Loni Love Talks Black Comedy, Health Challenges, and Industry Strikes

Detroit native Loni Love has come a long way after leaving behind a lucrative career as an engineer for comedy. She spent the early parts of the 21st century pushing ahead by running through the stand-up circuit, winning comedy competitions, and starring in the occasional films like “Soul Plane.”

Around a decade later, the Prairie View A&M University graduate debuted her daytime talk show through “The Real.” Known for her laugh-out-loud wit and articulate approach to topical issues, Love managed to help the show become popular enough to be a ratings hit alongside earning a Daytime Emmy. Since “The Real” ended last year, Love has continued to travel around the country performing stand-up.

Speaking with BET, as part of its National Comedy Months series, Love talks about getting fair pay as a Black female comedian, the impact of “Soul Plane” and being transparent with fans about her health.

BET.com: I really love looking at your Instagram from time to time, it’s so informative yet hilarious. How does social media add to your brand of comedy between television and your stand-up?

Loni Love: I think social media allows comedians to express themselves on another platform. I think that’s why it’s important. To have a very cultivated social media presence known on every platform is different but I love IG because you can use videos and photos when posting. It’s a good way to advertise your comedy shows. For example, there’s little advertising dollars that are spent for comedy clubs because a lot of them don’t have that money for television and radio. Now, if you have a great following, it’s easier to advertise through your own postings. This past weekend, I was just at the Baltimore Comedy Factory and because of postings and everything, people got the word that I would be out there, which helped with ticket sales. It can really help to push your comedy and give a whole point of view of what your comedy is about.

BET.com: It’s been over a year since “The Real” ended. Looking back, what kind of legacy does the show leave behind in the daytime talk space?

Loni Love:  We can’t talk about that because of the strike.

BET.com: Well, speaking of that, do you see any long-term ramifications of the SAG-AFTRA strike, and what is your stance on everything happening in Hollywood right now?

Loni Love: The strike is important because standup comedy is a part of film and television. With that said, it’s important that we all stand united and together with trying to get the best outcome. Normally, comedians have always been the lowest paid in many things. It used to be a time in the eighties and nineties when you had stand-up comics that would get residuals and get television shows. Those residuals are very important.

A lot of Black comics don’t come from money. So, we work hard to get our contracts right or to get on TV and not get residuals. What happens is that the time has changed because when I did “Soul Plane,” for example, I still get residuals to this day but that was based on a different contract. Now, you don’t get those residuals if a movie goes on a streaming service. That’s a problem because you can’t make a living that way. This strike affects standups because we can’t sign deals and do television shows. We can still make our living if you’re an OG comedian by doing stand-up shows, which is why you see everybody on tour right now.

So that’s one of the benefits of working on your live act is that you’re able to still get out there and tour to make money. For right now, this is going to affect us, especially the point of comedy on TV in terms of developing and making sure new voices come out. This is pushing everybody back, maybe a year or two. It’s sad, but it has to happen because the contracts need to change.

BET.com: I remember how Sherri Shepherd spoke about how she spoke to you and Sheryl Underwood about negotiating for a higher salary. As a Black woman in comedy, how difficult is it to get what’s properly owed to you?

Loni Love: Ooh, child. It’s so hard. First of all, there aren’t a lot of women in comedy though they’re slowly coming up. You have Ms. Pat with her BET show, Michelle Buteau who just dropped her Netflix series, and Nicole Byers on the reality side hosting. So there’s this nice opening for Black women like Sherri Shepherd, Kim Whitley and Kim Coles. Those old heads have been doing this for a long time and you can still see that even now, they’re still getting projects. Kim Whitley just got a show on Bounce and Sherri has a successful talk show.

It’s like we still have to come together to help each other because we never necessarily had people in these spaces that we could talk to. That’s why we need to put out the message that we are sharing contract information and things to expect when you’re doing certain things because you can’t keep it from each other. After all, then we’ll never grow. I talked to my girl Octavia Spencer a lot about equity and equality when it comes to doing these types of deals. It’s something that needed to be said and we just all share information.

We don’t publicly put it out there all the time. In this case, this is our way of showing and giving our flowers to each other because the minute one person gets something, we’re happy for them. It’s not a competition. It’s more about you getting this and now let’s make sure that you’re okay. We want you to come out on top just like all the other women who are in this industry.

BET.com: The tenth anniversary of “Soul Plane” is next year. Can you recall the moments of being surrounded by so many top-tier comedians at the time?

Loni Love: It was just a phenomenal moment for that genre that could have been. Unfortunately, it didn’t end the way we thought it was going to end because of some technicalities but the movie was not a failure. It became a cult classic despite some things preventing it from being a huge Box Office success, like it being available through bootleg three months before its release.

At that time, you had a young Kevin Hart, Monique, John Witherspoon and all of these people. They were put together by this wonderful director Jessy Terrero who was able to shoot this in maybe a month and a half. It was a wonderful experience. Everyone was laughing. I remember when we did the one scene in the airport security and we did 50 Cent’s “In The Club.” That song wasn’t originally in the movie but Monique and I were singing so much, the director had the studio buy the license to the song. I remember when we went to tape it again, we were kind of mumbling and Jessy was like we paid for this song so yall need to learn the words.

It was supposed to be this fun movie and that’s what it came out to be. It was a very fun movie that helped a lot of people. And if you notice, everybody, even though it didn’t get the money that the studio wanted, is still, like I said, a cult classic. Everybody is doing stuff. Kevin is this superstar. You got Monique who won an Oscar. I won an Emmy. Everybody is working. And still, to this day, that is a historic movie if people really look at it. It was really one of the historic movies for Black comedy.

BET.com:  Earlier this year, you were fairly transparent about removing your Gallbladder while pleading with your followers to get checked. How has your recovery been and what lifestyle changes have you had to make now?

Loni Love: Don’t eat a lot of cheese if you ain’t around the bathroom. When you get 50, they don’t tell you that you lose half your organs. I’m like, what’s going on? I’ve been blessed because I have great healthcare, thanks to the union. I’ve always been a person that’s been about positivity, but that also means making sure that you have the best health you can. Especially being Black Americans, we have high blood pressure and cholesterol issues.

When you have a platform, you’re supposed to be responsible. That’s why the minute I woke up from that operation, I was like I gotta tell my people to ensure they get themselves checked. That’s why I was so transparent about it. I’m not ashamed of anything that happens in my life because I know it’s for a reason. God has a reason for it happening.

Then the doctor told me you don’t even need your gallbladder. You find out many things as you get older, but it’s also important to understand to cut back on some stuff so that you don’t have to have the gallbladder operations so that you don’t have to take the high blood pressure medications. If I can tell that to the young people and people that are younger than me to work on yourself now so that when you get older, you ain’t gotta go through all of this, then I’ve done my job.

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