PI How do you prepare for your comedy gigs?
LU: I really don’t do my comedy like anyone else. I don’t do a lot of preparation but I do have certain standard jokes that people like to hear over and over just like you would like to hear your favorite Earth, Wind and Fire song or your favorite Michael Jackson song. There are certain standards the audience wants to hear you do and they don’t care how many times they have heard you tell that joke, it’s still funny to them. It’s at the risk of sounding repetitive or like I don’t have any new materials some jokes I’m required to tell over and over and a lot of people may have seen them on television but probably may not have ever seen me do them live in person. As far as new material goes I just look at what going on in the news, television and what are people talking about in the street. And I look at my own experiences that I feel other people could relate to and go on stage and talk about that. That’s my preparation. It’s not rocket science I don’t go deep into some metaphysical trance. I just sort feel it out.
PI Do you ever adlib?
LU: I adlib all the time, if you don’t adlib you’re what they call a scripted comedic. It means that you go from venue to venue and your routine is the same every night every after night with no variance. I adlib because the audience might say something to me that I have to respond to or something may have just happened on the way to the venue that I need to speak about or something might have just crossed my mind that I have to say something. I am constantly adlibbing. And it works for me.
PI Why did you become a comedian?
LU: It was not my intention to become a comedian. I had every intention of being a background singer for late Luther Vandross. That was my crazy dream. It was a fluke the way I became a comedian it happened through a roommate who was a dating a guy who used to come to our pad all the time to hear me running off at the mouth. He thought I was funny and told me if you ever feel like coming to my club I’ll put you on that night. So one day a couple of months later I was sitting around the house cocktailing with a few girlfriends. I said “let’s go down to the club.” I felt like talking some mess, I had a couples of stories I felt like relaying and we went down there and he put me on and I killed it. And the first person I met when I stepped off the stage was the late great Robin Harris. He told me that he’d thought I was funny and gave me his card and told me about another club to go to. It just snowballed from there.
PI: Do you think you’ll ever record an album someday?
LU: I have already done one called Luenell Bold, Bad and Uncut. You can get it on ITunes or you may go on my website at heyluenell.com. It was only available in limited release in stores in my area but it is most available on iTunes.
PI: Name at least 3 people who have had the most influence over your artistic style.
LU: I can name more than three! Right on the top of my list is course Richard Pryor, and Lenny Bruce, who was very had a pretty bad mouth but not in a vulgar way because there’s a way to cuss and be articulate and not vulgar. There is also George Carlin, Robin Harris, Joan Rivers, Moms Mably, Roseanne Barr and Lucille Ball.
PI: You may have already answered this one before but tell us anyway about the first time you performed your stand up routine in front of an audience.
LU: The first time I performed comedy in front of an audience I was not nervous, I was not scared, I did not stumble. It was like it was the thing I was meant to do. And I killed it. I have never been booed in my whole entire career but I’ve had the silent treatment a couple of times. Maybe it was because I had misjudged my audience and the material I was performing was not for them but I learned quickly how to fix that. The first time I performed it was just like the great beginning of a great day and I will never forget it. I cannot remember the name of the first guy I have ever had sex with but I do remember the first day I went on stage!
PI: That just meant your comedy routine went over better than the first guy you made love with. (LAUGHS)
LU: Totally (LAUGHS)
PI: If you travel back in time approximately ten minutes before your first ever comedy performance in front of an audience what would you tell yourself to do differently?
LU: Not a damn thing. I would not do anything different.
PI: Your twenty-fifth birthday is coming up (AGAIN). What do you have planned?
LU: Well actually I had this party planned last March with my then publicist and very dear friend Eugenia Wright. Unfortunately during March of last year she caught pneumonia and passed away so we did not have this party. I was in mourning for about a year. (Sighs) Having my party this year is a way of completing the circle that she and I had. And this will be the last party that I will ever throw for myself. I will have other parties but it will be other people throwing them for me. It’s really not even about my birthday because the day we’re having the party is not on my birthday I just want to have all of my friends to get together at one time. The ones that like each other and the ones that don’t like each other, the gay ones, straight ones, the drag queens and the motorcycle Mexicans, older people, younger people, black and white ones will all have to come together at an Leunell event because that’s the way I roll! I just want to have a classy event so for the guys that mean no sagging pants showing your underwear! The guys have to dress like a gentleman and I want all the women to wear something sparkling because I want all of them to feel special like it’s their Hollywood premiere night. We’re rolling out the red carpet. We’ve invited the press and I hope that it turns out to be even nicer than planned. I want everybody to come with the attitude that they are going to have a good time.
PI: Are you on planning on taping it to show to those of us who can’t make it?
LU: Yes we’re taping everything except for the bathroom. And it will be available on YouTube, my website, and via search engines and everywhere online.
PI: Have you ever considered joining the cast of a situation comedy show on television?
LU: I have considered it but the right situation has not come along. People have mentioned Saturday Night Live to me. I did the Tracey Morgan Show but for only 1 episode. I have done a lot episodic television but I have never been cast a member or re-occurring character. Casting departments have said it’s been I am not good in ensemble cast because I stick out too much and may need to have my own show. It’s something I’m looking at making happening in 2012. I would very much like to be part of an ensemble cast on someone’s television show then spin off to my own show. Maybe the right people have yet to have the vision. I would say “yes” if asked because I am ready.
PI: If Lorne Michaels, Executive Producer, of Saturday Night Live were to call you tomorrow with an offer for you to join SNL’s ensemble cast would you take the job?
LU: It would depend on many things such as If they would let me have some input in some of my sketches, if the money was right, and if they were willing to help me move from Los Angeles to New York, because I have a daughter in school. The answer would be yes, If my plans were to align. However I would not want to be an exclusive contract where I could not do anything else. There is a lot more to saying yes when doing these shows than just jumping in front of the camera.
PI: In the future you will be inducted into the Comedy Hall of Fame. Briefly give us a little bit of your acceptance speech.
LU: (Laughs) I love you for saying that! Someday day it could happen if God keeps me living long enough to see that day.
PI: That’s an interesting point. Why do you think we choose to honor folks posthumously when they’re gone instead of when they are here?
LU: That’s another reason I am having this party. In the wake of Whitney Houston’s passing I looked at all the friends and family that came around and gathered, that’s great but Whitney would have loved that party. I want my party to be like that surrounded by friends and family. I may not be here next year so I want folks to say “hey I am glad I went to Luenell’s party it was the rage.” I am very glad that I am doing it.
Again I am very happy that you think that I will be inducted into the Comedy Hall of Fame. You know there are different realms of that. We’re still so segregated now that it may have to be the African American Hall of Fame because we African American comics in some ways still sort of have to pat ourselves on the back because we don’t get enough accolades from the mainstream aka white society. So If I were able to cross over like I have done and remain that way and get the acceptance from everyone I would be very pleased about that!
A lot of people start their acceptance speeches off with “I would like to thank God.” And they don’t say what they are thanking him for. I would like to say that I thank the lord for every bad thing that’s ever happened to me. I want to thank the lord for taking my father away from me when I was still in my mother’s stomach because I would not have been moved to California if that had not happened and may not have the success I have today. I want to thank the lord for those times that I went to jail because now I can talk to my daughter about what I know and not what I have seen or read or heard. I want to thank the lord for giving me the experiences with drugs so that now I know that I am done with drugs and I would never have that to say that it could bring me down because I have already overcome them.
I want to thank the lord for all the lousy men that have been in my life so now I know how to recognize a good one! And I want to thank the lord for gifting me with the ability to find humor in some of the shittest situations and that is why I can enjoy all the good days today!
PI: I love it, Amen!
LU: Amen! (Laughs)
PI: If your daughter were to say,”Hey mom, I’ve been secretly taking courses in comedy and I’m appearing somewhere on stage next weekend. I need your advice” What would you tell her?
LU: First off I would say “oh my lord,” (sighs) and then I would be shocked because my daughter has zero interest in doing anything like that. She’s a dancer, that’s her creative passion. If she were to come to me and say that, I would say alright, “what time are you going on?” Do you want me to be there? And I’ll be there.
PI: She really wants you to give her some advice on technique and some of the things you have done to make them laugh in the aisle.
LU: No she cannot do what I do. That’s the first bit of advice that I would give her is to find her own niche and to find her own voice. I don’t do my comedy like anyone other woman that I have ever seen in comedy. I just do my style, like Luenell. I am very much a like a boy when it comes to the comedy business because it’s a boy’s business. I go pretty hard in the paint I don’t do anything to make anybody mad or offend anybody. It’s all a teaching tool for me. So I would not advise her to be like me. That would be like Richard Pryor Jr., trying follow in Richard Pryor’s exact footsteps. He’s going to be laughed right out of town, and not in a good way. She would have to find voice and niche. I would not advise my daughter to do comedy at all. I would not advise anyone to do it; because if you need advice like that you do not need to comedy period. Comedy is a very selfish business. You’re in it because you want to be in it. If you need encouragement and pats on the back then don’t go into comedy.
PI: Is there something else we should know?
LU: Just know that any female that you see on the road doing comedy is leading a very hard life. When you see a male comic on the road there’s a woman somewhere behind him taking care of his kids and other stuff. But when there’s a woman on the road lots of times there’s no body taking care of the kids. The kids may be by themselves! For me I don’t have any parents to leave my daughter with and my sisters and brothers are not in California so my daughter has been very responsible in taking care of certain stuff herself. My daughter’s father is still in the picture but he’s not in the same city. And I still have to get off the road to go to parent-teacher meetings, do the laundry and do all that other kind of stuff. It’s harder for woman comics because we have to work harder to be funnier, for less pay. We’re fighting all the time to keep our femininity. And when we’re on the road with a bunch of guys they are not gentlemen, they’re not helping you with your suitcase, or holding all the doors open for you. You have to get in where we fit in. If you’re sensitive to that I’d tell those females you’re in the wrong business.