Gabrielle Dennis likes to eat. Not our words, but hers. So, when talking to the L.A. resident at the time when most people nosh on eggs and toast, you apologize for the interruption. But the funny thing is that morning meals aren’t really her thing. “I’m not a big breakfast person,” Dennis says. “Most breakfast is sweet. I’m more of a savory, salty type of person.”
On camera, though, Dennis can devour a script. If you caught the Cincinnati native on BET’s The Game, the smash miniseries The Bobby Brown Story or Netflix’s Luke Cage, you already know this. If you’re late to the dinner party, don’t worry; you can catch up with HBO’s A Black Lady Sketch Show, a hilarious new series (which was just renewed for a second season) where Dennis cooks up a funny side many didn’t even know she had.
During a candid chat with Forbes Travel Guide, Dennis dishes on her comedic background, her favorite vacation and scouring Yelp to find good restaurants.
Career-wise, have things played out how you expected them?
There’s definitely elements [that have played out as expected]. The problem is that I don’t think my vision was ever very clear. As a performing artist, I wanted to be in this business. I went to a performing arts school. So I was trained in several different focuses. So, being a singer, a dancer and an actor, I found myself throwing a bunch of paint on the wall and seeing what dried.
I’ve done stand-up comedy when I first moved here. I had a dance agent. I was doing a lot of dancing and sketch comedy. The acting eventually kicked off once I finally got representation. But there was a lot of [me having that] “hustler mentality” of finding work in different ways to utilize my talent to earn money.
In the beginning, the vision was to be on TV or in the movies, but I don’t think I had a very specific goal. I’ve always wanted to be an artist that wasn’t stuck in just one space. I think it’s been fun to kind of incorporate a little bit of my different types of artistry in different ways.
I think the last dance job I booked was for a Bette Midler show in Vegas. I ended up not doing it because it was like a six-month contract and spread out because she was sharing the stage with Cher. I got to do the rehearsals, which was a lot of fun. But at that same time, I also booked [an acting] job. I think it was a Damon Wayans show. I started doing less dancing when the acting picked up. Started doing less stand-up comedy once the acting really picked up.
I guess the ultimate goal is to star in my own TV show and create said content. I went to Howard University and studied television production. The goal at one point was to own my own production company and studio.
I’ve kind of been all over the place. I think, with the vision, I’m still working on that. It’s taking a lot of time. I know people say the average overnight success probably takes about 10 years. I’m somewhere in there. Been having a blast on the journey. I’m very blessed. I feel like I’ve definitely been fortunate enough to not fall victim to any of the bad. When you first move here, you hear about all these stories about the casting couch or people are just jaded. But I’m still in this very euphoric, happy space and enjoying the ride. I can’t wait to see what’s next for me.
How much fun are you having showing off your comedic side on HBO’s grand stage?
I’m just naturally silly and goofy. I was the class clown. I just always loved comedy. Like I said, when I first got here, my very first acting gig was when Damon Wayans had a sketch-comedy show called The Underground on Showtime.
But it only lasted one season. It was a real quick “I thought I had arrived” moment. I was like, “This is gonna be the new In Living Color. There’s a Wayans attached. I’m the only black girl on here. Let’s go. Let’s get it poppin’!” Our premiere night was at Jay-Z’s 40/40 Club. I got to meet Jay-Z and Beyoncé. I literally thought, “Oh, this is it! I’ve only been in L.A. for less than a year.” Well, that didn’t go anywhere.
But part of my audition process was Damon coming to see me do stand-up comedy. So, when I first got out here, I was doing a lot of the grind, hitting the pavement and doing the stand-up comedy thing. I did his sketch show and I did a little bit of comedy here and there like [Spike TV’s] Blue Mountain State and one of the Bring It On movies.
But the thing that introduced me to the masses was CW’s The Game. It was a comedy on that network, but with my storyline, I didn’t get a chance to really be funny. When the show went to BET, the format changed and it was more of a dramedy. My storyline was even more intense.
From there, I guess the industry started seeing me [as a dramatic actress]. And the other thing is that a lot of comedies I did never made it to the public. I remember shooting a pilot for Comedy Central with Kevin Hart and Bill Burr. I was in the comedy space but it was just a lot of things that failed.
If we hung out for a day, what other talents would I find out that you had besides being funny?
I like to eat. I’m like a human garbage disposal. I’m a very adventurous eater. For the most part, I don’t think there’s anything I haven’t tried or wouldn’t try.
I can do brunch. I haven’t done one in a long time. Actually, the longest brunch I’ve done was in Atlanta. Oh my God. It might have been The Ritz-Carlton, the one across from [Lenox Square] mall. [Editor’s note: The Ritz-Carlton, Buckhead has since been rebranded as The Whitley, A Luxury Collection Hotel.]
This was a couple years ago. It’s the longest brunch to date. I was there for seven or eight hours. The shift switched over to the lunch. I met up with some friends. We hadn’t seen each other in a while. The three of us were just in there “key-keyin’” and eating. It was the best time.
Brunch is one of my favorite meals. I don’t do it often because, you know, if you do a brunch, you don’t need to eat for the rest of the day. Brunch can really take you out. After brunch, you don’t really want to do anything else.
I literally Yelp everything. I have a Yelp account. I give to the Yelp community and not just take. I give reviews. I read them. My friends tease me all the time: “We’re going to eat good when we mess around with you ’cause you don’t play when it comes around to your food.” So, yes, [if you hang with me], eating will be involved. There’s gonna be some type of fine-dining experience.
I don’t really do much else outside of work. I like to travel. But as far as [things in] L.A., I like to eat and get out. Taking a road trip down the [Pacific Coast Highway is fun, too].
Speaking of travel, have you been anywhere fun over the past year?
Oh my gosh — yes! In one week I got to do Paris, London and Johannesburg. It was a press trip for The Bobby Brown Story. Usually, with work trips, you’re like, “Okay, I’ll have fun,” but I had fun, fun! It was the best experience because it was just this whirlwind of culture. It was so fast, but we got to do so many things, everything from your regular sightseeing at Buckingham Palace and the Eiffel Tower to an African safari, which I had never ever done. I got to pet a cheetah and be in the presence of a black panther. It was amazing.
Even the shopping [was memorable]. Between Harrods in London and the shops in Soweto and Galeries Lafayette in Paris, we did it up. I wasn’t buying anything because I was like, “I’m not taking a bunch of stuff back.” I think I bought one dress and a leather jacket.
You go to the mall here and it’s nice, but you go to the mall at Galeries Lafayette and the ceiling is just perfect. You see all the stained glass, the beautiful artwork and detailing.
It was an amazing trip. The food was great. We did a private yacht. I took a tour of Paris. As a performing artist, going to see a cabaret for the first time was amazing. It was an amazing trip.
I’ve never been to Comic-Con, but I went to Comic-Con Africa. I did it up. I got to try ostrich for the first time — I wanted to try something new. Though I’ve had escargot before, having it in Paris is a whole different experience.
I had a freaking ball. It was work but it wasn’t. When you travel sometimes with work, it feels like work because you’re traveling with work people. But it was something about the combination of myself with [costar] Woody [McClain] and our team with BET. It was some magic there. It was like a family. We had a great experience.
Specifically, in Johannesburg, the way we were welcomed and the way we were treated [was special]. It was the motherland. It was a vibe. I can’t wait to go back. Everything was amazing.