When it comes to “what we want to be when we grow up”, many of us are still finding our way. In fact, it can be a continuous journey evolving as changes occur and, frankly, as life happens. This was the case for actress and comedian, Zainab Johnson.
While starting her career as a fifth-grade math teacher, life happened. Zainab’s father died and it immediately changed her perspective on life.
“After I graduated and got my bachelor’s degree my father passed away and that made me really aware of time and the choices that we make, sort of being fearless and living with no regrets,” Zainab shared with me during a recent Zoom interview. “I had this thing in me, this engine, this new motivation you know like I don’t want this to be my last day of my life and I was too afraid to do something, or I was too afraid to take a chance. I learned you have to live the life you desire.”
So, Zainab joined a friend – who she also joked to me “could not be famous without her” – and drove from New York to Los Angeles. Once in LA, Zainab worked various jobs, including working as a production assistant. But soon she discovered that comedy was her calling.
“I remember one of the first jobs that I did my friend was like hey it is a BET show. He’s like ‘they’re looking for funny women’ and I said, ‘I’m not funny’ and he was like ‘no you are’ … I went and then I booked the job and then things in comedy kept showing itself.”
Zainab continued, “One day out of nowhere I decided to get up on the stand-up stage and I will never forget that day because when I did that little open mic, it was five minutes, but it felt like nothing I had ever felt before. It felt like ‘oh this is my thing.’ …. I could have been an amazing teacher, but I had never had that feeling that I had when I got on [the stage] and so I followed that.”
In other words, Zainab found the life she wanted and she’s been pursuing it ever since. Zainab has appeared on HBO’s All Def Comedy, and NBC’s Last Comic Standing, just to name a few. She is currently on a comedy tour in cities across the country and has a reoccurring role as “Aleesha” on Amazon Prime Video’s sci-fi comedy, Upload, which premiered its second season last month.
When I asked Zainab her favorite part about playing Aleesha, she pointed out how different her character is from herself. Aleesha is a nosy but lovable customer service representative who helps people in the “digital afterlife” get accustomed to their new reality. “She kind of has her hand in everybody’s stuff.”
Aleesha’s style is also much different from Zainab’s. “She plays with accessories and different looks, but me, I’m like all black, all white, all denim, all grey, and all pink,” Zainab shared. “I personally love monochromatic.”
The actress credits much of her fashion sense and tendency to gravitate toward what she describes as a “classic, kind of clean look” to her hometown of New York. “Ultimately everything that I do in terms of my look is to accentuate the best parts of me that’s what I want to show,” she added.
In the future, Zainab hopes to work with international fashion creatives like Australian designer Alex Perry, known for dressing several celebrity melanin bombshells like Lupita Nyung’o, Jennifer Lopez, Rihanna and Ciara, and London-based, David Koma, whose designs have been worn by Jordan Dunn, Halle Bailey, and Andra Day. “I just love that they really do a mix of masculine and the feminine. I just think there’s something really classic and really chic when you mix the two and I feel like they do that very well.”
When Zainab is not slaying to the gawds, on the screen, or on the stand-up stage, you can find her at home in sweats and comfy socks eating pasta. Those are her go-tos when it comes to winding down.
It is her version of balance and self-care. Zainab’s also mindful of how she overall treats her body. Known for her glowing skin, high cheekbones, and natural crown, the comedian admits she never really had to worry about skincare until a bad breakout.
She immediately saw an acne specialist and homeopathic doctor and adjusted her personal philosophy. Instead of looking at products or specific regimens, Zainab shares, “I strongly believe that it is the things we put inside our body, not the topical things.”
Whatever Zainab is doing, it is definitely working. We are here for it. Zainab is an inspiration to many, moving from math teacher to actress and keeping us entertained, laughing, and saying “YASSSSS” along the way. “I would tell anybody don’t be afraid to pursue the life you want. If you fail, you will only be at the place you started. You lose nothing, but you stand to gain everything. So go for it.”