Josh Johnson Mixes It Up

June 5, 2021

Photo Credit

Mindy Tucker

Interview by

Valerie Lopez

Article by

Richard Goodwin

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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 moved…it 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 in…it 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 in...it 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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