Johnny Taylor: No Rules

September 25, 2018


Lara Smith


Lara Smith


For all the grief it’s giv­en, some of the best com­e­dy friend­ships are forged in the time­lines of Twit­ter. Three years ago, upon the rec­om­men­da­tion of my friend Sum­mer, I reviewed a Sacra­men­to-based pod­cast called It’s Fun­ny Because. The hosts were John­ny Tay­lor and Kei­th Low­ell Jensen, and much to my delight, one of their episodes had guest Mike E. Win­field. I fol­lowed them on Twit­ter imme­di­ate­ly and began to watch and lis­ten to their com­e­dy wher­ev­er I could. 

A cou­ple of years ago I was final­ly able to meet John­ny Tay­lor, when he head­lined The Velv. Hav­ing already lis­tened to his debut, Tan­gled Up in Plaid, I knew what I was in for, but like any good fan, you have to see them live and he absolute­ly crushed the room. His slow delib­er­ate pac­ing is right up my alley. See­ing him again last year at Alter­ca­tion Com­e­dy Fes­ti­val, I knew I had to get him in for an inter­view. Back at The Velv this week is where I final­ly got my chance.

Born in River­side, Cal­i­for­nia, Tay­lor moved around for the bet­ter part of the first ten years of his life. Attribut­ing it to his mother’s pro­found men­tal ill­ness, each time there was dif­fi­cul­ty in a new town, they would move. Final­ly set­tling into Sacra­men­to around the age of fif­teen, it became the city Tay­lor con­sid­ers home.

Per­form­ing in the­ater and dance in school from a very ear­ly age, Tay­lor recalls the thrill of enter­tain­ing any chance he could, from the din­ner table to the stage. He still finds hold­ing court with friends on road trips or out to be his favorite means or per­for­mance. His first mem­o­ry of com­e­dy was very vivid: Robin Williams Live at The Met. He remem­bers think­ing that was what he want­ed to do some­day. Lit­tle did he know he would one day share the stage with the man who inspired it all.

You should quit now. If you think it’s hard your first year and you’re just not hav­ing any fun, this isn’t for you.” John­ny Taylor

But despite the per­for­mance, a self-iden­ti­fied series of excus­es pre­vent­ed John­ny Tay­lor from start­ing stand up until he was in his ear­ly thir­ties. Tay­lor recalls his first open mic set going so well that it gave him the false con­fi­dence to fall right back down to earth on his sec­ond try, almost quit­ting entire­ly. It was encour­age­ment from Jason Resler and Kei­th Low­ell Jensen soon after that night that pre­vent­ed Tay­lor from giv­ing up. Jensen took a chance on him, offer­ing him a set the fol­low­ing week, and a great friend­ship and career were born.

Six years into that career, with an album and a deal with Standup! Records under his belt, Tay­lor took the great leap of faith, quit the day job, and moved to Los Ange­les. After two years there, with man­age­ment, Tay­lor is audi­tion­ing, writ­ing pilots, and doing stand up full time. He works his butt off, but enjoys it immense­ly. Taylor’s advice to comics start­ing out that com­plain that it’s hard, You should quit now. If you think it’s hard your first year and you’re just not hav­ing any fun, this isn’t for you.” 

One thing that fas­ci­nat­ed me about Tay­lor is that he nei­ther writes out his jokes in a trusty note­book, nor records his sets, oth­er than for sub­mis­sions. He works it out in his mind and on the stage. Tay­lor says, Peo­ple will tell you, there’s a bunch of rules. But the fact is, there isn’t…” He tells new comics, What­ev­er works for you, works for you. Find your process and stick to it.” 

Peo­ple will tell you, there’s a bunch of rules. But the fact is, there isn’t… John­ny Taylor

To see how Taylor’s process works for him, check out his album Tan­gled Up in Plaid on Standup! Records and check him out this week­end where you’ll have two chances to see him Sat­ur­day at Alter­ca­tion Com­e­dy Fes­ti­val.

Johnny Taylor