In February 2022, Netflix announced a four-special deal with Dave Chappelle allowing him to executive produce and present established comedians who could use a profile boost from a comedian such as Chappelle. He did so first with Earthquake, and some 19 months later, follows up with his second “Home Team” special, for Luenell.
The Gist: The 64-year-old Luenell broke through in a big way in 2006, when Sacha Baron Cohen cast her in Borat as a prostitute for Borat to bring as his dinner date to a private club in the South.
Since then, she has toured as an opening act for Katt Williams, appeared in recurring roles on Showtime’s Californication and most recently Max’s Hacks, scored small roles in two of Eddie Murphy’s newer movies (Coming 2 America, Dolomite Is My Name), and had her stand-up featured in the Showtime showcase, Funny Women Of A Certain Age, hosted by future SAG-AFTRA head Fran Drescher. Luenell currently holds down a residency Sunday and Monday nights at Jimmy Kimmel’s Comedy Club at The LINQ on the Las Vegas Strip. Her flights from Oakland to Vegas form the backbone of this set, as seen and heard in an opening montage of her taking a lfight while talking about how the airport/airlines kept her from making it to her Christmas gig in Vegas. So she’s about to go off on everything related to air travel for the next 20 minutes. Make that 30!
What Comedy Specials Will It Remind You Of?: You might think it’d be the other Chappelle’s Home Team specials, and yet, not really. Luenell’s comedy shares more in common with another first-name-only comedian, Mo’Nique, with perhaps a dash of the late Moms Mabley thrown in for good measure to acknowledge Luenell’s saucier sensibilities.
Memorable Jokes: So yes, Luenell said she’s devoting 20 minutes to airplane jokes, and you’re going to get just that and more, complete with “sidebars” as she acknowledges her train of thought has gotten derailed from an edible she ate before the show.
Apparently not all airline seat belts are built alike. “American and Delta, God bless you. You don’t know what them four extra inches mean to a bitch like me,” she confides.
Much of her philosophy while traveling is informed by her declaring herself “a self-appointed unofficial air marshal,” although in an act-out or two, she shows us how that attitude can backfire on her from time to time.
As for those sidebars? They include finding her quoting Tupac and Ludacris; for the latter, she gets her audience singing along to his rap about ho’s in different area codes, which she refers to now as “an old Negro spiritual.” She’ll eventually circle back to this idea, prefacing her sexual history by quipping, “Thank God I don’t look like what I’ve been through,” then later reciting a laundry list of all the places she has done it that even incites a call-and-response with the audience as they catch onto her flow.
Our Take: I couldn’t help but wonder where Chappelle was for all of this. He’s there in still photographs with Luenell that pop up over the end credits, and his name gets top billing in the Netflix title. But he completely defers to Luenell, unlike with Earthquake, where Chappelle’s the first person you see onstage, extolling his friendship with and admiration for Earthquake. Did Luenell ask Chappelle not to show his face on camera for this?
It certainly would’ve gotten the run time much closer to an hour than a half-hour if Chappelle had appeared to offer any insight into why he’s promoting Luenell on Netflix now.
And airplane jokes? Well…I don’t know if who needs to hear this outside of Gen Z, but in the late 1900s (as they say), airplane jokes were the epitome of hack — not only because every comedian did these jokes, but because those observations came easy for traveling comedians boarding flights multiple times each week on the road, and because it’s such a relatable topic for almost every audience. So by the 2000s, every airplane joke had been told. After 2001, a new set of TSA-related airplane jokes flooded the comedy clubs. What’s left to say?
For Luenell, it’s that after weary years of walking past Cedric the Entertainer or D.L. Hughley on a flight to reach her seat in 36C, she only flies first class now.
So when she’s onstage, she can sit on her own throne, which is so much more comfortable than any airplane seat.
Our Call: She’s so old-school (HOW OLD-SCHOOL IS SHE???), Luenell even devotes a moment during her closing bit to hump the stool. For that alone, it’s a STREAM IT for me.
Sean L. McCarthy works the comedy beat. He also podcasts half-hour episodes with comedians revealing origin stories: The Comic’s Comic Presents Last Things First.