It wasn’t the promise of fame or fortune that first inspired funny lady Luenell to pursue a career in the entertainment industry. Actually, it was the prospect of nibbling on tiny finger sandwiches that set things in motion.
When the co-star of “Borat” — she played a certain Kazakhstani journalist’s fun-loving lady of the night — was growing up in Castro Valley, she remembers watching a friend’s play and stumbling upon the post-show celebration backstage. As folks sipped Champagne and snacked on finger foods, she knew this was the life for her.
“I was like, I want to do that. I want to be schmoozing, eating those little sandwiches,” she says.
Born in Arkansas, Luenell spent her formative years in Castro Valley and learned early on how to work a crowd. As the youngest of eight children, the actress and comedian used her quick wit to get noticed.
“When there’s eight of you, you do what you need to do to get heard. No one would listen to me, so I would say these amusing things and it was a platform for being heard,” says Luenell, who now resides in Los Angeles.
Her penchant for being the center of attention continued into adulthood, which translated into stints with “Beach Blanket Babylon” and the Oakland Ensemble Theater. On Saturday, Luenell returns to the Bay Area for Kung Pao Kosher Comedy’s ninth annual “Funny Girlz,” a smorgasbord of female comedians featuring local comics Marga Gomez, Amy Boyd, Lisa Geduldig, Sherry Glaser and Juanita More.
The road to stardom has been all but smooth for Luenell, who readily admits her past indiscretions, which include time spent in jail for embezzlement charges. The comic and dedicated mother says that’s all in the past, and that there’s hardly a topic too taboo for her to dish about.
“I think comedians are the most honest breed of entertainer,” she says. “We tell everything about ourselves. It’s part of being able to purge yourself. Believe me, there were things I said I would never talk about and I have. I’ve done it all, every topic that’s been on Oprah’s show. I’ve done it, but that’s who I am.”
Since the success of the comedy phenomenon “Borat,” Luenell has been working the comedy circuit and waiting for her next film — “Spring Breakdown,” with Parker Posey — to hit theaters.
In “Spring Breakdown,” she plays another prostitute. Yet Luenell is far from a one-trick pony. She hopes to break her red-light district persona with an HBO comedy special or guest role on a sitcom in the future.
“Everyone starts out playing crappy roles,” she says. “That’s how the Hollywood machine works. At least a hooker is desirable. I’d rather play a hooker than be stuck playing some old mammy or auntie.”
Presented by Kung Pao Kosher Comedy
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco
Tickets: $22.50 to $35
Contact: (415) 392-4400, www.cityboxoffice.com