Anjelah Johnson
The Vic Theatre, Just for Laughs Chicago
Wednesday, June 12, 2013

By Dyan Flores

Threats of a torrential derecho kept some Chicagoans home instead of braving the storm and put a damper on the Just for Laughs-branded pedicabs that shuttled fans around the city. But they didn’t stop eager Anjelah Johnson fans from lining up with their umbrellas and galoshes outside The Vic Theatre, the former vaudeville venue on Chicago’s north side, to snag good general-admission seats for the former MADtv cast member’s Wednesday night performance.

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Nashville-based opener T.C. Cope had an undeniably energetic stage presence, but it wasn’t enough to compensate for his dated material. Large, stagnant chunks devoted to Tickle Me Elmo, O Brother, Where Art Thou? and a SeaWorld drowning that happened in 2010 made it feel as though Cope hadn’t read a newspaper or been online much recently. He showed versatility with his Luther Vandross impression and preached the efficacy of R&B as an aphrodisiac, but somewhere along the line he meandered, reaching the halfway point of Toby Keith’s “Angry American” before it became difficult to remember how the joke began in the first place. The crowd seemed to like Cope well enough nevertheless, though perhaps Johnson’s younger, hipper fans weren’t his usual audience.

Johnson took to the stage, allowing for a quick photo op (“Tag me!” she joked), then opened with a bit on recently marrying a Christian rapper, saying that maybe Jesus had the best sense of humor of all, because her act used to contain a bit making fun of Christian rappers for being lame. Married life hasn’t necessarily changed that opinion, as she riffed, “Who are you? Ludachrist…JayZ-sus…Je-Hova?” She also used her nuptials to address the misconception that she was a lesbian. “I wore my nails short, never had a boyfriend, and wore my hair in a ponytail because I was lazy, okay?”

Johnson’s most successful moments resulted from sharing anecdotes about mundane events. From flying in a rickety passenger plane to accidentally going out for tacos with a thug, she attracts danger and hijinks. One of the funniest bits recounted her failed attempt at jury duty. She was released after the first day because she couldn’t keep her opinions to herself, and things quickly devolved into her breathlessly recounting an episode of Law & Order: SVU. “Jennifer Love Hewitt was in it, but it was a different role for her. She had to cry a lot.” She expertly flipped back and forth between her own persona and the stodgy courtroom population, one of many times throughout the evening when her impressive character work shined.

The only part of her set that lagged came toward the end, when she chose Twitter winners for a meet and greet by scrolling through her iPhone, then trotted out characters Bon Qui Qui and the nail salon employee to lip sync snippets of tracks. Her MADtv fans probably made up much of her audience that night, but the seemingly tacked-on part of the performance felt a little low rent within the context of an otherwise sharp and engaging evening.

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