Ask Anjelah Johnson to name her passions, and she lets slip a warning chuckle.
“When I was younger, I loved different sports and I was a competitive cheerleader,” says the 29-year-old comic performer, who brings her standup routine to the Downtown’s Balboa Theatre February 11.
“I used to go to the gym all the time and take kickboxing. Now, instead of abs, I have a husband.”
A former Oakland Raiderette Rookie of the Year (2002), Johnson has worked as an actor in movies and TV sitcoms (Our Family Wedding, Curb Your Enthusiasm) and as an animated feature voiceover talent (Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakuel, Marmaduke).
But Johnson is best known for her stint as a regular on the late-night sketch-comedy series MADtv, where she honed two signature characters: Tammy,a nosy, persistently up-selling Vietnamese nail salon manicurist, and Bon Qui Qui, a rude fast-food counter clerk. Both have become YouTube sensations, racking up tens of millions of views.
It’s a big deal for Johnson, who moved to Los Angeles just nine years ago and dipped her toe into comedy through a weekly class sponsored by her church-the ?rst place she introduced her nail salon sketch.
“It’s crazy how this character I’ve been doing since I was a kid blew up and catapulted my career to where it is now,” says the San Jose native, who’s of Mexican and Native American descent and draws her humor “from everyday existence. It’s easy to pull from ethnic issues, because that’s what I deal with.”
A self-described “clean comedian” with a love for God that has informed her life, Johnson admits that her faith and “funny” are sometimes at odds.
“I talk about whatever is on my mind and in my heart,” she says, confessing to being tempted to speak her mind too freely via Twitter, Facebook and her own website, anjelah.com.
“However, I’ll censor myself if I think the general religious population won’t be okay with it. But sometimes [slipping into Bon Qui Qui-speak], I don’t care who likes it and who don’t.”
Chances are that her husband of eight months, Manwell Reyes, a member of the Christian hip-hop band Group 1 Crew, cuts her some slack. With the couple often touring separately, they cherish their time together.
“One of my favorite things to do is sit on my couch with Manwell in our pajamas and watch TIVO’d episodes of Criminal Minds,” Johnson says. “It’s our way of unwinding.”
Meanwhile, she’s gearing up in February to reintroduce a newly stylized, rap-singing Bon Qui Qui-with a new single on iTunes called “Im’a Cut You” and an accompanying music video.
Admits Johnson: “I have a new respect for weaves.”
Sign up for the Pacific Insider newsletter
PACIFIC magazine delivers the latest restaurant and bar openings, festivals and top concerts, every Tuesday.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Pacific San Diego.