Jonica “Jojo” T. Gibbs —Jojo to those closest to her—is a rising star in the Hollywood television canopy. She’s currently tearing it up in BET’s new comedy “Twenties” as Hattie (a nod, I suspect to actress Hattie McDaniel) a young, queer woman of color with dreams of becoming a screenwriter. Along with her two straight best friends, Marie (Christina Elmore) and Nia (Gabrielle Graham) they spend most of their days talking ‘ish’ and plotting out their dreams.
“Twenties” is executive produced by Lena Waite and Susan Fales-Hill who is also the showrunner. Hattie, the character, bears a resemblance to the show’s creator, Lena, insofar as, in “Twenties”, she presents more masculine of center; a soft, femme butch. She’s not a character I’ve ever seen on television before. I hope we see more.
Back to Jojo the rising “star.”
I’m playing hard and fast with the word, star because actual “stars” are formed inside relatively dense concentrations of interstellar gas and dust known as molecular clouds.
Trust me when I tell you that this could pass as a description of Hollywood. By applying the word dense to describe the “suits” (usually, White, straight men) that stand like special force soldiers armed with guns and itchy trigger fingers, at the gates.
I’m applying the words “interstellar gas” to describe the bubble of self-congratulatory nature that most upper management feels as they keep producing the same stilted content and finally, I highlight the words “dust” and “clouds” which is what happens with great ideas and great talent that stay in the game no matter how challenging it appears. Like a dust cloud, they drift—untethered—until it lands on fertile ground.
That’s why Jojo is a rising star. She’s that unstoppable dust cloud deciding to stay in the proverbial game no matter the pressure calling herself “blessed” and attributing her new success an act of “divine intention.” Even in her Instagram description, you get a hint on how she views herself. It reads Los Angeles-based actress. Comedian. Writer. Tarheel. Grateful and finally blessed.
I would be remiss if I didn’t provide the full description of the very well written series — “Twenties.” After finding herself homeless and broke, Hattie is introduced to Ida B., a powerful television writer, and producer who hires Hattie to work on her show —“Cocoa’s Butter”— as an assistant. New to Hollywood and stumbling from one night stands, Hattie searches to find her voice as a writer and the right girl. Marie and her husband (Chuck) take in Hattie after she gets evicted, but that proves to be only one shakeup in their seemingly perfect relationship. Is he or isn’t he gay or bisexual?
At work, Marie is pitted against the only other Black film executive for a promotion. Once a successful child performer, Nia is now a spirited yoga instructor who decides to get back into acting. While they live separate lives, the girls lean on each other for guidance as they navigate their twenties.
Jojo is a Southern girl. Born in South Carolina where she grew up with her great-grandparents in Hampstead, North Carolina. After graduating from college at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she studied journalism, she began her journey toward Los Angeles with stops in the mid-Atlantic and the South, holding down jobs in Washington, D.C.; crashing on a friend’s couch in Savannah, Georgia. By the time she landed in Los Angeles (just five years ago), she realized that her dream was close.
Here is what Jonica “Jojo” T. Gibbs had to say about working on Lena Waithe’s show, “Twenties” being surrounded by creative people with a purpose and how she plans to jump-start her series “No More Comics in LA,” which she started, some years back, with her best friend Rashonda Joplin.
LOS ANGELES SENTINEL: Jojo I enjoyed BET’s “Twenties” in large part because of you. It’s great writing, in my opinion, but if you don’t care about the main character, a show is dead in the water. You are that character and I am all in with your characters’ journey. You make this show, work.
JONICA “JOJO” T. GIBBS: (laughing) Wow. Thank you. I appreciate that.
LAS: How did you get cast in this project?
JJTG: It was all God’s divine timing, I guess. I do stand up comedy.
JJTG: (laughing) Yes. So I decided that I wanted to create my own opportunities to act.
LAS: That’s what I am talking about. Love it. Continue, sorry, I just love initiative.
JJTG: Along with my best friend Rashonda [Joplin] and a group of others we all got together. Rashonda and I wrote ten episodes of a web-series. We shot two episodes because Rashonda and I were paying for everything out of pocket.
JJTG: (laughing) Well it became overwhelming for me. I worked as a long-time substitute teacher and also at the Cheese Cake Factory. I would teach during the week and then serve and shoot [the webseries] on the weekends.
LAS: You are serious.
JJTG: It was exhausting. So we started crowdfunding [No More Comics in LA] and our goal was to reach fifty thousand.
LAS: No you didn’t?
JJTG: (laughing) Yes, we did. We hit the pavement hard. We created a movement. In that space, our director Tristin Hill knew Lena’s former assistant Raquel. Rashonda organized these merchandise opportunities, we had a sizzle, gave out stickers. We invested in ourselves. We have one to Lena and she must have been impressed. She shouted us out on Instagram and donated to the campaign herself.
LAS: And then?
JJTG: And then she looked at my Instagram page [jonicatgibbs] and we had a friend in common. She set up a call and basically at the end of the call, she said, that she had this show. She invited me to audition for “Twenties” and she said, if ‘push comes to shove’ and you don’t get it, you can still come to set and check out the actors.
LAS: Jojo, this confirms again the generosity of Lena. It’s a big deal to be on a working set. It’s where you learn. It’s where I learned. Sorry, continue.
JJTG: I was super grateful. I was blown away. Until then I had only done comedy. I had never done an audition.
LAS: And you got the part.
JJTG: She [Lena] threw me a bone.
LAS: And you caught it. Now what?
JJTG: I fell in love with my character. I related to her on a lot of different levels. Honestly, I think GOD that I had done comedy and improv because it made me feel comfortable in that situation. The audition was like it was an open mike [night] and nobody showed up. You still have to perform.
LAS: I love that you said you are blessed. I agree but you put your intentions into the universe. You did the cosmic work.
JJTG: Exactly. I one-hundred-percent believe that.
LAS: So what’s next for you creatively?
JJTG: That’s a great question.
LAS: Thank you.
JJTG: I’m jumping back into doing comedy. I’ve re-written the screenplay for No More Comics in LA and I think I will re-write it again.
LAS: Where do you live in LA?
JJTG: North Hollywood but I use to live in South Central for four years.
LAS: Are you a member of the LGBTQ community?
JJTG: I am. I have a parner. Her name is Olvia.
LAS: Last question. What do you think of what Lena Waithe has done in a very short period of time? She’s broken down doors. In a word, this woman is a force.
JJTG: I am very grateful. By being authentically herself she’s opened up a lot of avenues and opportunities for people like me.
LAS: And people like me. Thank you Jonica “Jojo” T. Gibbs. I will close the way that I opened. You are —the glue in BET’s new comedy “Twenties” — a star is born.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.