Rosewood’s Gabrielle Dennis on SNL Auditions and Being a Badass

Gabrielle Dennis of Rosewood plays a dramatic character on TV, but in real life, she’s an LA standup comic and self-professed goofball who loves nothing more than French fries.

We caught up with her to talk about standup, social media, her SNL audition, and what she’s most excited about these days.

You started in comedy, right?

I went to a performing arts high school so from the fourth grade I was training in dance. Dancing is what I wanted to do first because that’s what I trained the most in and trained the most vigorously for – hours and hours a day, five days a week and if there was a show or a performance – you can only imagine.

That’s kind of where my training started and then acting and singing and things like that. Comedy didn’t come about until I moved to LA. I’ve been doing comedy hardcore for 10 years. It’s something I always wanted to do but I never had an outlet. Growing up in Ohio there weren’t many opportunities to do it and when I moved to D.C., I went to college and I worked full-time so I didn’t have the time. Then, when I came to LA, I gave it a shot.

I was always a bit of a class clown and a goofball so doing standup comedy – writing sketch characters, performing and just being silly and crazy – is a great outlet for me. I didn’t realize how much I’d enjoy comedy because going to a performing arts high school we studied a lot of the classics – not that there wasn’t comedy in Shakespeare, but it’s a smaller amount.

Do you think the internet has opened up the comedy world?

I have a lot of friends who are Vine stars and they have more followers than me on social media because that’s where their stardom births from. These friends have gone on to do TV and things like that. I love being a creative person myself and I love seeing people – especially women – being able to write, create, produce and star in their own projects. I was never a person who had the discipline, time or patience to do it myself but I admire those who can do it and those who are really good at it.

I went and tested for SNL a few years back when they were looking for a black woman. I felt like the Georgia Six – it was the big, top secret situation. We went and had an amazing time and the experience was so great because there was a variety of young actresses there – people who had a strong sketch background, YouTube stars, Vine stars, I had a friend who was more of an actress-slash-comedian and I was brought out because of standup.

Ten years ago, those people would have never had the opportunity to test for something that huge without social media providing an outlet for them. I think it’s great and I think that it opens the door for people like myself who aren’t originally from the major markets. When you’re in Ohio or the Midwest or somewhere like that – it’s pretty hard to get to LA or New York and get the work. Kudos and round of applause to those who have figured out how to do it on their own and make it happen. I’m really impressed by people who do that.

Those little 15-second videos are a lot of work. I know friends who — that’s their life — they spend hours preparing, writing, editing, casting and scouting locations. It’s a big production but eventually it pays off.

What are your thoughts on how social media opens more doors for diversity and women in comedy? 

Oh, for sure – it’s definitely the home for that [diversity] and not only just in terms of ethnicity.

There are so many funny women that I feel like typically don’t get the opportunity to shine and to be as funny – if not funnier than – men. A lot of us are a little wack-a-doo and a little crazy. We like physical comedy and being broad in comedy. Traditionally, you don’t get to see that.

This type of platform provides an outlet for women and men of all backgrounds. A lot of the visuals we’re seeing aren’t the same as what we would see on TV and that’s what I like about it. It’s comedy from different parts of the world with different views and different perspectives and that’s what comedy is. It’s all lies and truths and even if I don’t have the exact same experience as someone, it’s grounded in truth and the essence of it is something I can relate to and that’s what makes something funny. I think it’s a great thing.

What’s your schedule like?

On the show you’re kind of locked down for the period of time that you’re filming. We film five days a week and nine days per episode so there’s not too much wiggle room to do anything outside of shooting.

I typically don’t do standup comedy when I’m working on a project because they’re two opposite sides of the brain and two opposites sides of my schedule. Going to a standup comedy club I might be out till 1 or 2 a.m. and I can’t be out the next day.

I would say schedule wise, I stay pretty busy with what I’m on and I can’t complain about that but I was having this conversation with my sister the other day. We worked so hard to get to this place to finally being on a TV show and to have a steady job but when you get here – you kind of miss the chaos of the hunt.

I’m not used to having downtime and it’s kind of strange. Right now it’s pilot season and I have a lot of friends who are out there, scratching on the street, trying to get it together and it’s hard because my schedule is semi-normal – the normalcy is an adjustment for me but I’m enjoying it.

Right now I’m also helping a director write a script and trying to get together some other things that I pushed aside over the years. Now that I got this acting thing locked down I’m trying to do more writing, producing and things to fulfill my time. I’m one of those people who I can’t sit still for too long.

What do you talk about in your standup?

I talk a lot about relationships. I talk about the differences in men and women and not in a male-bashing-sense, but I talk about some of the funny perspectives like how we, as women, look at one thing and hear something totally different than a man hears.

I also talk about myself. I’m pretty frugal so I talk about that and how it’s so funny because since I started getting recognized, I always get recognized in the 99 cent store – places you just shouldn’t be. And I’m like, they have dollar toilet paper so where else should I be right now?

How do you decide what parts of your personal relationships to include in your standup?

I just go for it. When I started out I was already in a relationship and there was the whole dynamic of moving in with someone and I had a lot to say on the matter. I just went for it and it’s not like I didn’t care how he felt but he thought it was funny as well because we would also joke amongst each other.

Anyone who dates a comedian or is in a relationship with a comedian, it’s kind of par for the course. You’re always at risk of being the butt of a joke.

I think it’s fun and it’s healthy because in a sense, comedy can be like therapy. You’re talking out issues and finding a way to deal with it from a humorous standpoint vs. being angry about it. It’s an outlet to be like “OMG why can’t men do this?” or “Why does my man do that?” and it becomes funny and it’s easier to deal with the annoyances in this way vs. being mad and frustrated with your man all day.

I enjoy it and he’s actually come to my shows and seen me a couple of times but people come up to him like, “Oh, you’re that guy!” That’s probably why he doesn’t come to too many. He’s very low-key and he doesn’t really like to be seen and noticed but he thinks I’m funny and thats all that matters.

So your show Rosewood just premiered a new season, right?

We came back last week with the second half of the first season and showed the resolution of the cliffhanger with the serial killer. Currently we’re still hoping on a second season and we’ve got a lot of great guest stars coming in – from Sherri Shepherd, to Joy Bryant, to Taye Diggs, to Nicole Ahri Parker.

There are a lot of fun relationships going on and you find out a lot of background information about my character. I also get to sing again in upcoming episodes and I’m just having fun. I think we should know this month what’s going on with season 2.

How do you keep straight what people have seen and haven’t so you don’t accidentally spoil the plot?

It’s not too bad. I watch the show as it airs and luckily we’re still filming so it’s not like something that happened so long ago that we’re just now watching.

It’s actually refreshing to watch and it helps me stay up-to-date with episodes because it refreshes my memory. I never not know whats going on with the show.

How do you manage your social media presence? 

I think ever since someone showed me last year that you can just use one and it sends it up to everyone… I’d do one thing [with] 140 characters for Twitter, on Facebook [I’d write] a whole bible, Facebook a video, Instagram a bible and someone was like, “You’re doing a lot and you’re spending a lot of time,” and that’s probably why I wasn’t as active a year ago.

You have good intentions and you’re like OMG that was 30 mintues of my day. OMG I took 20 selfies had to do quote, etc. It’s about practice so I actually love doing it now. My favorite is doing like little videos. I like to sing or dance, or someone told me I need a YouTube channel where I’m just eating because I love to eat. One of my favorite foods I discovered in past year was French fries. I was like, I literally think I could live on french fries. A potato comes in so many variations, sweet potato fries, waffles fries. This place in the mall, where you can put all these different seasonings – I can’t go to the mall without stopping in there and getting a blend of different favors. I’m walking through the mall with ketchup, a fork, this big thing, seasoning down my shirt. It’s the happiest time of my day.

Do you ever feel pressure to turn it into a product or be extra funny?

No – because most people don’t know me as a comedian except for LA-based people [because that’s where I performed over the years].

I’ve never performed on live TV but it’s one of those things where I wouldn’t feel pressure because I’d just get on there and be myself and hope people like it. It’s life – you can’t make people like you. Either they will or they won’t and you just gotta go on.

I don’t feel pressure to be funny but I do try [and it’s not that I feel pressure necessarily] to make a point that the types of images, messages and things I repost – are positive or in some way uplifting. Otherwise I try to make sure they’re not negative or putting anyone down.

We have to be careful with the images we put out there and I feel like a lot of people are so loose with it. Unfortunately, we can all hide behind a computer and put certain images out there but bottom line is – you never know who’s gonna see it and how it’s going to affect their day. I like to control what type of images and point of view I put out there. That would be the only thing but it’s not that it’s a pressure, it’s a choice.

What are your career goals?

I want to do an action film. I would love to do a franchise film where I play a badass – I get to kick some ass, use some weapons and do some stunts. I’ve done those things in past and it’s been fun.

Other than that, I’ve always been interested in a period piece. Film is the next progression from TV so I would love to do more films. Really, I just want to portray strong women. Be it someone that is an action figure or just a really strong character – whether it’s fictional or someone in our history that’s a real person but who really stood for something and represented something. Someone who evokes inspiration and happiness or someone who encourages action from people to do the right thing and to do better.

I feel like in films you have more time to really get into a character as far as focusing on them as opposed to on TV. In films you can focus a more on the nature of your character because you get more of a backstory which gives you all these colors to play with.

Is there a historical character you’d love to play?

I actually have a lot but one person who I think would allow me to touch on a few of my talents would be Maya Angelou.

Not only was she this powerful woman but she’s said so many things, she touched so many people and she also dibbled dabbled in acting – she did a little bit of everything. But if I’m not mistaken – she was like 6 feet tall so that leaves little to the imagination.

Is there anything else you’d like to talk about or promote?

Not really – just watch the show, be on the lookout for us and hopefully we’ll get to season 2.

Also – just get out there and be a good person. If you have the ability to make a person smile today, do it. It doesn’t cost you anything. I’m all about spreading love and happiness and that kind of a thing but I’m cheesy.

Photo by James Anthony

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