I Used to Love H.E.R.

Actor-comedian-writer Rell Battle, now starring in Killing It, on his three great loves (and how comedy hated on all of them).

“… So do you ever see yourself moving back to D.C.?”

Little Miss Horoscope was too smart to think I was dumb enough to fall for that. She was giving me an ultimatum. Either her, or my comedy career.

I had been doing stand-up for about six months when my girlfriend of two years, off and on, visited my three-bedroom apartment in Glendale. She hated the fact that she had to share a bathroom with my roommate, who took two-hour bubble baths, like he didn’t have anywhere else to be. She really hated the fact that she was visiting me in Los Angeles again, after we already had the break-up talk when I left, and here she was once more, back in line on this emotional rollercoaster.

Rell Battle on stage, in his element.

Back to her question. I decided to be completely honest, which, to be frank, was foreign to me. I told her, “Nah, I gotta try this comedy thing out.”

It was like I just gave the wrong answer to win a million-dollar prize. I had just chosen “my hobby” over the love of my life. We were cordial for the rest of the weekend, we laughed, we joked and did the ol’ moan and groan, pretending like we both didn’t know it was over.

I mean, this was her fault. She was the one who first told me I was funny, the one who would buy me old Def Jam DVDs and the only one who knew of the theater classes I was secretly taking on campus. What did she expect me to do? She had dumped me a few years earlier and the entertainment bug had replaced the feelings I had for her.

I was now an L.A. comedian/actor/barista/telemarketer/rent-a-car shuttle driver, and I wasn’t turning back.

Rell Battle with Anthony Mackie on the set of the 2007 film Ascension Day.

In the time after our breakup, I guess she kept herself busy as well. Facebook’s evil isn’t the misinformation, it’s how often it likes to remind you that your ex has moved on.

Horoscope boo went back to the man she dated during our two-year hiatus. She now has two beautiful babies and seems happy. He must’ve gotten the answer right and won that million-dollar prize.

Bet! It was time to focus on these jokes and honing my skills in front of drunk audiences and judgmental comics. I had made enough money winning comedy contests and writing jokes for bigger stand-ups that I was able to move into a nicer Hollywood apartment around 2010, and it was about that time I fell in love with Ella Sings. She might’ve been the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen up close (and I met Beyoncé in an elevator once). Comedy had never really helped me with women before, or maybe I just wasn’t funny at the time. I was too busy being enamored with her to care. All I knew was this goddess was responding to my DMs.

Jermaine Fowler and Rell Battle in Superior Donuts.

Funny enough, she might’ve been broker than I was. She was an inspiring musician who lugged her Casio keyboard across town on the bus.

We’d meet up and I’d make her overcooked chicken and rice, because making a bad meal was better than taking her out to one I couldn’t afford. She’d smile and pretend like it was edible, because she liked me. That’s all I needed. Her baby’s dad wasn’t around, so the pressure on her to provide for her son weighed heavy on her. Maybe that motivated Ella to come to her senses, like, “What is my broke ass doing dating his broke ass?” That’s not how she delivered it via the break-up call, but that’s the message I received. I had fallen in love again. Maybe I was in love with her artistry, because her passion for her music was just as strong as mine for my jokes. The little time we had together was spent with me in the back of the room at her church gig, or her watching me bomb in some comic-bookstore. Eventually she must’ve come to the conclusion that’s not a fire-ass way to spend a Saturday, so she chose the easier life and left L.A. She moved back home to raise her son and got married. Yeah, Facebook was kind enough to inform me of that also.

Flash forward to 2017, I’m on now. [Drake voice]: “Started from the bottom, now we here!” I’m a cast member on a TV show, I have a good agent, I can pretty much get up in any comedy club in the country.

Rell Battle with Conan O’Brien in 2018.

One day, my little sis hits me to ask if I can get her and her homegirls on the list for my Laugh Factory show. Say less. In comes my little sis and her girl, who I’d never met before: Rose Out of Baltimore. Fuuuuckkkkk, look at this baddie. Her pixie cut, her outfit, her walk. I might’ve got caught creepily staring at her too long. I make no apologies. I do the show and afterwards I take the girls to a late dinner. It’s as if my little sis doesn’t exist. I’m fully engaged with Rose. I almost forget how beautiful she is, she is just super cool, with amazing energy and the smartest person in the room. When I get home, I text my sis like, “I’m really feeling your girl.” Seconds later, my sis texts back with Rose’s number and the biggest smile comes over my face. I remember thinking, “Shit, I should teach a class.”

I don’t know if I believe in love at first sight, but it was definitely love at first FaceTime. She lived in Maryland, so we had to become long-distance lovers. I remember telling my brother, “I’m done, bro, she’s it.” I was already booking her on the “meet the family tour.” In hindsight, that might’ve been overwhelming, but at the time I was head-over-heels and in Kanye West’s voice, “You couldn’t tell me nothing!”

Rell Battle and “Rose Out of Baltimore.”

We attempted to make it work, organizing our schedules around the time difference. She would call me, sad that I wasn’t there, and we’d plan our next trip. I just didn’t have the time to see her. TV schedules dictate your life schedule; that’s just the nature of the business. I tried to spoil her when our schedules did align. When she flew out, I’d tell her to leave her purse in the room: “Everything’s on me.” From not being able to buy a girl a meal, to making sure my lady had the freshest charcuterie boards available – that was a win. But once-a-month fantasy weekends don’t make up for the little things. Helping her put on that necklace, debating what to watch on Netflix on movie night, going to her nephew’s karate competition – all that stuff really matters. Rose had her own money and her own situation. I was performing in Miami, London, filming in L.A., but what she wanted was stability. She wanted a husband she could see every night. She deserved that. But I just got on; all those years of struggle led to where I was now. I couldn’t slow down. I had to go get it.

In that moment, I knew I couldn’t dedicate my life to something more than me. I needed the right to put myself first. Dreams can’t be fulfilled without a little selfishness.

Rell Battle with Jerry Seinfeld (left) and Will Smith (right).

They say you only get three true loves in your lifetime. Comedy hated on all of them.

I chose jokes over my first love, I couldn’t afford to keep my second one, and when I finally could afford it, I didn’t have the time for my third.

I realize now that I’m stuck in a toxic relationship with comedy and man, is she jealous!

Sometimes I question, “If I could go back, would I make the same decisions?” Who knows. I always assume the grass is greener. I could be married with kids who have no athletic ability that I have to root for at little league games, even though inside I am quietly disappointed by them. Or I could be overjoyed as I shoot a video of my baby girl’s first day of school on my iPhone. Whatever else might have happened, though, this is the path I chose. It’s hard not to look back, even though wise men tell you not to. How can you not? How else do you learn from mistakes?

Rell Battle with Craig Robinson and Claudia O’Doherty in Killing It.

Ultimately, I’m happy with how things turned out and I am appreciative for the things I have, not the things I don’t. Not least because I’m currently watching this Johnny Depp-Amber Heard trial and thinking about how I could’ve ended up having that … I’ll take my chances with the drunk audiences and judgmental comics at the Laugh Factory.

All images courtesy Rell Battle.

Actor, writer and comedian Rell Battle stars opposite Craig Robinson in the new comedy series Killing It, now streaming on Peacock. He also recently appeared Will Smith’s comedy stand-up series, This Joka, where a diverse group of comedians come together in Vegas to showcase their material and explore the nature of comedy and its unique ability to unite people. Battle is maybe best known for his two seasons on CBS’ Superior Donuts, playing Franco’s best friend and fan favorite, Sweatpants, as well as appearances on ABC’s The Good Doctor and Black-ish. In addition to his acting resume, Rell is behind multiple projects in the works including Peacock and LOL’s So Dumb, It’s Criminal with Snoop Dog and NBC’s Uncivil Law, which he is co-writing alongside Pardis Parker for Hazy Mills. Rell also created and executive produced Comedy Central’s Jeff Ross Presents Roast Battle.