Interview: Laughing Along with 'Black and Mild' Comedian Janelle James

Janelle James Black and Mild

Last fall, New York-based comedian Janelle James released one of the funniest albums of the year with her debut, “Black and Mild.” The hilarious hour – recorded at Acme Comedy Co. in Minneapolis – dives deep into American culture, framed by the stand-up’s own life experiences, to find the funny in everything from thigh gaps to public proposals to life in the suburbs.

Her hilarity hasn’t gone unnoticed as she has toured with some of the biggest names in the comedy game (including Chris Rock on his Total Blackout Tour), headlined festivals and clubs across the country and has been tapped for an innovative new special for Netflix. Rebellious Magazine got a chance to catch up with James on the heels of her recent gig at The Hideout during Tomorrow Never Knows and a series of sets at the Laugh Factory.

“I love the Laugh Factory,” James said. “It’s a really fun place to do comedy.”

James had a lot of fun while enjoying the finer things in comedy while touring with Chris Rock in 2017. “Of course it was very exciting and more opulent than I’m used to (laughs). I was traveling in a higher class of comfort than I’m used to and performing for bigger audiences than I’m used to,” she said of the experience.

Rock is (obviously) one of the most accomplished – and most hilarious – comedians of all time, and James took a lot away from watching him perform night after night.

“A joke is never done,” she said. “That’s the biggest thing I’ve learned over the years and also on that tour. I used to have a topic, and I would do one joke about it, drop it and move onto the next thing. Those jokes can always be expanded on and added to. That’s one thing I learned from him [Rock]. Every time I’d see him, what I’d previously thought was a done joke, he changed it up or added something to it or moved some words around and made it even better.”

In recent years, Netflix has become a leader in producing cutting-edge stand-up specials, and the streaming service recently announced that it will once again be revolutionizing the format with a series of 15-minute-long specials featuring James along with Kate Willett, Ian Karmel, Michelle Buteau and more.

“We shoot in a couple of weeks, but I’m not even really sure when it comes out. I don’t really think about logistics or details,” said James. “As long as I’m told where to be, I’m good (laughs).”

James finds inspiration for her upcoming special and tour dates by filtering broad issues through her unique perspective. “Almost everything is about me,” she joked. “I’m a narcissist, so my comedy is my thoughts on my everyday life and the things I come across.”

The stand-up star will be coming across a variety of performance platforms in the not-so-distant future with shows scheduled at the Orlando Indie Comedy Festival (March 2), Moontower Comedy Festival (April 19-21) and in venues across New York City, where James is based.

“Comedy festivals are fun,” she said. “When you headline on your own, you’re going to be in the middle of nowhere by yourself, and at festivals I get to hang out with a bunch of other comedians. I will probably be drunker than I usually am (laughs). That was a joke that wasn’t really a joke.”

Whether engaging in an interview, recording a special or performing a set in the middle of nowhere, James has an infectious sense of humor that invites laughter at every turn. Keep up with all her latest news, shows and announcements at Janellejamescomedy.com.

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Laurie Fanelli is a Chicago-based writer and photographer who specializes in live entertainment coverage. She is at home at major music festivals like Coachella, Bonnaroo and, of course, Lollapalooza and Riot Fest. She loves chatting with hilarious comedians and has interviewed the likes of Maria Bamford, Paula Poundstone and Tracy Morgan, to name a few. She has photographed tons of great bands/musicians – from every genre – including Rob Zombie, Florence and the Machine, Alabama Shakes, Neil Young, Shania Twain, Pitbull, Pierce the Veil, Kendrick Lamar, Patti Smith and many, many more. When not writing or shooting shows, Laurie loves to spend her free time training for marathons and exploring the city of Chicago. She is a longtime vegetarian and animal advocate who likes to cook healthy, delicious meals that everyone can enjoy. For more information or to contact Laurie, head over to www.lauriefanelli.com.