Luenell Batson (1959–)
aka: Luenell Campbell
Luenell, who goes by only her first name professionally, is a comedian and a film and television actress known for her appearances in such movies as Borat: Cultural Learning of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006) and Hotel Transylvania (2012). She was inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame in 2015.
Luenell was born Luenell Batson on March 12, 1959, in Tollette (Howard County), a historically black community. Her father was murdered while her mother was pregnant with her. As her mother already had seven other children, she was adopted by family members out of state, becoming Luenell Campbell and moving to California. She attended school in the community of Castro Valley in the San Francisco Bay Area. In grade school, she became a devotee of theater and enrolled in drama classes. She continued her theatrical studies through college, studying first at Chabot Junior College (now Chabot College) and completing her bachelor’s degree at California State University at Hayward (now California State University, East Bay). She began performing at the Oakland Ensemble Theatre and doing stand-up comedy.
In the 1990s, Luenell began appearing on KSBT (Soul Beat) television, a black-owned public-access station, after Soul Beat owner Chuck Johnson had seen her stand-up performances. Luenell held a number of roles at Soul Beat, including video DJ and general on-air personality, as well as host of Club 37, a talk show with a Tonight Show–like format. She also began picking up some bit parts in television shows and movies, first appearing in So I Married an Axe Murderer (1993) as a public records officer (she was credited as Luenell Campbell, a name used for several of her appearances), followed by small roles in the television show Nash Bridges and the movie The Rock (1996).
In the mid-1990s, however, Luenell faced a number of personal challenges. First, she discovered that she was pregnant; her daughter, Da’Nelle, was born in 1996. Second, her mother died. Third, she was arrested for what she described as “a series of indiscretions” committed while working at a bank. She was sentenced to one year in prison and served four months. Luenell spent the next few years taking care of her daughter before returning to television in 2004, when she appeared on The Tracy Morgan Show. She also had regular small roles in The Boondocks, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Californication, and others. However, her role in Borat attracted the most attention. In that movie, she played a prostitute whom Borat Sagdiyev (Sacha Baron Cohen) invites to accompany him to a private dinner club in the South. They are both thrown out of the gathering. She rejoins him at the end of the movie, and together they travel back to Borat’s native Kazakhstan. The next year, Luenell appeared as herself in Katt Williams: American Hustle doing stand-up comedy; her stand-up has also garnered a devoted following.
Other noteworthy film appearances include Think Like a Man (2012) and Taken 2 (2012). She also performed her comedy routine in Snoop Dogg Presents: The Bad Girls of Comedy on Showtime and continues to tour comedy venues across the country. In addition, she posed nude for the March 21, 2017, issue of Penthouse.
For additional information:
“Bluff City Native Named to Arkansas Black Hall of Fame.” HopePresscott.com, October 8, 2015. http://www.hopeprescott.com/bluff-city-native-named-to-arkansas-black-hall-of-fame/ (accessed August 27, 2020).
HeyLuenell.com. http://heyluenell.com/ (accessed August 27, 2020).
“Luenell.” Internet Movie Database. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0132685/ (accessed August 27, 2020).
Staff of the CALS Encyclopedia of Arkansas
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