In 1987, Lewis was hired as the pre-show announcer on the Star Tours ride at Disneyland. In 1988, Lewis relocated to Los Angeles. In 1992, she was cast as one of the back-up singers to Whoopi Goldberg in Sister Act. Goldberg sponsored several performances of The Diva Is Dismissed as a possible HBO series. In 1992 to 1993, she played Dean Davenport in the sixth and final season of “A Different World.” She also had a recurring role as Will Smith’s Aunt Helen on “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” as well as stints on a few episodes of In Living Color, reprising several of her characters from her nightclub act. Also in 1993, she played the mother of Tupac Shakur’s character in “Poetic Justice.”
In 1993, she played the role of Tina Turner’s mother in the biopic “What’s Love Got to Do With It.” In 1994, she followed with other supporting roles, including Mrs. Coleman the Unemployment Office lady in “Renaissance Man” and as Whoopi Goldberg’s sister in “Corrina, Corrina.” In 1995, she was cast in maternal roles to Kadeem Hardison in “Panther” and to Larenz Tate in “Dead Presidents” before she accepted the role of a lesbian judge on the short-lived CBS series “Courthouse.” Lewis returned to the big screen as Theresa Randle’s telephone sex line boss in Spike Lee’s “Girl 6.” She then played Whitney Houston’s character’s mother in Penny Marshall’s “The Preacher’s Wife.”
In 1999, she starred in the made-for-TV film Jackie’s Back, a mockumentary about the struggling comeback of a diva in turmoil. She recently appeared in The Cookout, Nora’s Hair Salon, Shark Tale and Cars. She was in a few episodes of Friends as Monica Geller’s co-worker. Beginning in 2000, she played Lana Hawkins on the Lifetime television medical drama “Strong Medicine,” until the show ended in February 2006. She also had a recurring role as Veretta Childs (Toni’s mother) in the sitcom “Girlfriends.” In 2006, she had a featured role as the wedding planner in Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Family Reunion, and also appeared in the film Meet the Browns.
In one episode of “That’s So Raven” she played the titular character’s maternal grandmother, who has psychic powers. She recently starred as a judge in “Boston Legal” and appeared in the 2008 film Meet the Browns. On April 22, 2008, Lewis replaced Darlene Love as Motormouth Maybelle in Broadway’s “Hairspray,” a role that was originally written for her.
In June 2010, Lewis’ distinctive voice was in fine form as she told The Jazz Joy and Roy syndicated radio show, “I just did a production of ‘Hello Dolly’ at the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle and it had to be one of the greatest productions that I have ever done, because I got to just do a character, Dolly Levi, and it was just great.”
In 2012 Lewis began working with Shangela on the online reality show parody, “Jenifer Lewis and Shangela,” where she acts as herself alongside Shangela, a “drag queen living in her basement.” She later appeared in Shangela’s music video for “Werqin Girl (Professional). “She is currently starring on ABC’s hit show “Black-ish.”