Funny girl Anjelah Johnson has been keeping busy in the entertainment industry for the last few years. From her performances as a stand-up comedienne to her short stint as an NFL cheerleader, it’s all been a natural progression for Johnson, who moved to L.A. in 2003 to pursue an acting career.
In “Our Family Wedding,” the second wide-release film of her career, Johnson, who is of Mexican and Native American descent, plays Izzy, the tomboyish sister of America Ferrera’s character who surprises her traditional Hispanic family when she tells them she is engaged to a black guy.
During an interview with me, Johnson talked about her time as an Oakland Raiderette, what kind of advice she got from Carlos Mencia, and what it means to “sleep like a princess.”
You were in one episode of “Ugly Betty” last year where you interview Betty about her blog. So, I’ll ask the same first question you ask Betty on that show: Who are you dying to bitch out?
Yoohoo! Man, nobody! I’m on good terms with everyone right now, so it’s all good. (Laughs)
What did you think about “Ugly Betty” getting cancelled?
I’ve been a fan of the show since the first episode. When I heard it was cancelled, I was sad. I’m friends with America and we talked about it. I told her it was a blessing that she was able to be a part of such an amazing show. I’m happy for her and the show because it did get to run for four seasons, but I’m sad to see it go.
Was it your idea to mention a manicure in one of your first scenes in “Our Family Wedding” since that is a big part of your stand-up routine?
When do I talk about a manicure?
At the beginning of the movie, you talk about someone getting a manicure.
Oh, when I shake Lance’s [Gross] hand I say he has soft girly hands and ask if he got a manicure. I didn’t even correlate the two! That’s pretty funny. (Laughs)
I thought it was a reference to your stand-up.
No, not at all. I try to veer away from that as much as possible.
I heard you in a past interview saying you’re a lot like your character Izzy. Would you consider yourself as much of a tomboy as she is?
(Laughs) Yes, I do, definitely. I’m not over-the-top to where it’s like butchy, but I’m definitely a jeans and tennis type of girl with my hair in a ponytail. But I don’t like to get dirty. I hate it when my hands are dirty. That’s one of my pet peeves.
What would you consider the girliest thing about you other than getting manicures?
The girliest thing about me is that I sleep like a princess. I have like seven pillows all around me in a big U shape. When I toss and turn I always have a pillow to hold onto. I have a huge king-size bed just for me.
Other than sleeping like a princess, you don’t seem to fit in that princess mold. But I read that you were a professional cheerleader for the Oakland Raiders, and that, to me, sounds really girly.
Well, I grew up doing competitive cheerleading where it wasn’t so girly. It was more of a sport. We were competing and doing a lot of tumbling and stunts. We would get injured. We were tough cheerleaders. But when I went to the Oakland Raider, that was a totally different story. It was very girly and showy. That was different for me. When my friend first asked me if I wanted to audition for the Raiders I was like, “No way. That’s so not my skill set.” But it ended up working out.
You only did the pro cheerleading thing for one year. Why did you stop?
Well, it was at this time in my life where I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to act, but I didn’t know how to get started. So, I used the Raiders crew as my sign. I told myself if I make the team I would use it to pursue a career in the entertainment industry. So, I made the squad, cheered for one year and went to the Super Bowl that year, and then came home at the end of the season and packed my bags and moved to L.A. and have been here ever since.
How did you and Carlos Menica get along since both of you come from a stand-up background?
He and I get along great. We’ve worked with each other before. We did a show together where it was me, Carlos, Cedric the Entertainer, and a lot of other comedians on the bill. He actually pulled me to the side and gave me a pep talk. My career in stand-up had moved so fast. I’ve gotten where I am in such a short amount of time. He gave me the heads up and told me, “You know, there’s going to be some haters…People are going to say this and say that.” It was almost like a fatherly-type talk. When we found out he was playing my father in this movie, it was an easy transition because we already established that relationship.
Speaking of haters, both you and Carlos have been criticized for some of your stand-up material. Some people say it’s racist. What do you think when you hear things like that? Are people being oversensitive?
I could say people are oversensitive, but to each his own. What offends me might not offend somebody else and vice versa. None of my material comes from a mean spirit or a mean heart where I’m trying to hurt somebody’s feelings. All my comedy is observational. I just talk about things that I see. A lot of the time it’s true and truth hurts. I guess that why people sometimes get upset.
Is film something you want to focus on now?
Yeah, I moved to L.A. to pursue acting and stand-up kind of fell onto my plate. It’s been a blessing and I enjoy stand-up, but acting is definitely what I love to do and what I came here to do. I’m looking forward to growing and flourishing in my acting career in film and TV. Stand-up will be there, too. It’s like a creative outlet for me where I can write my own material and perform.
Can you tell me about your role in the upcoming “Marmaduke” movie?
I play a voice of one of the dogs. She’s like the ditzy dog. It was a lot of fun for me. I was able to improv a lot.
On your website, you sell a t-shirt that reads, “I Have a Big Butt.” Can a guy get away with buying that for his girlfriend or wife or would you advise against that?
I’m sure they can if that’s a joke they they’ve talked about and laughed about. I’ve had a bunch of guys buy that shirt for their girlfriends. They’ll come up to me and say, “Oh, this is so perfect for my girlfriend!” I’m like, “Uh, well make sure she feels the same way!”
Starring: America Ferrera, Forest Whitaker, Carlos Mencia
Directed by: Rick Famuyiwa (“Brown Sugar”)
Written by: Wayne Conley (“King’s Ransom”), Malcolm Spellman (debut), Rick Famuyiwa (“Brown Sugar”)
Movies featuring racially diverse casts and themes are hard to come by these days (unless you’re rubbing elbows with the overrated brand name known as Tyler Perry). But if future projects aimed at underrepresented minorities are anything like the grating “Our Family Wedding,” studios should keep them tucked away at least until George Lopez’s dubious “Speedy Gonzalez” idea comes to fruition.
Not only are the distasteful stereotypes what make “Wedding” a chore to sit through, director and co-writer Rick Famuyiwa (“Brown Sugar”) just doesn’t have the comedic chops to deliver entertaining material for an entire feature film. While a goat hopped up on Viagra is the unfunny low point of the movie, “Wedding” sinks close to that level before and after the farm animal starts dry-humping Forest Whitaker in the bathroom.
Using the same structure as 2005’s “Guess Who” (a less than stellar remake of the Oscar winning 1967 film “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner”), the film follows two families as they prepare for a big wedding celebration for their son and daughter.
Lucia Ramirez (America Ferrera) and Marcus Boyd (Lance Gross) may be in love, but that doesn’t mean their dads have to like each other. The animosity between father of the bride Miguel (Carlos Mencia) and father of the groom Marcus (Whitaker) begins when Miguel, the owner of an auto repair shop, impounds Marcus’s sports car and exchanges verbal jabs with his daughter’s future father-in-law even before he knows who he is.
The set up is a tired one. Most of the jokes play the race card without remorse and each one is less amusing than the last. When Lucia and Marcus break the news to their families about their interracial relationship, no one bothers to tell Lucia’s grandmother (Lupe Ontiveros) who falls over when she sees a black man walk into her kitchen. The racial profiling continues as Miguel calls Marcus “bro’” and Marcus retorts with “hombre.” The families bicker and clash about wedding traditions, culture, and religion while Lucia and Marcus stand idly by having claimed a nonsensical mantra to help them get through the weeks before the big day: “Our marriage, their wedding.”
Directed gracelessly by Famuyiwa, “Our Family Wedding” is an unfortunate mess of a movie that skips all the tender moments and authentic family ordeals for dull slapstick comedy and ham-fisted put-downs. If you’re looking for something as endearing as “Father of the Bride,” you’ve come to the wrong ceremony.