As a young Black man growing up in New Orleans, comedian Brandon Montrell, known as “Boogie B,” was surrounded by loss and vowed to stay a step ahead of it. Hurricane Katrina in 2005 swept away all his clothes and his high school diploma. His father later died of AIDS complications, and his brother died by suicide. Gun violence could strike seemingly at any moment.
“His cousin got shot and killed right in front of him in New Orleans,” said close friend and L.A. comedian Trey Elliot. “But his mentality was always to keep going. Comedy was a remedy to everything.”
Montrell, who moved to L.A. in 2009, and who became a staple on TikTok and the stand-up comedy scene and who was known for his upbeat energy, was fatally shot Friday in New Orleans while on a trip to visit family for Christmas, according to friends and local police. He was 43.
New Orleans police are looking for two suspects in the shooting, which reportedly happened outside a grocery store.
“My son was not just the victim of a stray bullet,” his mother, Sherilyn Price, said in a statement released to local media. “He’s the victim of decades of neglect that have left New Orleans’ youth with no hope for a future and with no real fear of consequences.”
Montrell’s killing was only the latest tragedy to unsettle L.A.’s comedy scene, which is still grieving the recent deaths of Black comedians David A. Arnold, Teddy Ray and Jak Knight.
“It’s been so many in 2022 that we’ve lost, and the comedians that we have lost in our Black community have been some of the nicest guys,” said Nichelle Murdock, a comedy booker who produces Crack’Em Up Thursdays at the Comedy Store and who regularly worked with Montrell.
L.A. audiences saw Montrell at the Comedy Store and the Laugh Factory as well as at the now-defunct Black-owned comedy clubs the Comedy Union and the JSpot Comedy Club, Murdock said.
“He wasn’t political, he wasn’t mean. I loved booking him because of that,” said Murdock, who added that she had taped one of Montrell’s final shows as part of an unreleased stand-up comedy pilot.
“I remember when he came to L.A., he was kind of a transplant from Hurricane Katrina,” Murdock said. “It brought tears to my eyes, because he talked about swimming through that water through Katrina. It breaks my heart to know that he survived Katrina, but this happened to him.”
Although Montrell built a successful professional comedy career in Los Angeles — including a televised comedy special and an appearance in an Omarion music video — his thoughts stayed with New Orleans. He had started picking up a following on TikTok for his “hood history” videos about Black life in the city, including a recent series of clips about local wards and housing projects.
“He represented New Orleans from Day 1,” said Elliot, who first met Montrell at a comedy show in Annapolis, Md., soon after Katrina, when Montrell had started trying his hand at comedy. The pair became close friends and roommates and soon moved to L.A. together. They shared a love of the 1990s sitcom “Martin” and the Martin Lawrence and Will Smith movie “Bad Boys.”
Montrell’s go-to stand-up bit was a self-deprecating riff on Beyoncé’s 2006 song “Irreplaceable,” about a woman who triumphantly kicks out her deadbeat boyfriend and puts all his things “in a box to the left.” Montrell re-sang the song from the perspective of the indignant boyfriend, who refuses to be broken up with and sits “on your steps, on your steps.”
“That was his first joke that got him a standing ovation,” Elliot said. “I would hate to go up after him after he did that joke. I would have to work so much harder. That song he would do would kill so hard.”
Montrell was still hoping to make it truly big, but in a Comedy Store video interview in September, he seemed happy with the career he’d built out of the personal tragedies he’d survived.
“Comedy is pain, man … I hope I get to enjoy it longer, but you never know,” Montrell said. In New Orleans, he said, “people got killed every day that I knew, growing up. And that just told me, ‘Have fun, man. Whatever you’re doing, it better be great right now. If it ain’t, then you’re wasting your time. … If somebody dies that you love, have a second line parade and let them go on in a happy way. You the one down here with the bulls—. Don’t cry. Party.’”
Then, Montrell turned to the camera.
“I want you to remember Boogie B, goddamn it. Look at my face. … Whatever you feel, I made you feel something. You ain’t never going to forget me.”