Luenell Campbell (who goes by her first name only) launched her stand-up comedy career with a joke about poop. Well, actually, it was about being at a party and going upstairs to use a restroom adjunct to the master bedroom, because she had to go number two. Unfortunately for Luenell, said restroom "wasn't officially designated for the party." Drama ensued. She debuted the joke at a Long Beach club called Ms. Wiz, and it killed, she said. Not to mention it was autobiographical. "Most of my stuff is true," the 49-year-old comedian claimed in a recent phone interview. "Sometimes I embellish it, sometimes I don't have to. Most of the time I don't have to."
Born in Arkansas, Luenell moved to the Bay Area as an infant and spent most of her childhood in Castro Valley. As a teen she got into musical theater, and wound up acting in such canonical plays as Candide and Ain't Misbehavin. She played Martha in an Oakland Ensemble Theater production of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and spent three years in the cast of Beach Blanket Babylon. Around 1990 Luenell fell under the wing of Soul Beat TV founder Chuck Johnson, who recruited her for a "Gong Show" spinoff called "The Bong Show." With her infectious stage presence Luenell quickly earned her own hosting slots, presiding over "Late Night Creep" from midnight until 4 a.m. and eventually, "The Morning Show." A Soul Beat dating advice program called "Love Talk with Luenell" probably had the most resounding impact on her career. To this day, Luenell dispenses relationship advice via the "Hey Luenell" portion of her web site.
Luenell got her major star turn two years ago, playing the "hooker with a heart of gold" in Sasha Baron Cohen's film Borat: Cultural Learnings of America to Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. She said she got the role on a regular casting call seeking "somebody good at improv, and able to play a prostitute." In retrospect, said Luenell, "I had zero idea that the movie would be a phenomenon. I didn't even know Sasha except for his Ali G persona." That year Luenell also landed on the Katt Williams Pimp Chronicles Tour, which had her divulging sex stories at venues like Radio City Music Hall and the Paramount Theatre. Luenell stayed remarkably poised throughout. (She's the only comic I've seen break up a fight from the stage at Dorsey's Locker, without batting an eyelash.) She said the hardest part of her career thus far was moving to Los Angeles, where she currently lives with her twelve-year-old daughter and a reliable car. Otherwise it's been a smooth ride: "I literally did not have to do too much of that door knocking." Luenell performs with Kirk McHenry at Tommy T's Comedy Steakhouse (5104 Hopyard Rd., Pleasanton) from November 26 through 30. $20-$30. TommyTs.com
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