Anjelah Johnson-Reyes Takes Her Comedy To The Next Level Her Way
Photog: Catherine Powell  Location: Ryman Auditorium – Nashville, TN Date: October 1, 2023

The globe-trotting adventure Anjelah Johnson-Reyes pictured for herself never came to be. After 12 years of constant touring, she planned to take a year off in 2020, exploring the world while she embarked on what she calls an “Eat. Pray. Love.” year. She had her sights set on traveling to Thailand.

The former Oakland Raiders cheerleader launched into the world of comedy back in 2008 with her all-too-relatable “Nail Salon” bit that became a viral hit with 43 million views. Her stand-up routine introduced her to Levity Live president and co-founder Judi Marmel, as well as the rest of the comedy world. She spent years on the comedy club circuit, joining Levity Live’s team and being managed by Stephen Walker in 2020.  Instead of going to Thailand during her year off, the whole world came to a pause. She and her husband wound up moving to Nashville and, through that, Johnson-Reyes’ new comedy routine was created. 

“It’s beautiful in Nashville,” Johnson-Reyes tells Pollstar. “It’s such a change of pace that you can’t help but slow down a bit. It’s not like you’re not working, we’re always working. But it’s a slower pace here and it’s not odd. You’re in the flow of what’s happening in the city, so it doesn’t feel like you’re being lazy or like you’re out of tune. There’s more of a work-life balance here.”

Anjelah Johnson-Reyes poses at Bayou Music Center in Houston, Texas on June 18, 2022 (Photo by Mal Hall)

She and her team lost no time, with a tour launching in 2022, as always planned. Her new routine followed the “fish out of water” feeling she experienced as a transplant to Nashville after spending her whole life in California, first growing up in San Jose before moving to Los Angeles in the mid-aughts. 

 “I was having so much fun with these jokes,” Johnson-Reyes says. “My mental health was good. I was clear-minded and rejuvenated from actually resting, realigning and deciding what I really wanted for my life. It was a different tour than I’ve ever had before.” 

Those who work with Johnson-Reyes emphasize the relatability of the comedian. With her recent move, she appropriately managed to incorporate a new dynamic others in recent times have gone through.

“It reflects the journey I think a lot of Americans have experienced over the last three years,” Walker tells Pollstar. “Like so many folks from New York or California, they moved back in with their parents or they left the big city and moved to Montana or Utah or Texas. There’s this really fascinating trend of people leaving the coast for the heartland. I think her comedy inadvertently taps into that cultural moment.” 

Heidi Feigin at UTA has represented Johnson-Reyes since 2016, and she too says she believes the comic’s success stems from her relatability. 

“She has a way of making you feel like you are hanging out with your best friend who has the guts to say all of the things you are secretly thinking,” Feigin says. “Her material is rooted in finding the humor in everyday life, which lends itself to a mainstream appeal because it allows her audience to escape the harsh realities of today’s world and just laugh and have a good time.”

That quality shines in her comedy special, which arrived on YouTube on May 14. 

Photo Jun 16 2022, 10 13 13 PM
Fish Out Of Water: Johnson-Reyes’ new comedy special explores the differences between Life in Los Angeles and Nashville. Photo by Mal Hall

Filmed at the famed Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Johnson-Reyes poured $180,000 of her own money into the hour. The show itself drew a crowd of 3,800 people, grossing $156,194, according to boxoffice reports submitted to Pollstar.

Johnson-Reyes opted to return to YouTube for the special as a nod to her early beginnings in the comedy scene. Her career launched on the streaming platform 16 years ago with the “Nail Salon” video (see sidebar). Walker was an executive producer on the hour, which sees Johnson-Reyes sharing challenges from her move, including experiencing her first tornado first-hand. 

“The reason comedians are choosing Netflix and YouTube is they’re the biggest drivers of the touring business,” Walker says. “That’s where the algorithms are working for the comic and getting the content in front of people that are not only fans, but serving it up to people who may be fans of them but haven’t had the chance to experience the artist.”

By bringing the special to YouTube, Johnson-Reyes’ team hopes she can be introduced to a more global audience, which can mean  success overseas when she returns to touring next year. 

“I think she’s going to have an amazing future because all the stepping stones have been set,” says Levity’s Judi Marmel. “The quality of her writing, the quality of her performance, the close relationship with her fans, the investment she’s made, all of those things are why she had a successful tour.”

Johnson-Reyes performed 58 shows since the start of 2022, selling a total 91,930 tickets and grossing $4.79 million, according to reports submitted to Pollstar’s Boxoffice. 

She and her team consider Texas to be one of the biggest highlights from the tour. Stops in the Lone Star State included dates in Austin, Midland, Lubbock, Irving, McAllen, Corpus Christi and Houston. 

“Texans have always been my biggest fans,” Johnson-Reyes says. “All the cities of Texas, these shows were incredible. Anytime I come to Texas and do shows there, the audience treats me like a hometown girl, even though I’m not from Texas … Anytime I come to any city in Texas, it’s wild. So the month of June, we did all the cities. We got in a little sprinter van and just went all over. They were incredible shows the whole time.” 

Photo Apr 08 2023, 5 33 38 PM
New Adventures: The next time Johnson-Reyes hits the road, she’ll have a wealth of new life experiences to talk about during her set. Photo by Mal Hall

Andrew Levitt at Live Nation worked with Johnson-Reyes’ team to promote the tour. He also noted the shows in Texas as being special. He says they decided to return to Austin toward the end of June due to how popular her first show in the city on June 9 had been, selling out Moody Theater and grossing $136,179, according to Pollstar Boxoffice.

“Austin was a standout because we ended up doing two shows there,” Levitt tells Pollstar. “Texas has always been good to her, but that was intended to just be one show. We had to fiddle with the routing to get that second show done, but it all worked out and both shows were very successful.” 

The second Austin show also took place at The Moody Theater, grossing $117,578.

For now, no further dates are on the books for the comedian. Instead, she’ll be spending the rest of this year adjusting to motherhood, her first child is due in June. When she returns to the road after her leave, she acknowledges things will look incredibly different. 

“I honestly don’t know what it’s going to look like,” she says. “My husband and I just keep saying we’ll cross that bridge when it comes. Do we take her on the road? Do we leave her home with my husband? I have no idea. I know my material is going to expand to all different levels and I’m looking forward to that. But I think that’s the exciting part. It’s one of those things that’s going to surprise us all.” 

UTA’s Feigin believes that touring for the team won’t look too different going forward. She says there has always been a familial aspect when they’ve set out on the road, and that their new addition will easily fit in. 

“She surrounds herself with people she genuinely loves and trusts, which will be the perfect environment for her baby,” Feigin says. “Anjelah has always done a good job creating a work life balance so I think having the baby on the road will come naturally to her and I know she is looking forward to sharing the adventure with her growing family.”