Comedy comes in all forms. It can be young or old or in between. Tall or short. Skinny or fat. Any variation is welcome. Comedians often use this to their advantage. Some make fun of their physical attributes. Others tackle their personal problems.
Janelle James is unapologetically black. But her comedy isn’t tailored. Unlike her 90’s contemporaries, James can play any room and get a laugh. Having seen her do shows like Night Train, I can attest to that.
I recently had a chance to speak with James over email. We discuss her new album – Black and Mild – touring with Chris Rock and how she comes up with certain material.
How was the album release show at The Knitting Factory? What goes down at one of those?
Janelle James: This is was the first one I've ever been to so I'm not sure what USUALLY goes down, but this one was just me getting my closest, funniest friends together to do a show and laugh a lot while also bringing this whole album release process to a close.
What’s it like touring with Chris Rock on the Total Blackout tour? You have a firsthand look at his technique. Many comedians never get a chance to examine one of the biggest stars in stand up do their thing. Are you able to take anything away from him and put it into your act?
James: It's a level of opulence I hope to eventually become accustomed to. Very nice hotels. What I’ve taken away from Chris most is work ethic. Work the joke, re-work it, Work it again.
Black and Mild is your first major release. When did you decide you were ready to tackle this next logical step for a storied comedian?
James: I got offered an album deal 3 years ago, but I knew I wasn't ready. I finally got tired of certain jokes to the point that I don't want to say them ever again, they are fleshed out, tagged and DONE. So that's when you know it's time.
Your relaxed delivery is so pleasant. I particularly enjoyed you calling out the lady who hadn’t been laughing all night as she slipped off the couch on “Track 5: Thirties.” How long did it take you find yourself on stage?
James: About 3 years, the first 3 years I was mimicking Todd Barry almost completely. Then I relaxed a bit.
I applaud the use of your braided hair on the album cover. We have to be out here representing in comedy.
James: Thank you. I always like to be black as fuck.
The turn around for recording the album and putting it out is short. There are a few jokes on there that date the project like a Rachel Lindsay Bachelorette premise. Was there any conjecture on making a timeless project versus making it funny for now?
James: No conjecture. It was funny when I wrote it and it's funny now. The joke isn't about The Bachelor, it's about men. I just used the Bachelor pretense to get into it. Also, I have no idea who Rachel Lindsay is seeing as I never truly watched the Bachelor.
I read an article about it one day and crafted the joke around that. Or is that the black chick? I did watch a couple of episodes of her, but didn't care enough to remember her name. Those shows are garbage. Little peak behind the curtain there. Comedians lie. You're welcome! Lol