Josh Johnson Mixes It Up

June 5, 2021

Photo Credit

Mindy Tucker

Interview by

Valerie Lopez

Article by

Richard Goodwin


It’s always interesting to me what type of career milestone or performance credit will perk the ears of a given audience.

To many of our podcast listeners, the appellation “a Just For Laughs: New Faces alumni” will immediately set the stage. For many others, the role of writer for comedian and Daily Show host Trevor Noah will no doubt be what pivots them in their seats.

For Louisiana-born (and now New York-based) comic Josh Johnson, those are just two of a lengthy list of notable achievements. He’s appeared on Conan and Jimmy Fallon, and has an album (I Like You) under his belt, with another on the way, while currently active on the LOUD & CLEAR tour with Noah.

Johnson’s original home town of Alexandria, unsurprisingly, didn’t provide the kind of environment conducive to kicking off a performing career. When he moved to Chicago post-college, he’d performed only a handful (as in, you could count on 5 fingers) of times.

Coming into the ripe comedy scene there with limited prior experience is part of what Johnson credits for being able to handle the hustle of his early days on stage. “I was kind of lucky in that by the time I was so pent up that I didn't really experience any burnout,” he says of having the determination to handle a city that offers as many mic slots in one night as his entire preceding career.

Most people have a hard time having a real conversation, [and instead are] bouncing all of their ideas back onto [the other person].
Josh Johnson

Make no mistake: the funny business is often a grind. Being able to stick to a regimen, from starting out, to finding success, is critically important. Johnson, while trying to avoid being a “bummer”, emphasizes understanding the line between the glitz and the gravitas: “Once you were like, reliably working, all of it feels like working….that’s where it becomes so important to actually love what you're doing.”

For the 3 years he called Chicago home, Johnson was on a journey of discovering his voice. Splitting time between his day job and nightly shows drew into focus that comedy was where he felt most naturally above to converse and convey his thoughts. “Weirdly enough, the times I was doing comedy were the only times I felt like I was being clear enough to be understood,” he says, whereas in his off-stage time he felt he often couldn’t get an idea or opinion across.

When it’s clear that a comedian is truly sharing their “inner mind”, audiences tend to reward them with a larger share of attention. Johnson sees in the evolution of his communication and perspectives the roots of building those prized connections with fans...and employers.

“You have to learn to not just see things the way that you see them,” Johnson says. “Most people have a hard time having a real conversation, [and instead are] bouncing all of their ideas back onto [the other person].” Writing for the broad audience of a late night show, where any material will be edited and molded before being delivered by the host, continually exercises the mental muscles around embracing those alternate perspectives.

When I'm writing for a different person, it helps me do that, because I really have to take myself out of it
Josh Johnson

“When I'm writing for a different person, it helps me do that, because I really have to take myself out of it,” Johnson notes. Conversely, stand-up is his “sacred space”, where the boundaries are broader, and he can manage the lifecycle of a joke’s concept end-to-end. When exploring an idea “that’s a bit of a tightrope,” delivering it himself from the stage grants both the freedom and responsibility of executing its entirety.

With Johnson’s sophomore album, ELUSIVE: A Mixtape (out on music services on June 11th), he brings to the table a bit of a hybrid of ownership and collaboration. Stuck at home, like so many of us have been during the pandemic, he saw a rare opportunity to reach out to other performers in the same situation who might not otherwise be available. “There are people who I've always wanted to work with,” he says, and decided to create ELUSIVE by “[bringing] them in and [creating] this mixtape...built around equal parts comedy and music”.

ELUSIVE isn’t what people will likely think of when blending the two arts. Johnson, who “always wanted to write music, and co-write lyrics” warns against assuming that both halves are intended to be humorous. Each lives on its own merit, with strong stand-up content, and songs that are “not only...sincere, it's being done with--in my opinion--the best artists that are out right now.” The release delivers a broad array of genres, from funk to spirituals to traditional hip-hop.

It’s a departure from the usual comedy album concept, and he contemplates that it may take a couple of additional mixtape releases (which indeed he has planned) for people to grasp the shift in direction. Regardless of any critical acclaim which may come, Johnson is beyond satisfied with what they have created. “It's like this piece of art that I know I had a hand actually exists,” he says of the wonder and gratification he feels, and “I want to share it with as many people as possible.”

It's like this piece of art that I know I had a hand actually exists!
Josh Johnson

As if the album release, writing, and touring aren’t enough, Johnson also has an ongoing podcast with friend and fellow comedian Logan Nielsen. The Josh Johnson Show comes out weekly, and plays directly to his passion of expanding perspectives. “I love talking to Logan,” he says, and the podcast is a place where they can “tell each other stories, both about comedy and about just general life,” in the process continually exposing each other to narratives from a different viewpoint.

With a packed calendar (only growing more so with finishing up ELUSIVE, and, you know, the whole “world is restarting” thing), Johnson has plenty to look forward to in 2021. He hopes to visit the Austin scene, and we’ll definitely be keeping our eyes open for that (and sharing with Comedy Wham fans). He teases that he has more projects “coming out this year”, that he’s “excited to share it when it becomes more concrete.”

As with the upcoming ELUSIVE, there’s no doubt in our minds that they’ll be a unique mix.

Josh Johnson can be seen and heard:

  • Podcast - The Josh Johnson Show with Logan Nielsen
  • Album - I Like You (2017)
  • NEW Album - Elusive: A Mixtape (Available 6/11/2021)

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