Catching Up with Luenell: a #UGD Exclusive
Comedienne Luenell has literally become a household name in comedy in just a few short years. Of course, she not new to comedy. Getting her start more than 20 years ago, she's been working hard, appearing in a number of films, television shows, and comedy specials throughout the years. It wasn't until appearing in Katt Williams' American Hustle that many began to take notice.
Luenell offers a brand of comedy that is unmatched with any other comic. She has become one with her audience, and they love her for her brute honesty. If you've seen Ny of her performances, it's clear that she's always top notch and gives a stellar performance.
Luenell's is here in Cleveland this week, and it's turned out to be a big gift to the fans, bigger than usual! Beginning a string of 7 shows at the Cleveland Improv tonight, it's also her birthday! What an honor it is to know that she's spending her birthday in Cleveland with us! For us at Urban Grandstand Digital, it gets even bigger. We were blessed to be granted an interview with Luenell while she's here, and the experience and opportunity was far beyond measure. We talked about everything going on in her booking career down to what she had planned for her shows. Take a moment to check out the Q&A below. And if you're here in the city, check her out this weekend at the Cleveland Improv!
Urban Grandstand Digital: Ms Luenell! The first line of business is to wish you a happy birthday!
Luenell: Well thank you so much!
Urban Grandstand Digital: I’m really honored, obviously being here in Cleveland and you being here in our city on your birthday! I feel like you’re giving us something special
Luenell: I feel that way too. Y’all are giving me something special in return.
Urban Grandstand Digital: I love everything that you’re doing, and I know everyone here in the city loves it as well.
Luenell: Oh, I hope so. We’ll see if they feel like coming out to see me. I’m glad that y’all got a break in your weather.
Urban Grandstand Digital: I’m trying to tell you! It’s been brutal. But again it’s so cool that you’re blessing us with the opportunity to sit and talk. It’s really huge for us. So how's your time here in the city been so far? I know you've been out doing radio and whatnot.
Luenell: Well, you know, everybody has been treating me just lovely. I’ve met some beautiful people since being here. I know Kym Whitley is from here, and Steve Harvey is from here. I plan on calling Kym before the day is over. I met some great folks last night. Praise God I was able to get in here with no airline problems. Last weekend I had to go to Philadelphia and South Carolina, and it was a nightmare. We had plane delays, cancellations, and stay overs, but we made it in, did the shows and brought the heat. I’m hoping to bring enough heat to Cleveland that we melt the rest of this snow y'all got on the ground.
Urban Grandstand Digital: Oh, I know you’re packing the heat. I think it great that despite the fact that you're getting larger than life in terms of your career, you still go out and do stand-up!! Why is that still so important to you?
Luenell: Number one, I don’t have a show. I’m not tied down and tethered to a studio. Now I want a show, don’t get me wrong. But even If I was, I would still go out and do standup on the weekends. I like the personal interactions with the fans. I come from doing theater back in the day, and I like being on stage, and the intimacy of doing the Improv. It’s more fun for me to perform for 300 people than 3000. I rock either one, but I do have an affinity for the club. I think club comic don’t get the pats on the back that they should. We do a lot of traveling, and a lot of being away from our families. I’m not around anybody in my family today, and I have 7 brothers and sisters, and 17 nieces and nephews and a daughter. I’m not around anybody. I’m in a hotel room by myself, but I’ll get all that love made up tonight with the fans. I think comics have an insatiable lust for love that we have to have it from so many people, but I enjoy doing stand-up. I am a stand-up. I don’t do stand-up as a means to anything else. I do stand-up because I am that, and that is me!
Urban Grandstand Digital: And you have to be on your game to do stand-up, otherwise you fail!
Luenell: You have to be on it and you have to stay on it, or you lose it. Just like you’ll get flabby if you don’t exercise (and I’ve done that too), your mind won’t be as sharp, and you’re not as quick if you don’t exercise that muscle. I like to stay sharp as a razor on mine. I feel like I’m that way now. I’ve done a lot of shows this year, and I’ve been on the road consecutively for the last 3 weeks with the exception of going home on Mondays, and leaving on Wednesdays. That doesn’t leave a lot of time at home. Just enough time to pull out you drawers, wash ‘em, and re-pack ‘em. What jewelry will I wear with this outfit? Maybe I’ll switch up some outfits. I try to be everything you paid to see. I want to look good, smell good, and give you what you paid for. You got dressed and came to see me.
Urban Grandstand Digital: …and that there, is what the fans love about you. They know that you put your all into this. They know they get a real show. It speaks to your longevity too. You've been out here doing it strong for more than twenty years.
Luenell: Yes, I have been. If it was up to my fans, I would be right there where I’m trying to me. I just got off the phone with Snoop, and there’s a lot of nitpicking and politicking, you know he talks to the pros like that. I’m just a real chick. I’m a down chick. I was born in Arkansas and raised in Oakland California, so it’s not too much B.S. you can pull on me, and I don’t just fall for everything. A lot of times, it’s easier for an executive to deal with someone who’s young, dumb, and thirsty than it is to deal with someone who knows a good contract, knows a good deal, wants their money and deserves it. I don’t know if that is the case, but everything is in God’s time. I can want what I want, and work hard to get it, and feel like I deserve it, but my job is to keep from becoming bitter, and stay prayed up, and eventually it works out for the greater good.
Urban Grandstand Digital: What's also highly beneficial is the relationship you’ve built with Katt Williams because that puts you out there, and that puts people like Red Grant out there! I had an opportunity to catch up with him last year when he was here with Katt Williams, and he was an awesome brother.
Luenell: Absolutely. Red is like my brother. He is it. We watch each other’s kids. Mine is in college. His family loves me, and my family loves him. We don’t live far from each other. While Katt absolutely had a huge part in bringing me to the forefront, it was a beautiful thing that he reached back and got us. There’s a whole white demographic of my life that many of the brothers and sisters don’t pay attention to. My audience is not primarily all black. I do a lot of film and television projects that the sisters and brothers are not privy too. Borat was a huge film, and it was nominated for an academy award. Everyone doesn’t know that. I worked with Sandra Bullock, Bradley Cooper, and Adam Sandler. I’m on my third Adam Sandler film now. Aaron McGruder. I have the range, and my lifestyle is not confined to any one specific thing. I’ll be a black woman till’ the day I die of course, but the comedy that I spew isn’t meant for everybody.
Urban Grandstand Digital: I also want you to talk a little about your upcoming projects. There's Hotel Transylvania, which seems like it would be so awesome to be a part of, Did you really expect the first one to do $350 million?
Luenell: From what I saw when I was going to do the voiceover, I knew it had the potential to be epic. I didn’t know it would do that, but I’m very glad it did. I know Adam Sandler is [happy] as well, because I just recorded my part for part 2 last week.
Urban Grandstand Digital: It’s awesome to get a second chance to be involved.
Luenell: Yes! Not a lot of sisters can say they did three films with Adam Sandler. He’s a great comedic icon, a swell guy, and very loyal. If he likes you, he’ll use you again in his films. It’s been proven time and time again. It didn’t hurt that my girl; you’re Cleveland native Kym Whitley, had me on this new season of Raising Whitley. I did about 6 episodes with them, and will probably be doing so more.
Urban Grandstand Digital: That’s right in line with my next question. There’s a who new level of energy and humor that you add to the show which was already doing well. Was it planned for you to come in on a regular basis?
Luenell: It wasn’t planned at all. I went on because she asked me if I would be so kind as to do a couple of episodes. I was like sure, it’s television, and it’s OWN. I love Joshua. He’s a great boy. I don’t even do boys. Little boys are nasty, they jump around, break shit, and I can’t take it (laughing). He is a great kid. I think the storyline is beautiful with what he brought to her life. I fully support that show. Once I did it, the executives wanted to see me a little bit more. It was lots of fun.
Urban Grandstand Digital: It’s good to see people out here who support each other. You support her, and she supports you, and you just don’t see that a lot. There’s so many people who watch now because you’re there, and the show was already doing phenomenally.
Luenell: Sure it was, and it will continue to do well. All this reality stuff that we secretly do like to watch, even though it’s ratchet, it’s so detrimental to our race and our brand. I deal with sisters everyday, and they ain’t threw no glass at me or tried to pull my weave out. They [producers] put people together who aren’t friends in real life and want you to go into these situations and evoke this ratchet behavior. People like La La had the reality show and nobody gets beat down. Kym's got a show, Welcome to Sweetie Pies’ is out and nobody gets beat down. There’s a lot of good stuff that doesn’t have anything to do with dragging each other by the hair through the damn streets. It’s got to be starting to get old pretty soon. The hoes are really winning right now (laughing). They get perfume contracts, shoe contracts, and bags. It’s really disheartening for those of us who work at our craft and would like to get paid as well, but you can see ratchet, plastic silicone fake trying to be, no pride in themselves women on television and they’re making money. That hurts.
Urban Grandstand Digital: I’m happy to hear you say that. Obviously, there’s a lot that we don’t cover in our pages and on our site, but it’s good to hear someone who feels the same.
Luenell: It’s a lot of people who feel that way. It’s not to say we don’t sneak and watch it, which is where the double entendre comes in, because if you watch it they get the numbers, and if they get the numbers they continue to put it on. The only way to make it stop it is to not watch. The only way to not watch is for there to be other quality programming. We have to get behind the camera. We need more of y’all to stop trying to be on camera and get behind the camera. Empire didn’t write itself, somebody had to write it. and it doesn’t shoot itself. Somebody has to shoot it. We need people to do that, and we need people of color.
Urban Grandstand Digital: So my team and I will be out to kick it with you at the Improv tomorrow.
Luenell: Amazing! Wonderful!
Urban Grandstand Digital: What can we expect from you with this week's shows? Without you giving away too much…
Luenell: I could never give away what you will see (laughing). I would say to expect to see a sister who is working, grinding, and baring her soul! I don’t write jokes. I don’t know how to sit down and write things to be funny. I tell you anecdotes from my life that are relatable. You will know a lot more about me and the things I go through. I talk about things that cross the color lines, whether you’re gay, straight, or whether you’re black, white, or brown. Everybody has kids trying to go to college. Everybody has financial problems. Everybody is trying to have the best sex. Everybody deals with eating and weight. I’ll be talking about all the stuff that everybody can relate to. I think I’m one of the baddest that ever did it. When you finish listening to me, you’ll think you’ve been in the room with your best friend for an hour.
Urban Grandstand Digital: Looking back over your career, if given the chance, what's one thing you would change, if anything?
Luenell: Yes! I would say if I had known you should still keep up with your P.E. after high school, I would have stayed more in shape (laughing). That’s something they should tell you. When you stop having to do gym because we made you, you should keep doing it. Still do it! That would probably be the ONLY thing I would change. But there’s a demographic who is glad I didn’t! Everybody don’t want, you know, what we think they want. I’m cool with where I am. I think women have been so inundated with body image propaganda that even the most confident of us find some flaw that we feel insecure about. If we were in another part of the country where they don't buy into that, we probably wouldn’t think twice about it.
Urban Grandstand Digital: Taking that a step further, what would you offer to the next person looking to get immersed in comedy? What would you caution them on?
Luenell: The thing I hate with younger comics is you give advice and they don’t listen. It’s no need to give advice if people don’t listen. Sometimes, people have their own way of doing things. I would say two things: Number one, don’t fool yourself. If you’re not that funny, don’t try to be a comic. Just life if you’re don’t sing that well, stop trying to be a singer. You can’t just be funny to people at the barbecue and your friends. When it comes to being a professional comedian, you have to go and make strangers laugh on demand, period! It’s non-negotiable. Nobody pays for you to have an off night. You won’t work that way. You have to be consistent. You have to be funny all the damned time. Extremely funny, or it’s just not going to work. The second thing I would say is every time you go to the club, you don’t have to get on stage. Sit and watch the headliners, and see what they do. You can pick up tips. A lot of comics do a show, then run off to another room to do another show. Maybe go out for a week and don’t do any sets. Just watch the headliners. Study them, see what they do, how do they handle the microphone, who looks comfortable and who doesn’t. When I first went to L.A. I went out every night and just watched. I still watch and study. I watched Redd Foxx. I had a show about 2 years ago, and after the show, comics were sitting around chopping it up like we do. This lil’ young good looking brother was on the show with me. We were talking and I said something about Robin Harris, and he said “who is Robin Harris”?
Urban Grandstand Digital: Which is ridiculous to not know who someone like Robin Harris is.
Luenell: I got him kicked off my show. I said don’t call yourself a comic if you don’t know who the greatest comics are, especially the black ones. That’s like saying who is Martin Luther King, I heard of him. What did he do?
Urban Grandstand Digital: But it’s just like music too. How do you know know the Marvin Gayes, or the Aretha Franklins?
Luenell: Even the Sarah Vaughns, and the Ella Fitzgeralds and the Duke Ellingtons. That may not be your genre, but you should certainly know who they are. A lot of these songs out now, the ideas come from sampling old stuff. We’re not even talking about Blurred Lines. I was listening to Curtis Mayfield today, and there’s a song Beyoncé sings that is totally Curtis Mayfield. Now it’s easier for us who grew up with it than it is for people to go back and research it, but if you had older parents who played that music, it’s second nature.
Urban Grandstand Digital: …and let’s face it. If you truly have an affinity for music, then you’ll be researching, and reading liner notes and whatnot.
Luenell: You’d feel awfully stupid if you were sitting next to Quincy Jones in a restaurant and didn’t know who he was. You think, you want to get put on, and he’s made Vibe Magazine, Vibe TV Show and everything like this, and you have an opportunity to be next to somebody who can change your life and you don’t even know who they are because you’re so far up Drake’s ass that you don’t know who somebody great is.
Urban Grandstand Digital: Final comments! Is zthere anything you really want people to know?
Luenell: I just want to say I don’t know about anybody else, but I truly appreciate the fact that I have fans who get off from work, get babysitters, and get showered, gas up the car and put on something nice to buy drinks and sit and watch me. I know what that really means.
Urban Grandstand Digital: I just worked the babysitting game out for tomorrow Luenell (laughing)
Luenell: Yes. Everybody didn’t just pop in them seats. There was a whole lot of finagling that took place. I was an audience and I know what it takes. Black people come to a show like they are in the show. I appreciate every single ass in the seats. Y’all mean the world to me. I would not have a career if it were not for y’all. I appreciate every dime that you spend. That’s why I go ham for mine. I’m not cocky. I give you everything I have. I don’t take this for granted. When you’re in our position, you can’t call in sick. Nobody wants to hear it. They want to have us relieve them. You don’t know what’s really going on with us, but I do appreciate y’all because it makes what we go through worth while.
Urban Grandstand Digital: Well I honestly have to thank you, not only for sitting to talk with me today, but also just for what you do. I appreciate you more than you’ll ever know. As a freelancer for about 12 years, I also worked in healthcare for about 13 years. The contributed a lot to me going to school and paying for it, but i eventually hit a point where I wasn’t happy. It took a lot of thought, but a year and a half ago, I stepped out on faith, leaving that career and following my heart. Looking at people like you; who are living the dream, following their hearts and doing what they love, that makes it easier. You never know how much you help and inspire people but like so many others for me, you’ve been an inspiration for me. The one thing I push to people now is to follow your heart and dream no matter what. It’s really about being happy.
Luenell: I just love to hear about somebody who said “F” it, I;m following this dream. It’s the passion that keeps you living, and working the job you hate that will put you in the ground. If we don’t go after our passions, if you think you are the best pancake maker, if you got a pancake recipe that every time somebody taste it their eyes roll up in their heads, and if it gives you joy, you need to see if you can be the top pancake person in the world. Do that, instead of working 9-5 at Shell oil where you hate the people, and they hate you, and you got reprimanded for being two minutes late from lunch. While you have some life and passion in you, you need to chase that dream. It doesn’t mean that you'd will always get support from your family. You think that my parents paid for me to go to school to get a degree in English so I can stand up and talk about my vagina on stage? No! They did not do that.
Urban Grandstand Digital: Exactly. But you definitely inspire a lot of people and we’re all very appreciative.
Luenell: I definitely appreciate the appreciation. I look forward to seeing you out at the show.