We saw her play the charming companion in the movie Borat. Then we saw her tear it up with Katt Williams in American Hustle. Luenell is a force of nature. A comedienne, actress, and a singer who has had many film and television appearances, of which include: Think Like a Man with Arielle Kebell and Meagan Good, Hotel Transylvania with Adam Sandlar, Taken 2 with Liam Neeson, and plenty more. Aside from touring with Katt Williams, her stand up comedy appearances include Stand Up in Stilettos, as well as Snoop Dogg’s Bad Girls of Comedy on Showtime. After a busy weekend at the Improv, Luenell was sweet enough to hang and talk about comedy and show biz.
You were part of Katt Williams’ American Hustle tour. What’s it like to tour with Katt??
Well I knew him for years before he ever got famous. We both lived in Oakland together, we both have kids the same age, and we were strugglin at the same time together. So when he started takin off, he called me and said, “Hey I’m gonna do a tour, you wanna go?” I was like, “Yeah!” But I didn’t hear from him for months so I was like, “He’s full o’shit!” And then finally, a plane ticket showed up in my e-mail. And it was like, “Les go!”
And it was like travelin with The Rolling Stones! It was mass hysteria everywhere we went. We had to start flyin on private planes because we couldn’t get through the airport—people wanted to take pictures, people were coming outta the gift shop, comin out the candy shop, comin outta restaurants—just to take pictures—people at the curbside check-in were textin they friends inside…TSA agents always wanna feel you ‘n pat you down, look at your jewelry ‘n all that stuff… So we missed so many planes ‘n damn near fucked up so many shows that we seriously had to start flying private.
Damn! How has the fame affected you?
Well I’m not Katt. His shit is mass-hysteria-type famous. But I’m havin great difficulty goin to the grocery store. Or going anywhere. I try to dress down, but if I open my mouth, people recognize my voice. And I didn’t know it was like that until one day, I was in the store with my daughter, and I said, “Don’t forget to get some green beans!” [smiles] Somethin like that, and a lady came from ANOTHER AISLE ‘n was like, “I knew that voice! I knew it was YOU!”
So it gets difficult. You wanna go in the store, grab somethin ‘n be out in fifteen minutes. What normally would take a person fifteen minutes may take you an hour and a half. People wanna talk to you, they want you to meet their son who’s a rapper, or they think you can help somebody get put on, like, “I got my demo in the car…” and all this kinda shit.
Is Katt doing all right these days?
I really don’t discuss him much to people who don’t know him because there’s alotta variables in that situation. But I’ll just say, we were together last weekend and he was the same ol’ Katt as mine. I think the road takes a toll on you. After doin 127 shows in a row, you’re more than tired. You’re mentally drained, you’re not getting any sleep, you’re not eating right, you’re flying too much, everybody around you wants money, you don’t know who to trust… It can take a toll. But since he’s been home ‘n relaxed, he’s much much better.
How did you get your start in comedy?
Well, I never started out wanting to be a comic. I wanted to be a background singer ‘cause I used to do alotta theater—musical theater, musical comedy ’n stuff like that. Years ago, when I was living in Long Beach, California, one of my roommates was dating a comedian—who ran a club. He’d come to the house ‘n tell me, “Ya know, you’re really funny! Come to my club anytime, and I’ll put you up!” I was like, “Yeah, alright…”
So one night, me ‘n my girlfriends were sittin around, makin margaritas. And I had been thinkin o’some funny stuff that happened to me—‘cause funny stuff happens to me all the time. [smiles] So I said, “Lets go down to this club ‘n see what’s goin on!” I went on stage and told a ‘lil story—‘n I killed it the first time out. And the late comedian, Robin Harris was in the room that night. He approached me afterward and was like, “[Robin Harris’ voice] You a funny ‘lil bitch! You funny! You need to come down to my room!” His room was the Comedy Act Theater. And young D.L. Hughley, and young D.C. Curry ‘n everybody used to hang around there. And then me ‘n D.L. hooked up ‘n started doin shows together. And from there it just sorta spiraled.
Growing up, were you the class clown?
[smiles] Yeah, I was the class clown. Ya know… Got a ‘lil trophy ‘n all dat shit…
[I laugh, but Luenell doesn’t]
[Luenell nods her head] I did.
Who are your greatest influences?
I’d say my family is one my greatest influence because they’re really stupid funny! Of course some of the women in comedy: Carol Bernet, Lucille Ball, Joan Rivers, Elayne Boosler, Rosanne Barr—who I think is the top of my female list. And then of course the guys: George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby, Freddie Prinze, Steve Martin.
Would you say you’re “on” even when you’re not on stage?
I’m not “on” all the time. In fact, they had an intervention about me bein shitty to my fans. But, I treat my fans however they treat me. If they come up to me respectfully like, “Hey I really think you’re funny, I love your work, can we take a picture?” And I’ll be more likely to do that. As opposed to, “Hey bitch! You sho is funny! Tell me a joke!” Then I don’t feel like bein bothered. And I get rude, too. [smiles]
You’ve been in comedy for 23 years. How is comedy different today than when you first started?
Comics have it easier today than I did when I started. I started before Comic View, before Def Jam, before Comedy Central! Because 23 years ago, NOBODY wanted to support you doin stand up comedy—it wasn’t a job that you could make a living at back then. There were no $50,000 paydays 20 years ago. You could only make 20 dollars, 25 dollars ‘n get a coupla drinks ‘n maybe somethin to eat.
Is there a timeline for success in this industry?
[shakes her head] Nah. Ah uh. The timeline is: Most overnight successes take about twenty years. [bursts out laughing] That’s the timeline.
What is the key to success in this industry?
The ones who’ve had great success are the ones who’ve been doin it for years ‘n years ‘n years. What we hate to see as older comics is new comics sayin, “In three years I need to be on TV! In five years I wanna have my own Bentley ‘n datadatada!” You dunno how long it’s gonna take. You dunno what it’s gonna do. Whatchu need to do is keep consistently bein funny ‘n keep wreckin shit everywhere you go.
Can comedy be taught? Or does it have to be in you?
I don’t think you can be taught to be a comic. Like, they got all these comedy schools now ‘n all that… But I think it’s IN you. Like, there’s people who can sing…but there’s other people who can SANNNG! You know’m sayin? Anybody can be taught to carry a tune. But there’s other people who have it IN them to be able to DELIVER and to SELL it and to PERFORM it and make you FEEL it. That is innately inside you. It’s sorta like the “It” factor. Some people have it ‘n some people don’t.
Did you work odd jobs to support your comedy struggles?
I didn’t have odd jobs, I had a job—a career in banking ‘n did that for like 9 years.
When is the right time to quit your dayjob to do comedy full time?
I would never QUIT a job to do comedy! [laughs] But if you get fired or layed off, I think that’s a perfect time to go balls out! [laughs]
Interviewed & Written by: DAVID GAVRI