Johnny Taylor: No Rules

September 25, 2018

Interview by

Lara Smith

Article by

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