Few debut comedy specials are as gut-bustingly hilarious as Joyelle Nicole Johnson’s Love Joy. With a first special, comedians are usually intent on introducing themselves to audience members who may be unfamiliar with them, and in the process sometimes humor takes a backseat. The Jersey native, however, strides onstage with confidence and infectious energy, so good at her craft that she can tell us who she is while keeping the audience laughing the entire time.
In case you do want to know more about her, though, Johnson has performed stand-up on both Late Night with Seth Meyers and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Earlier this year she released her debut comedy album YELL JOY. She’s appeared on Crashing and Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj as well as collaborated with Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson.
The only part of the special I didn’t like is the series of videos that plays before the set from Jimmy Fallon, Maria Bamford, George Wallace, Ilana Glazer, Michelle Buteau, Gina Yashere and Seth Meyers all wishing Johnson well. The sentiment is nice, sure, but it feels like Peacock is trying to tell us, “Hey! Famous people like Johnson so you should too!” She doesn’t need their hype; Johnson is incredible all on her own.
Filmed in the Bell House on Johnson’s 40th birthday, Love Joy is a slice of classic stand-up, exploring dating, family, bad roommates and therapy, to name a few. She has no need for gimmicks. Johnson is simply a funny storyteller, through and through. She’s effervescent, the type of person you can imagine being the life of the party. Beyond her inherent likability, Johnson’s impressions of her spoiled students or a grammatically lacking would-be date are executed flawlessly.
A self-professed word nerd, her clever turns-of-phrase amplify an already funny set, without making it esoteric. Johnson’s set is clearly meticulously crafted, from her pacing to her word choice, but she delivers every line with incredible ease. It’s like watching a ballerina gliding across a stage en pointe; she makes it look effortless despite all the practice required.
Johnson sprinkles in bits of crowd work throughout the set, but none of it feels forced. Her interactions with the audience feel like authentic moments—at one point she admires a person’s distinctive laugh—rather than shoehorned bits used for segues. Most importantly, though, she is clearly connecting with everyone seated in the Bell House and, because she’s just that good, the viewer watching at home, too. By the end, she has the audience eating out of the palm of her hand.
Love Joy isn’t so much an introduction as it is a celebration of Johnson’s undeniable talent. We’re lucky just to be invited to the party.
Clare Martin is a cemetery enthusiast, hibernophile and contributing writer for Paste’s music and comedy sections. She also exercises her love for reality TV at HelloGiggles every now and then. Go harass her on Twitter @theclaremartin.