Gayla Johnson is a talented standup comedian and actress who’s been featured in a variety of different shows dating back to the early 90s. Television programs like Beverly Hills 90210, The Young and the Restless, Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy, Super Girl, and Legion – to name a few.
Although she has a background in ethnic studies, not many know that she began her career in radio at KJLH in Chico California, KCPM and KFWB News in Los Angeles. Johnson followed with public speaking and the field of standup comedy.
As an accomplished comedian, she has made guest appearances on ABC’s Comics Unleashed, SiTv’s Laff Jam and Inside Joke, B.E.T.’s Comic View, TBS Comedy Festival, YouTube’s Comedy Time Series, and Showtime’s Fierce Funny Women.
“Stand-up Comedy is the one thing you can do badly, and no one will laugh at you,” said Johnson, who’s won a host of awards and comedy competitions including the Ice House Comedy Club Comedy Contest, “Positive I Can Entertain” Competition, OC’s Funniest Female, and the Make Me LAFF Competition. Johnson was honored by LA Comedy Awards twice with the Most Hilarious Comedian and Breakthrough Performer in Film and Television.
I had the opportunity speak with the actress and comedian about what she enjoys the most about each profession. Also, she offers advice to aspiring journalists looking to make a name for themselves. The full interview can be seen below.
You started your acting career on a Television Movie entitled ‘Tilted Television’ in 1994. Did you have any training in the fine arts department before landing this role as the Driver?
I did have some prior training in college. I got my degree in broadcast communication and a minor in acting. I wrote, directed and acted in a college theatrical programs and plays, and took on few modeling jobs. Once graduated, back home in LA, I studied acting at TVI Studios, Tony Barr’s Acting Workshop and Stella Adler Acting School.
Can you talk about what inspired you to pursue a career in the entertainment business in the first place?
I pledged in the AKA Sorority in college and crossed over, and all my sisters online picked each other names. They thought I was the most outspoken in the group and they started me calling me Oprah. I took the nickname and ran with it, and I wanted to be a sports broadcaster like Connie Chung. After college, I was able to land a position at KFWB Radio, and a blast of reality hit me causing me to rethink my career path. One of my favorite actresses Lucille Ball from “I Love Lucy” and she was on her deathbed at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center battling a ruptured abdominal aorta. My position was to get the radio feeds and pass them along to the editor updating her condition. One of the radio feeds came down, and the narrative was like she had passed already, and I did not think it was the right information at the time. That is when I realized that the editor just wanted to radio station to be the first to break the news. It turned out that I was right, and the information was not accurate at the time, and I told myself I could not be the type of person that goes against my integrity. I was done after that because she was a role model of mine and that did it for me.
What advice would give someone looking to get their foot in the door into journalism without taking the tabloid route?
The advice that I would give is to find the core of what you want to talk about and things you want to support. If you can get in touch with the things you are passionate about, you will be in the business for the long haul. It will be a part of your identity and will allow you to do a great job. For example, if I were going to pursue a career in journalism, I would focus on women and seek stories surrounding those issues. I would also get another point of view from women and other topics to build my portfolio.
You had the opportunity work the all-star cast of the hit show in the 1990s’ “Beverly Hills 90210.” Can you describe some of the things you learn while on set?
I had the opportunity to work with Jason Priestley and the rest of the cast. They are hilarious, lovely people, and I found that the characters they play on television are not who they are in real life. The cast was down to earth, and we filmed a scene in the hospital, and I was a part of the paramedic staff. I remember that we had to do several takes to get the scene the way the director wanted it to be. I also remember Jason critiquing and reinventing himself between takes. It was fun for me to be around all those great actors and actresses.
Can you tell some of the things you enjoy about stand up and things you appreciate about acting?
Stand up allows me to be myself and pick what I want to share with the world. I am also able to create my material as a comedian, and I can always get work when there may not by many acting roles available to me. With my acting background, it gives me the opportunity jump into the characters that go along with my comedic act. As, for acting, I enjoy that you can play characters that are unique – it strengthens my abilities. As actors and actresses, we have presented the opportunity to help certain individuals tell their story from famous musicians, civil rights leaders, political figures, entrepreneurs, and the list goes on.
You worked on “Scandal” and “Grey’s Anatomy.” Can you talk what it was like working with Shonda Rhymes on set?
I did not have the pleasure to meet Shonda while I was on set. When we shot the episodes for both “Scandal” and “Grey’s Anatomy,” the writers and the creative team were probably already in the writers’ room prepping for new episodes. You must remember that both are two different series with different writing teams, and if writers had to be on set, both seasons would move at a snail’s pace. As for working on set, it was a fantastic opportunity and even though they are not there in the physical form, their aura is present. The culture on set comes from the top and circulates throughout the whole crew. I hope that I do get the opportunity to meet all the inspiring African American women in Executive Producer roles like Shonda and Oprah.
You have been featured in “Legion,” and “Super Girl” Were you a Marvel fan or a DC fan growing up?
Growing up I was more a DC fan, but I liked the Marvel characters. I grew up watching DC characters such as Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman, since they were more relatable to me at the time. I could not relate to a man built like a rock like Ben from the “Fantastic Four.” I remember we were on the set of “Super Girl” and the lead Melissa Benoist came over and introduced herself. We exchange pleasantries, but at the time I did recognize her, or realize who she was. Now I wish I had – we could have taken a souvenir picture. During the time I was focused on the task at hand as an actress, which got my mind mentally prepared for the upcoming scenes.
You played the flute, piano, and harmonica growing up with fine art programs diminishing around the world. How do you want to use your platform to help bring awareness and change to this issue?
If these programs are not being reinstated in schools or supported outside of school, it’s unfortunate. I would encourage community groups to create low-cost programs for kids. Also, other organizations could help their employees by adding child enrichment programs and outreach efforts. Someone needs to support the children who create the future we live in. I know some individuals may think school is all about academia and do not want extracurricular activities. But kids have to go somewhere. If they do not, you are suppressing the new generation and their ability to explore new ideas for creating income and a life for themselves. The lack of support in the Fine Arts hinders things moving forward in our society. If I were to get involved with helping with bringing more awareness to this issue, I would align myself with a non-profit whose mission statement I agree with.
What are some other things that we can look forward to from you this year?
Got an Episode on Season 2 of “Get Shorty” Ep. 206, Produced by MGM TV airing on the Epix Network, and “Legions” on Fox, Ep: Chapter 11, currently airing. I’m currently co-starring in several Independent films: “Fugue” produced and directed by BreedLove Prod, “Exit” co-starring with Maria Bello, “Home Invaders” produced by Home Invaders LLC, to name a few, all currently being viewed in Film Festivals around the globe. Also, just released my first stand-up comedy CD “Black Wives Matter” produced by Uproar Entertainment available on Sirius Xm, iTunes, Spotify, and Pandora. I’m currently on three different YouTube web series: Dating Savanna Love, Makeup Mishaps, and About Us. As a Comedian, I appear regularly at the Hollywood Improv, Ice House Comedy Club, and Headline at various comedy venues in California. You can check my schedule at www.GaylaJohnson.net. I’m staying busy to keep my name out there!
Do you have any business interests outside of the entertainment business that you want to pursue?
Real estate investing. My husband and I own a couple of duplexes, and we are into property development outside of the entertainment business. We have also used each location for shooting locations for projects that we have been involved with for different scenes. So, we have been able to get great use out of our properties throughout the years. I’m interested in going “commercial” with my experience and possible opening a community acting school and comedy production facility, provided I find the right property.