At 47 years old, The Real co-host Loni Love has established herself as one of the funniest women in Hollywood. But the comedian wasn’t always planning to make people laugh for a living. Here, she opens up about leaving her career as an electrical engineer behind and deciding to pursue her passion for stand-up comedy in her 30s.
As a child, I always liked to perform. I was in talent shows and plays, and I was in band. I loved anything related to entertainment and performance, but I never dreamed that I would do it professionally. I did stand-up comedy to make some extra money on the side in college, but after graduation, I became an electrical engineer for Xerox. At 22 years old, I was very proud of myself. I was really young and excited to be working at a Fortune 500 company. But within six months of being hired, two key events happened that forever impacted my career.
Just three months into my job, there was a major layoff at the company. People in their 60s, who had been there for 30 or 40 years, were losing their jobs. It really hit me that there was no loyalty. Then, three months after that, we came back from Christmas break and my first manager—who I really adored—had a heart attack and died. I remember him telling me, “Live your life and do what your heart always wanted you to do—what you wanted to do.”
Those were two major things that influenced me in terms of where I wanted to go in life. I had a great job, and at the time, I also had a great boyfriend. He was pressuring me to get married, but I was just not happy. I kept asking myself, “What is the issue—why am I not happy?” I just couldn’t dream of myself going to work everyday and then just going home and that's it. Something inside me was saying, “There’s got to be more for me in my life.” I didn't know what was going to happen. I knew I was going to leave my job, but I never knew how.
Then, one day, I was feeling down and I went to a comedy club. I saw all of these men doing comedy, and only one woman. A light bulb went off in my head, and I decided to get back into stand-up—just dabble a bit at first. I talked about being an engineer, and being a 22-year-old African American woman working around all these 50-year-old men, and it was hilarious. Within two years, I had built up my act and ended up getting into one of the top Hollywood clubs. At that point, I decided that I wasn't going to get married. I wanted to become a well-known full-time comic, and in order to do that, I had to go on the road. My plan didn't include having children, either, because I was on the road every weekend. I wouldn't have had anyone to take care of my baby, or I wouldn’t have wanted to be away from home. Once I made that decision, I was okay with it and it freed me up. This was what I really wanted to do. So for the next eight years, I traveled on the road to do my act whenever I could.
At night, I did standup—but I still worked as an engineer during the day. I needed the money. Life on the road is hard for any comic, but especially for a female. You need to be able to take care of yourself. One day, my co-worker come to me and told me that HBO was hosting the Aspen Comedy Festival and they were having an open call for comedians. I ditched out of work, went down there, and did my little 90 seconds. Out of 600 people, I got the spot. I ended up doing really well at the festival, too, and that got me a development deal with HBO. At the time, I was still under contract with CBS for a Star Search revival—even though I ended up losing that contest—and in order to go through with my HBO deal, I had to get an attorney. Ultimately, it all worked out.
While all of this was going on, I was still working as an engineer. One day, I got to work and there was another massive layoff. I went to my manager and said, “Please, save a job, lay me off, and I'll be okay.” He looked at me like I was crazy, because he didn't know all this was going on for me outside the office. I told him that I would definitely be okay. That happened in 2003, and I haven't looked back.
The hardest part in switching careers is wondering what happens if the one you want doesn’t work out. But you can't look at any opportunity as being too small, and you've got to find something that inspires you. I didn't just up and quit my job—it took me eight or so years to do it. I volunteered to work at the smaller clubs in Hollywood, because I wanted to study the art of comedy. It was all training. You can't just think “Okay, I'm leaving my job and I'm just going to be a comedian the next day.” You've got to build your name up. You've got to build your act up. You've got to get connections and network and all that stuff. And that's what I did.
I surrounded myself with good people. I have strong support system and a lot of friends, and they believed in me and supported me by coming to my shows. The other comics you meet become your community, too. A lot of the comics that I started out with like Leslie Jones and Tiffany Haddish, we all came up together. We were all each other's support systems. It’s important to find people that are trying to do the same thing that you're trying to do, and you can't be around people that don't believe in you. My boyfriend at the time was just a bunch of negativity, and I had to let him go. He didn’t think I would really ever leave my job. But guess what? I was leaving my job and I was going to leave him, too! All I was asking for was his support.
The real reason I became a comic was for my happiness, but it was also to help entertain, inspire, and encourage people—especially women. That was something that kept me going. Even today, you can count on your hand how many female comics are actually headlining, touring comics. There are not a lot of them. I’m proud to be able to say that I'm one of them, but what also makes me proud is when I get a letter, Tweet, or Facebook comment from someone saying, “Hey, I was feeling down and I went to see you and it was great.” Or after my show, when someone tells me that they’ve been going through a divorce for two years and this is the first time they’ve really laughed. That's when I know that I'm doing it right.
I believe that things are meant to be the way they are meant to be. I wouldn't be who I am if I didn't grow up in Detroit, if I wasn't a poor girl from the projects. I can't regret that. I can't regret that I went to college and say, “Oh, well maybe if I hadn't spent four years in college, I would have been a comedian sooner.” No. Everything happened for a reason. I went to college, that gave me money. That also got me out here to California, which got me to the clubs, which got me onto Star Search. It's all connected, so I don't have any regrets.
For any women out there in their mid-30s who are trying to change but think they can’t, guess what? You can change whatever you want to about your life. Don't have any regrets. There's always a reason for everything—use those reasons to push you to where you want to go next.
—As told to Samantha Simon