The romantic idea of sustaining a life on standup alone is antiquated. That doesn’t stop Josh Johnson who aims to use the comedy format as his main means of making crowds double over. Johnson is having a banner year having appeared on The Tonight Show, getting invited to sit with Jimmy Fallon, releasing a special with Comedy Central followed by a full hour. He can work. Johnson’s new album, I Like You, recently came out. I had a chance to sit down with him to talk the comedy shop.
I just watched you do standup on the Tonight Show and I have to say – for someone’s who’s so young – that’s a big accomplishment. What was it like?
Thank you! It was great. I wrote there last year. It was like home. It was a bit easier to get adjusted even though it was my first time performing there.
At the end, you were invited over to the couch. It kind of felt like what [Johnny] Carson did when he was hosting. Not many people are invited over to the couch these days.
Yeah, sure. Absolutely.
You invited your teacher there. How did he inspire you?
It was my first ever talent show at the high school. I didn’t bomb but I was not great. You know what I mean? He was visually supportive. He contacted me on Facebook after I graduated. He said “I’ll see you on the Tonight Show. At the time, it felt like a kind joke. But, especially when I started writing there, it felt like something that could happen. I had to bring him out to see it.
How long were you in New York until you started working at the show as a writer?
I guess about 6 months. I moved to New York in October 2015 and then started writing on the show in the earlier part of 2016.
I guess the move from Chicago to New York proved a lot more lucrative than it does for other people.
Yeah if you told me that [would have happened to me], I would not believe it.
Now you’re being noticed by Comedy Central and Just For Laughs. What’s this new notoriety in the comedy world feel like?
I don’t know if it’s apparent for me as it is other people. Not much about my life has changed. [laughs] It’s nice to go places and maybe somebody’s seen the clip and makes a talking point off of that. Otherwise, I’m enjoying getting to know New York more. It’s not a major factor for me just yet. Like how many people have seen the [clip] or not.
You have to start wearing a badge that says “I’m Josh Johnson and I’m one of the next few leaders in comedy!”
Right?! [laughs] If you come off like you’re one of the leaders in comedy, everybody thinks you’re up there. Sex and comedy are the only two things you can be good at.
How long did it take you to write the material for I Like You?
Some of that is all the way from when I started doing comedy in Chicago. All in all, if I’m being completely inclusive with everything that went into the album but didn’t make the edit, I’d say as long as I’ve been doing comedy. 4 ½ years?
Wow. So this is the biggest project you’ve worked on so far?
This and the half hour are the biggest that I’ve done. If you include Fallon in that, it’s the biggest year I’ve had so far.
Speaking of the half hour, what is it like to do this following the 22 minutes you did for Comedy Central?
I actually had the [plan] to do the album if I got the half hour or not. I’d work on new stuff. I just wouldn’t do that material anymore. Whenever it comes to doing the hour versus the half hour, I did have the situation I was overly prepared for the album. The first half hour, I believe (or maybe it’s spread throughout, is my Comedy Central special. I ended up just adding onto the half hour special.
Do you know what direction do you want to go in career wise? Are you going to aim for television, movies, both; webseries; or stick with standup?
Definitely tour as much as possible. I work a lot with my writing partner. A little bit of acting here and there. I don’t know if I’m trying to ditch standup to act. To me, I like standup too much and want to keep doing it too much to want to completely fall off. Some people [have that] trajectory. Standup is their foot in the door and then they pretty much abandon it to do whatever else. It’s definitely a big part of everything I want to do. I want to keep coming out with albums, keep coming out with specials and keep having them be of a quality that people enjoy. That’s the goal.
How often are you writing?
I write every day. I get something written every day whether it’s standup or part of a pilot. I write standup pretty much every day. That being said, I’m not sure how much of it is great every day.