What do they say about New York City: There are eight million stories, and sometimes it seems as though eight million of the people telling them think they’re comedians? No, that’s not it. It is a fact, though, that America’s biggest city is also its biggest comedy mecca. Hollywood may be Hollywood, but New York City is where comedians are born funny, become funny or arrive to thrust their funny upon us. I think we should meet some of these people. This is a recurring feature, a mini-profile of newcomers, up-and-comers and overcomers of New York’s vibrant comedy scene. It’s called Meet Me In New York.
Josh Johnson‘s first comedy album came out at the end of July, almost one year to the day of when he emerged as a New Face at Montreal’s Just For Laughs.
As he told me in Bryant Park recently, reflecting on the past year:
“I feel good. There’s nothing you can do about where you are except change what you’re doing. So I don’t have any ill feelings toward where I am right now. Even if there’s some scenario where if I had done this, I would be further along, I didn’t do that. My life is pretty well the way it is now. I’m blessed that everything’s happening as it’s supposed to. I don’t have any reservations about decisions or anything like that. Anything I don’t have going on for me now is just something I aspire to have. Honestly, if you get everything too fast, not only does nobody like you, but you don’t like yourself, probably. If I gave you all the money you’d need until you died, and you just never had to work again, you might enjoy it for a few years and vacation, but if you don’t have anything to work towards, you kind of lose your mind. That’s why I feel like the richest of people are the pettiest. There’s just no more struggle.”
The Real Josh Johnson started comedy in Chicago, and since moving to NYC, he has performed on Comedy Central’s Comics to Watch, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, on season one of Kevin Hart Presents: Hart of the City and has appeared on @midnight with Chris Hardwick. Johnson also has hit the festival circuit, from Just For Laughs, Moontower, SF Sketchfest, Bridgetown, RIOT LA and the New York Comedy Festival. He currently lives in Brooklyn with his roommate’s dog. In addition to his new album, Josh Johnson: I Like You, he’ll also have a Comedy Central Half Hour out this fall.
Name: Josh Johnson
Arrival Date: October 2015 (“So I technically don’t exist yet. In New York time, I’m not even a baby yet. So I take it all in stride. I know how to get to places on the train, which is all I can ask for so far.”)
Arrived From: Chicago
When and where did you start performing comedy?
“It was the next day after I flew in, I believe. I had come to Chicago from Louisiana, and so it had to have been Sept. 5, 2012.” “Yeah, because I remember, I’d always since I was little wanted to go up multiple times in a night. I had this idea of comedy but I didn’t fully understand it. And then I got to Chicago and I just did three mics in one night, and like, wasn’t killer at any of them. But still, aw man, maybe the next one will go better. It was really a blind naivete and optimism that kept me going, because I was not great. Just out here. Bombing. It was concepts that were over my head to talk about before I learned how to talk to people. You could have a really thoughtful idea, but if you don’t know how to control the room, then your idea’s just going into the TV screen that they’re looking at at this bar, because they’ve all turned around now.”
What was your best credit when you moved here?
“I had won Devil Cup in New York (an offshoot of the Laughing Devil Festival contest) and a bunch of comedy contests. But even Comics to Watch (for Comedy Central) didn’t happen until November of 2015.” “Just whatever they thought of me. I didn’t have too many credits to speak of. I was writing for The Whiskey Journal at the time, which is an online-Onion type publication. It was definitely a big deal in Chicago, because that’s where it is. But then I moved here and I was, oh yeah, I don’t know if everyone will know.”
Why did you pick NYC instead of Los Angeles or anywhere else?
“I wanted to get better at stand-up first before I moved to LA, and so Chicago has an unfortunate ceiling in opportunity but not in talent. There are people from Chicago who should seriously be just tops. So people do just get better and better and better. That’s just by nature of the game. The more you do something, the better you get at it. Then, in order to be put in an uncomfortable position, you do have to move away because the best comics are in New York and LA, at least by way of influence and skill level, too. But I think I moved here to get better at stand-up first, and LA can wait until I really want to pursue something else along with stand-up. New York is more about what you’re doing, and LA seems to be about what you’ve done. So in New York, people at least get the chance. I could get up with no credits here. I just don’t know if that would happen in LA like that. LA seems to be a lot of referrals, and I didn’t know enough people.”
How is this scene better/worse/different from the scene you moved from?
“You know, I think that Chicago – you can get so good there because the stakes are very medium level. You could take a bunch of risks in Chicago and bomb, and no one will really remember that. But here, someone could be here that’s like watching people, and you just did something that stank in front of a potential agent. You just don’t have those same worries in Chicago. So I think it compares on a level of creativity that Chicago’s just more free. No one is in New York by accident. So that’s what makes the difference. You either move to New York for a specific purpose, or you’re tough enough to stay and were born here. In Chicago, people can fall into comedy. Of course, people can fall into comedy in New York, but it’s just so different when you talk about the pressures you put on yourself, or the pressures you feel are put on you by other people. There’s no pressure on you in Chicago. I’m free there. So are the other performers, which is why you go visit Chicago and it’s top-notch comedy, because they’ve been allowed to get good over however many years without this fear of, ‘No, I’ve got to get an agent. I don’t have a manager right now.’ You’re also better than some of the people who have those things.”
How long did it take you to get your first paid gig in New York after moving here?
“Maybe a month or two, because I did get to perform at The Stand fairly early into me moving here. Then I did a showcase for ABC, and from that, it helped me with Stand-Up NY. I go there a lot more now.”
Can you describe an “only in New York” experience from living here? How do your describe this city to outsiders?
“You know when you were little and you had a friend that you really loved but you knew their whole family was trash? That’s what New York is…You can love New York and admit that it’s like one of the dirtiest cities, and one of the hardest to live in for no reason. Like sometimes I’ll be like, ‘Wow, this is really hard.’ But we could all just be like, ‘No I will not pay $1,000 for this closet.’ Like, if enough people did that, they’d go, ‘I guess this closet is $500 now.’ I mean, I like it. But I also can admit that it’s too much.”
What tip would you give any comedian who moves here?
“Feeling like you need to be in an uncomfortable position again. I wouldn’t tell anyone to move anywhere until they feel like they’ve learned everything they can where they are right now. Because I think if I had moved to New York a year before, I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in. But because I moved for what felt for me right on time, it’s worked out very well for me.” “I just think creatively I had hit this place where I need to be in awe of more people more of the time. As you rise in a secondary market, the people to look up to just become your peers, so you have to find a different room. A different place to go, ‘Oh, I’m not as good as that guy.’ And that leads you to become a monster. I think Tony Robbins says you are the five people you spend the most time with. And yeah, that kind of works the same in comedy. If you’re just hanging out at an open mic in Detroit for six years, you will probably become the best at that open mic, but ugh. Know what I mean? Whereas if you’re passed at the Cellar and hanging at the Cellar, around all those people…you rise to that level. You also have to hold yourself to that standard.”
Where do you see yourself five years from now?
“I plan on releasing my hour special with a companion album to it, and having a couple of shows on TV. Some I may be in, some I may not. I really like writing for TV, and I’ve got a couple of projects that I’m really excited about that are in the beta stage right now. I plan to really push out in the next couple of years. Hopefully next year. Without having a specific date. I’ve been working on a book for a while. Trying to collaborate with people as much as possible. You’ll see me slip in. You’ll see me permeate. You’ll see me edge my way in. It’s hopefully going to come with open arms.”
“I want to get to a point in my career — that’s what the next five-year goal is — to get to a point in my career that people love me as much as they love Chipotle. Because Chipotle is steadily poisoning people, and people are still going to Chipotle like, ‘Not my Chipotle!’ I just want to get to the point where even if I do tell some horrible joke that a blogger hates me for, my fans will go, ‘Not my Josh Johnson! My Josh Johnson would never poison me!'”
He’ll perform in Denver in August at the High Plains Comedy Festival, and his Comedy Central half-hour debuts this fall. You can buy his new album now.
Which NYC comedian would you like to see me style and profile next for Meet Me In New York? Send your nominations to: thecomicscomic AT gmail DOT com