By Ryan Meehan
Janelle James is a Caribbean born comic based in the Midwest. Moving to the Midwest was such a jarring experience that Janelle, already a person prone to melodramatic mood swings quickly fell down a hole into deep depression. A chance conversation with a neighbor about a local open mic led to Janelle trying to reap the benefits of talk therapy without the bills (or therapist) and trying her hand at stand up comedy. Janelle’s stand up is a mix of raunch, family life and morbid thoughts about depression and aging. She has featured all over the midwest and NYC in such places as The Jukebox Comedy Club, NY Comedy Club and The Laugh Factory. She was a top three finalist in both the 2011 Laugh Comedy Competition and the 2012 Jukebox Comedy Competition. Janelle has also traveled extensively as the feature act with veteran comics. When not performing, Janelle can be found tweeting the boredom away @janellejcomic or complaining to anyone who’ll listen about how having kids makes it so much harder to move into a van and live the glamorous life of a road comic. And she’s our guest toady in 5 Questions.
FOH: How did you get your start in comedy and what was the first notion you had that this is something you’d really like to pursue? Were there ever moments in the beginning when you considered giving it up?
JJ: I got started pretty much the same way as most comics. I went to an open mic, got on stage, didn’t pee myself or throw up so decided to do it again. The first notion that is was something I wanted to pursue was immediately after the first time I did it. I thought “This is it, guess I’m gonna be a comedian now.” I’m still very much in the beginning as the path to “success” is a long one for all but a few. I never think about giving up but I definitely have moments where I just stop and think “What the fuck am I doing!?” It’s such a ridiculous thing to pursue when you really think about it.
FOH: You’ve worked with national headliners such as Todd Barry and Rob Delaney…What were those experiences like for you and what did you learn from working with those comedians?
JJ: It was exciting of course. “Hey do you want to go on the road with as unknown comic and perform in front of hundreds of already warmed up and excited fans in the low pressure position of feature comic? AND get paid for it!? What craziness! It was awesome. What I really learned from traveling with them is more of the business end and how many people and things need to come together to make these shows happen. Talk to the agent, he’s gonna call my manager to speak to the promoter about the sound guy…that sort of thing.
FOH: How do you define the perfect balance of material and doing crowd work? What’s your overall take on doing crowd work?
JJ: The perfect balance I think differs for each comic. I would rather just do my material, but that may be because I’m still unseasoned and not comfortable with what surprises might occur when you involve the audience in your act. As I get further along here I try to work in a little crowd work, but I’d rather it all be about me! Me! ME!
FOH: Do you have any crazy heckler stories you’d like to share?
JJ: I have a lot. The one I’ll tell now is about a woman who was heckling me with kindness. I’d do my self-deprecating stuff about my body and dealing with aging and she’s yelling out “You’re hot!, “You’re tits are nice!’ and so forth the whole night. I had to shut her down because she was messing up my set but I felt bad about it afterwards. I have that set recorded and I still listen to it and laugh. She had to be drunk off her ass. I wish I could take her bathing suit shopping with me. Every time I try on a new one she’s there to yell, “You’re hot!”
FOH: If you had to name the best ten working standup comedians in America right now, what would that list look like? Out of those ten comics, which one would you say has influenced you the most?
JJ: Geez..ten? And still working? Not greatest of all time? Ok, here we go. Bill Burr, Dave Chappelle (he still works sometimes!), Louis CK, Todd Barry, Jim Gaffigan, John Mulaney, Patton Oswalt, Jim Jefferies, and Norm Macdonald…
Fuck, that’s a lot of white dudes huh? I can’t think of one more even to make it a full ten. Those are all the people that make me laugh that I think are the best working standups in America right now. I would like to say that Richard Pryor is the greatest of all time and give honorable mentions to Patrice O’Neal and Greg Giraldo who would have been included if they weren’t dead. I don’t know who I would say I’m influenced by, maybe Norm Macdonald? I get a good amount of flack for digging him, but he’s so dark and sad and hilarious to me.
FOH: Have you noticed any regional trends when it comes to an the response you get from a particular audience? Is that the kind of thing that you have to kind of feel out once you hit the stage and have you ever had to change or eliminate parts of your set because of what you see once you get up there?
JJ: I don’t really change my sets. I do what I’m in the mood for because I feel this is my way to get stuff out that I’m dealing with at any given moment and I just hope that that particular audience finds it funny that day. Early on I would have tried to ease up on the dirty stuff if I see older people in the audience but now I’ll say it while staring into their eyes and surprise!, usually they are the ones who like that stuff the most.
FOH: What’s up next for Janelle James in 2013? Anything big in the works that we should know about?
JJ: This year my goal was to do festivals and I got into The Bridgetown Comedy Festival which is exciting and I hope to get word from others later on in the year. Other than that I just want to perform as much as possible where ever and for whomever will have me.
Make sure to check out Janelle James at the Mill in Iowa City on Saturday, March 30th at 8:30PM. The cost is only $6 and also features comedians Bobby Ray Bunch, Devon Wiese, Derek Moulds, and Andre TheoBOLD.
Janelle on Facebook :http://www.facebook.com/pages/Janelle-James/266046656788447
Janelle on Twitter: @janellejcomic
Janelle’s Website: http://www.janellejamescomedy.com
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