Allison Reese is a Comedic Star on the Rise

Written by | Entertainment

Taking center stage at Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in Los Angeles, Allison Reese casually greets her sold-out audience with an armful of wigs, costumes, and a guitar. She exuberantly explains, “Oh, I’m going to put everything on all at once, it will save time later,” and proceeds to put shirt over sweater over shirt over another shirt over…a hot dog costume? Yes. Even a hot dog costume. As she launches into her fast-paced one-woman show, Unhinged: Beyond the Kamala, her masterful comedic abilities quickly unfold in a dizzying one-person SNL-esque evening that includes characters that range from a TSA officer to a collegiate enthusiast to a coffee shop open mic goer to yes, even a hot dog, and, of course, her signature Kamala Harris impression that has made her a social viral star to the millions and earned her a spot in the Bros movie. Even as the audience doubles over in laughter, Allison is skillfully making a commentary on racism, queerism, transphobia, misogyny, and classism. Presented tongue in cheek, she slips it all in under the veil of comedy. On stage and on social media, she’s a bigger-than-life personality. In person, she is down-to-earth and open about her long journey to her present time in the spotlight.

Comedy for Allison is a family affair of sorts. Smack dab in the middle of five siblings, Allison learned that being funny was a way to keep your voice being heard at the dinner table, although perhaps a bit awkward at first.

I used to tell five-minute-long jokes, in the first grade, and I think, at the time, they were not funny or endearing. I think people were just like, oh my God, wrap it up! Yes, it was a talent for sure. Just going dead in the eyes and just reciting five minutes of stuff.

The more time goes on, the more I think everybody else (in my family) is actually way funnier than me. My siblings are so funny. My parents both have their own brand of humor. My mom does a lot of voices, is kind of cartoony, and loves puns. And my dad is on the other end of the spectrum, he likes artsy stuff. He’s a trip.

She would mature from her first-grade joke-telling to doing comedy shows in high school in Phoenix, where she grew up. And while she was finding her footing in comedy, her sexuality was not as forthcoming.

It sheltered me in not a great way. I was in Arizona, a very Mormon-heavy place which definitely influenced me big time. I didn’t come out till I was 20. I just remember I would always hang out with all the Mormon cliques, and thought, yeah, these are all my friends. But really, we were all just the same level of being sexually repressed is what was happening, after looking back.

Allison packed her bags and headed to Los Angeles to pursue her career in entertainment. It was at that point that she made the crucial decision to live her truth and came out to her family in the most modern of ways.

In my mind I thought, I can never be the successful artist that I want to be if I’m not honest with myself and with the people I care about. I won’t be able to do anything meaningful unless I’m true to who I am.  I had to come out. I was so scared, and I didn’t want to do it face-to-face or even over the phone. So, I just sent a group text. I was just like, “Hey, think I’m gay. That cool?” Several minutes went by and I was like, oh God. And my dad finally responded, “Yep, you’re good.” And that’s truly it. And my mom called and was like, “Hey, I know you’re doing comedy. Is that like a joke?” I was like, no, it’s real. And she’s like, “Okay!”

My oldest sister is also gay and came out way before I did. So that really alleviated any pressure that I had. She did make it a lot easier, and she never lets me forget it.

Her earlier years in Los Angeles would get her deeper into the comedy scene. She felt she was too young to appreciate what LA had to offer at that time and eventually headed off to Chicago to hone her improv skills. After hitting the pavement, networking, and doing work at smaller theatres, she became a performer and staff writer at the esteemed Second City Chicago (where she is also an alumnus of the coveted Touring company), and her one-woman show You Listen To White People Music? became a Chicago Tribune-recommended show to see, all the while focusing on uplifting and empowering women of color and the queer community through her work.

Turning commentary into comedy (or maybe it’s the reverse?) is number one in Allison’s toolbelt. During her time in Chicago, she founded and created the Matt Damon Improv group. Strange name for an improv group? Oh, there’s an explanation.

Have you seen Project Greenlight? There was one black female producer on it, and (Matt Damon) mansplained diversity to her in the most problematic way, it was so upsetting. I saw that and I was like, man, if he could just listen to a woman of color for five minutes, he could stop whatever this is. So that was the inspiration. The team was all women of color, all different walks of life, and we had one white person and they were our Matt Damon or Lena Dunham, if you will, and they weren’t allowed to speak unless they were saying something we said to really force them to listen to women of color.

Not one to be restricted by a little thing called COVID, Allison engaged the Matt Damon Improv group for the hilarious web series In-Diana. The series follows six women who work at a company called In-Diana that makes personal back massagers. The success of these massagers increases very quickly, although not as massagers for the back, but rather for the nether regions. Presented as Zoom meetings that go awry, the series kept the laughs coming and got some great press along the way.

Not only has Allison had to deal with the usual obstacles of being a queer artist, but, as a black woman, she has had her fill of racism.

I’ve moved around a lot. I lived in Phoenix, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York, just all over the place, and I always find it so interesting that each city has its own flavor of racism, and no city is immune from it. It’s just how they’re doing it. So, Chicago really threw me for a loop.

As far as the comedy scene when I was there, there were a lot of growing pains, but also a lot of growth. In the early days, there were definitely times when I would come on stage and my white scene partner would make me a slave. And it’d be like, oh my God, why did you do that to me? The teachers were older Chicago people who were like, remember Tina Faye in the nineties? That was fun! But wouldn’t know how to handle that situation. It would be a lot of self-advocacies from a lot of the people in that scene. The improv world is very North Side. Chicago is an incredibly segregated city. There are definitely blind spots, but I’ve definitely seen a ton of growth. What I went through would not happen today in any way, shape, or form.

During her time in Chicago, her Kamala Harris impression was born, for an SNL showcase no less. How did Allison end up picking Kamala of all people?

It was an election season and she was still in the running at this point. SNL had been coming around and I was like, Allison, what other chance are you going to get to try to portray another half-black person in an impression? You gotta try! So I researched her, I watched the videos of her at the debate stages, and was like, okay, I got to figure it out.

She did not make it to Saturday Night Live. This was in 2019, before the show’s dedication to diversity and inclusivity. Perhaps it’s time for them to reconsider.  In any case, the Kamala impression was born, though it would take a few years for Allison to transition it to social media. She was an instant hit.

My friend Bobby told me, that impression is so good. You need to get the pearls, you need to get a jacket, you need to get a wig. And I was like, what? That’s crazy. But okay. And then it just took off and I was like, oh my God. I’ve always been able to do voices and stuff, and I’ve always prided myself on that. But for whatever reason, I think somebody along the way told me impressions online don’t go anywhere. Don’t even try it. And I was like, you know, it’s the Wild West of the internet, so why not try it?

People clamor for Allison’s Kamala wherever she goes. Recently, she was lauded by Matt Rogers and Bowen Yang on their podcast, Las Culturistas. Allison’s own podcast, The N’Kay Hour, is hosted by her alter ego but is a highlight of a bevy of sketches and characters. Smartly, Allison’s one-woman show features a segment with Kamala, as part of her full library of characters. With so many other personalities in her wheelhouse, does she ever feel overshadowed by her Kamala impression?

It is a double-edged sword. I’m very grateful for it. I have a lot of fun doing it. It feels so weird to be so connected to a character and it feels so artsy to even say that, but it’s true. I take it as a gift and use it to share other gifts that I may have that people hopefully like.

Being able to pivot has been another major skill set that Allison possesses. Day jobs in her early years ranged from call centers to coffee shops (ask her about the coffee shop with the weed and a gun). And for her career? Web series? Sure. One woman show? Sure. Write a comedy? Sure. Write a song? Sure. Become a TikTok influencer? Yep!

It goes back to just trying to be the best creative I could be. I don’t ever want to be stuck to one thing, which is kind of a line I walk with Kamala. I’m like, okay, this is what the algorithm is hungry for, what it will reward me for, but there’s no way I could do just that.

Her characters couldn’t be more different than the others. Each character, no matter how big, is always grounded in reality. Audiences and critics respond to her material because it is so organic, it is so accessible, even if presented in a highly comedic form. Her characters also act as mirrors, reflecting back what society is giving at any particular moment. One of the funniest, and most poignant, characters is a guitar-playing, coffee shop singing “That White Girl,” based on a real-life white girl Allison heard in Chicago. In a Jewel-like voice and demeanor, the singer starts off singing about the travesty of racism, homophobia, classism, and everything else under the sun. As the verses continue, “That White Girl” becomes unraveled, marveling at their own wokeness and their heroism in speaking against these atrocities they have never had to deal with in reality. The segment makes fun of insincere activism and questions what makes an ally a true ally…all the while the audience is roaring in laughter. With each character having its own complexity, even the hot dog, what is her creative process in creating these characters?

I feel like I’m always trying to find what my process is. I feel like it’s just always evolving. A thing from The Second City that I really, really love is improvising into writing. The way they do shows is you come out, you improvise a scene, and then later you write it up and then you edit it, and then maybe you do that scene again and then you feel free to improvise new stuff. That’s how I view writing, particularly characters. A lot of my Kamala stuff is like, oh, I have this idea, I’m just going to get into character and go and do a few takes and see where it goes from there. So, it’s never the first one I do, it’s usually the third or the fourth where I really got everything, I wanted in that one piece. But with writing scripts, I’m still trying to figure that out. I also have this mild obsession with Nicola Tesla. It’s very strange. I know. But he’s a genius and just so unhinged. He was said to have never written anything down and he would just go over stuff in his head a bunch, and then when he would go to write it down, it was near perfect every time. The equations and everything he would never have to redo because he was just kind of always editing it in his head. So that’s kind of been my process as of late. I’ll walk around, I’ll think about whatever my ideas are and try to see it in my mind’s eye and kind of think about it over and over. I try to get new ideas and then put pen to paper and just really let my imagination go.

In addition to Allison’s fervent fan base and industry acclaim, she has a support system at home. Meeting at The Second City, she fell in love with and married August, a trans artist with his own world of creativity. The two are a dynamic force and have weathered Allison’s star on the rise.

I definitely lean on my spouse for support and I’m very lucky. He has a degree in comedy writing and performance, so we come from the same world. He has gone off into his own creative path, whereas I have gone off into this creative path and it’s been nice to be with somebody who has such a knowledge base for what I’m doing and was in the same scenes and community as me and really gets it. He’s been so supportive and just so lovely with all of that.

I find that we have a very nice Venn diagram of when we do work together. We definitely appreciate the boundaries of the personal-creative-business relationship. And we really try to keep those things in mind. As far as my social media on the rise, he is like, wow, this is the first time I felt like I’ve had to share you in this way with strangers. So, it’s made me that much more protective of our home life and keeping that sacred.

From those early years in Chicago, she was named 2022 Just For Laughs New Faces of Comedy, for the world’s most prestigious comedy festival in Montreal, took part in the 2022 CBS Sketch Comedy Showcase, where her scene, “Belinda’s Mom” went on to win numerous awards in the Festival Circuit for Best Parody, appeared on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, and made her theatrical debut in Bros. Even with her highlighted success, her mission of supporting her communities stays at the forefront. Hailing back from her early years in sports, she is still a team player.

I think until I started living out in the world and experiencing how the world treats me as a woman of color and as a queer woman, I didn’t fully appreciate community in that respect. And that’s when I decided I needed to foster this. I want to create this. I really want to create a safe space for women of color, particularly in comedy and in improv, because at that time, if there was a woman of color, you were the only one on that team typically. And that led to things like your teammate being “…and you’re the slave in this scene.” Nope. I wanted to create a space where we could play and fail and have fun and actually have the space to grow and get better.

Check out everything Allison at

Last modified: November 19, 2023