Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Exclusive Interview with Actress/Comedian Luenell

Mentoring A New Generation

 by Belinda Trotter-James
Luenell the bad girl of comedy is better and badder than ever adding actress to her list of credentials. Her comedic genius allows her to create her own category of flavor and not have to be overshadowed by the challenges that comes with the business of comedy.  Don't get it twisted she did  not coin herself a bad girl.   "That's a handle that got put on me back in the '90's", says Luenell. "I guess people called me that because I was sort of a bad girl.  I don't take much crap.  Wait,  I don't take any crap. I speak out loud and proud. I was a wild child back in the early part of my career. There was a lot of partying, then I did some things that caused me to be incarcerated for a while.  I was already in the game for many years and I turned up pregnant in '96 by another comedian. I was quite the handful," remembers Luenell.

You always hear about comedians starting their careers with major challenges before their rise to the top.  However, Luenell was cut from the type of cloth where she could look at an obstacle or challenge and kick it in the butt and keep  it moving. In the beginning she did not have a problem getting gigs. "I used to host a television show on a cable network in Oakland, California before BET ever got started. It was called 'Soul Beat Television Network'. It was African-American owned and operated", remembers Luenell.  "Back in the day there was always a big Bay Area  comedy competition.  When comedians came to town to do the Bay Area competition, they would stop by my television show.  That's how I ended up knowing all the comics in the business before I moved to Los Angeles. Once I really got into the business, I really didn't have a difficulty getting gigs. Before I left the Bay Area I was a hot commodity and if you hired me, you would automatically get television advertising.  I was doing four clubs a week."  Now that's what I call having power over the gig.  Luenell may not of had a problem getting gigs however, she did run across some smart-ass club owners who tried to be confrontational back in the day and some still try to test her today.  Don't they know not to mess with the 'Bad Girl of Comedy'?!?   I could tell from the sound of her voice that she knew it was just part of the business and would know exactly how to resolve any problems that may arise.

Luenell back in the days on Soul Beat to watch the video
 I don't know how she pulled it off, but Luenell was able to squeeze into her busy schedule appearances in three movies this past summer. I said her feet must be hurting from all the running around and she didn't laugh. I thought it was funny; how embarrassing. I guess I better not quit my day job. Her role as Aunt Winnie in the box office hit, "Think Like A Man Too" was a delightfully perfect match for her personality.  "I didn't have one of the larger parts. I was just a small character, but it was also due to the fact that I was working on other things and couldn't be in two places at the same time", explains Luenell.  "In this last sequel of "Think Like A Man Too" I was only able to fly in for a day or two as opposed to the four days that they originally wanted because I was in Atlanta shooting the Rickey Smiley show."
In her next film which was created especially for her by Nick Cannon called, "School Dance", Luenell plays Mamma Tawanna.  The cast which includes Katt Williams, Kevin Hart, Mike Epps, Wilmer Valderrama, George Lopez, Amber Rose, the RZA and Lil Duval had to be a constant barrel full of laughs. I cannot imagine how any shooting got done. There must have been plenty of improv and laughing the entire time.  "That's exactly how it was", says Luenell.  "Most of the cast didn't not work on the same day. I never got a chance to see Katt. The people that I work with personally was Mike, Kevin, Lil Duval and there was even a part that was cut out with the RZA from Wu-Tang Clan who played my baby daddy. It was hilarity at its best with lots of improv as well and it was just a joy."

In Luenell's third movie of the summer she co-stars with Faizon Love in "Matthew 18", which is a horror film. The joke with African-Americans is that they always get killed in the first few seconds of a horror film.  Of course I asked Luenell if she was killed in the first scene. There was silence and she didn't laugh at that either. I don't know why I decided to be witty with a professional comedian. Didn't  I learn from the 'hurting feet' comment I made earlier? Nope. I'm glad I couldn't hear what she was thinking.  She probably didn't even think nothing of it, but from where I was sitting, it would have been great if I could travel back in time about two seconds before I made that remark.  Anyway, she replied, "Well, I don't want to spoil the film, but it is a horror film; it is not a comedy.  It will be released in November a little late for Halloween.  No pun intended on being late and being black." She laughs and says, "It is quite spooky."
In any career if you want to be the best, you seek out the best for guidance.  Talk show host, Wendy Williams is not a comedian however, she put together a bucket list for her 50th birthday of things she would like to experience including doing a one woman show. She enlisted Luenell to be her coach. Wendy told her studio audience that she was happy with the outcome and the audience loved every minute.  Wendy gave full credit to Luenelle for getting her through that experience  victoriously.  "We are going do it again at The Venetian in Las Vegas on October 31st", reveals Luenell.  "This time I will be hitting the stage myself and not just coaching."

For Wendy to do such an excellent job her first time out, Luenell must have given her some powerful advice.  I can picture seeing Wendy in my head with her eyes and ears wide open.  "I gave her simple things to be aware of like microphone techniques or where to stand which is different from hosting a talk show", explains  Luenell.  "She already came prepared with material that she wanted to speak on.  I try to let people know that comics don't tell jokes; they tell stories. There are some comics that tell jokes, but as a rule we tell stories not jokes. People at barbecues tell jokes, but comics tell stories.  Richard Pryor didn't tell jokes, Eddie Murphy don't tell jokes, Wanda Sykes along with myself don't tell jokes; we tell stories. All I did was tell her which stories to shorten, which stories to elaborate on and which stories to put a button."
If you haven't seen the  Lunelle T-shirts during the summer months, then you must make it your business to get one if you are a true fan. It is a piece of artwork that you may not want to wear. You can only get them exclusively at her shows. "There was a guy I met at a Black Expo in Sacramento, California who had the most fabulous blinged-out T-shirts", explains Luenell.  "He had Isaac Hayes, Donny Hathaway,  Bob Marley and Jimmy Hendrix so, I bought some of them. The detailing of each T-shirt was really amazing and they were made with Swarovski crystals; not rhinestones from the nail shop. I had my T-shirt for a while and I put it  in the laundry and dragged it around with me everywhere and I didn't lose many crystals. I kept in touch with him and I told him one day when I can afford it, I would like to have some T-shirts made up for me. When he showed me that he can make a T-shirt just for me in the exact image of myself, that's when I started doing business with  him. I ordered my first 200 shirts from him and now I'm on my third batch of 200 T-shirts."

For right now you can only get the T-shirts directly from Luenell when you come to one of her shows. Actually that makes her T-shirts priceless especially if she puts her John Hancock on each one. When you see the T-shirt, you will realize why they are so special.  When Luenell gets off the road, I'm sure she will find a way to make sure her millions of fans will be able to get their hands on a Swarovski crystal Luenell Tee.  
Luenell also put together a CD and a DVD both made with much love for her fans. "The CD was very easy to do because we taped it at a club where I work at twice a year in the Bay Area called Tommy T's.  My manager is a record producer as well as a songwriter so he knew how to set everything up", explains Luenell.   "I also have a cleaned up DVD that was taped at my church called, "Let The Church Say ROFL". It was a labor of love because it came to my attention that some fans would say,  'My mother loves you, however she can't take all that cursing.' I don't curse for the effect or for the record. I do it because that's just the way I speak. I was brought up in a household like that, but nevertheless I said I have to do something for the Christians. I don't want them to miss out on me. That's how we recorded that DVD."
Fans of Luenell can keep up with her by going to her web site at There you will find her tour dates and lots of other good stuff plus you can send her a message on twitter

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