Jonica "JoJo" Gibbs is making history with her role on BET’s "Twenties." Show creator and Emmy Award-winner Lena Waithe says it is the first show on primetime TV where a queer black woman will be the protagonist.
It’s a far cry from Gibbs’ South Carolina roots, where she said that growing up, she had to come out to her mom twice.
"The first time I tried to come out to my mom, I was 19, and I was on break, and I was at her house and I was watching 'True Life' on MTV, 'I'm Coming Out,' and I thought it was a sign from God," Gibbs told InsideEdition.com.
"I was like, 'This must be God telling me to come out,' because all the parents on 'True Life' was just like seeming chill and cool with it. Yeah, no, that was not the case for me. I walked up the stairs, interrupted my mama while she was watching '[The] First 48' and enjoying herself, so not the best time to interrupt your mom," she laughed.
"I honestly couldn't bring myself to straight up say, 'I think I'm X, Y or Z,'" Gibbs joked. "I was like, 'I don't think that I connect with men the way I think I should.' And she was just like, 'What?'"
"My mom is 5'11" so she stood up out the bed and I was like, 'Oh, okay. You going to get up. You're sitting standing up.’ She muted the TV, and I just remember thinking like, 'It ain't worth it!'"
Gibbs says she left the room and never further discussed the subject. "It's like my mom blacked it out I think, and I think I did too a little bit," Gibbs said.
Seven years would pass before Gibbs would mention it again. The conversation came after Gibbs moved to Los Angeles in pursuit of an acting career, and a trip to McDonald's.
"Once again, sometimes I just have these moments where I feel like I'm just pushed to do something. I was in the drive-through getting a McFlurry, which I do not like melted ice cream so the fact that I made a phone call right before I was eating my ice cream says a lot, but something pushed me to call her," Gibbs laughed.
"I called and I was like, 'Look, this is what it is. This is how I feel,'" Gibbs said. "I just kept it real straightforward, and it was emotional, and eventually she was just like, 'All right.'
"You know what I'm saying? At the end she was like, 'You ain't going to say nothing to your grandma, is you?' I'm like, 'Girl, the whole point of me telling you is that I ain't got to hide no more. Like, that's the whole thing!'" Gibbs laughed.
"But she, being the amazing, incredible person and mother that she is, got through her own hangups around it and was like, 'I love you regardless, and I'm here for you and I support you.'"
Gibbs got through that time with the help of stand-up comedy.
She juggled telling jokes on the stage with teaching and working at Gold's Gym, all gigs she took on while pursuing a career in acting. But unlike teaching and working at a gym, comedy was what put Gibbs on Waithe’s radar.
"I didn't have a manager or agent, so I was like, you just got to create the opportunity yourself," she said.
So she did.
Gibbs and some friends crowdfunded for their comedic series, "No More Comics in L.A."
"We took the rest of the money and created these merchandise boxes with merch in them, and USB drives with our sizzle [reel], and our trailer, and our ‘why’ video, so people could understand why we're doing this. And we sent them out."
One of Gibbs’ friends managed to get one of those packages to Waithe, and she liked what she saw. She called Gibbs and told her about a show she wanted her to audition for.
"And yeah, I mean, it's nothing but God from there because they were auditioning, not even during pilot season," Gibbs said.
“Twenties” follows Hattie, a writer's production assistant who desperately wants to become a writer on a popular show. The series begins after she's been thrown out of her apartment.
Gibbs said her life experiences are very similar to those of her character, Hattie.
“In lot of regards, I'm similar to Hattie because I have those two, those friends that are like my best friend Rashonda," she said.
Gibbs also faced similar struggles in her 20s.
“I was broke, broke, like $1.15-in-the-account broke,” Gibbs shared. “That was the scariest part, was learning that money is fluid, and that it comes and it goes, and that it's not worth stressing about. And having to learn that you got to humble yourself sometimes I have very much so had to swallow my pride multiple times and ask for help."
That experience has led Gibbs to give sage advice to those entering their 20s.
"For anybody on the verge of being 20 or if you're still a teenager, I would say, be malleable, and be willing to learn, and be willing to move forward regardless of what the outcome is because a lot of times it's not going to be what you want it to be," she said. "And failure is okay. And getting a no is okay. And that you really have to make sure that you're kind to yourself throughout the process."
As for that Gold’s Gym where she used to work, now a billboard stands above it, featuring her on an ad for the new show. It's a full circle moment—or one that proves that Gibbs’ moment in the sun has just begun.