Review: Zainab Johnson brought her comedic life experiences to the M-Shop

Comedian Zainab Johnson spoke to students at the M-Shop on March 22nd about many experiences shes encountered in her life. She began the show by asking the audience to guess her age, then spoke about her family, her religion, her friends, and many other things. 


In my experience, comedians have different styles. Some do set comedy, others do situational comedy, some even do improv comedy. Zainab Johnson performed this Thursday night in the Maintenance Shop, and she demonstrated that comedy can come from anywhere, especially her own life.

“Everything comes from my life. Like, I rarely say something that at least didn’t start out with some nugget of truth or without me experiencing it,” Johnson said.

Her stories, ranging from which one of her 12 siblings would be the gay one to how her friends “bought” their way into a club, were entertaining. Her delivery of each making the audience laugh along with her. She took situations that would have made me shrink into embarrassment and shared them with the audience.

“After you see me perform, I always want you to feel like you’ve walked away having experienced my world for a little while. Like that is what I try and do. For me, the experience when you watch me is all about me relaying my experience, my life, my community, you know? … So I want you to leave feeling like you know me a little bit,” Johnson said.

Johnson interacted with the audience to make the show unique. She would weave the audience into jokes about dating, what you look for in a significant other, and how you don’t lose your virginity if you can’t find it in the first place.

While audience interaction portions of the show could get a little bit long, they were still funny and entertaining, especially when she called on someone who really didn’t feel like talking.

Comedy, however, wasn’t Johnson’s first career. Starting with a math degree, she began teaching in a school in the Bronx. When her friend told her she was moving to Los Angeles to become famous, Johnson was not going to let her be famous without her. Once Johnson arrived in California, she got into acting. She only got into comedy after working at a comedy venue.

“To me, [acting and comedy] are really different because I find it extremely easy to say the words that come to my mind. I find it extremely difficult to say someone else’s words believably,” Johnson said.

“I don’t ever have to think about what I am feeling, what I am going for, what are my intentions, when I am on stage. When I am just being who I am. As a stand up, that is what I love about it. I get to be exactly who I am,” Johnson said.

Despite having performed in nearly every continent, Johnson still gets nervous, and she likes it that way. To Johnson, if you are nervous, that means you care.

“This is the only time I ever quote Beyonce. I love Beyonce, but I rarely quote her. She always said she doesn’t think it will go right unless she is nervous. Like, before she goes on stage and she is not nervous, then it won’t be right. So I feel the same way. If I don’t have a few nerves before going on stage then that is like there are no stacks for me out there, you know? So yeah I am always nervous,” reflected Johnson.

Looking to the future, Johnson is in the process of developing a TV show. She hopes the venture will encourage more people to come see her live. She claims she would be like the unqualified Iyanla Vanzant, the host for the Iyanla: Fix My Life show.

In the end, I think Zainab Johnson accomplished her goal for an audience. She spoke the truth about events in her life people would be too afraid to tell, and I think that the sincerity in her performance kept the audience engaged. For me, I definitely felt like I had stepped into her shoes for a brief moment, and for Johnson, that is what it is all about.