Holly Johnston Heeds the Call

March 5, 2023

Photo Credit

Ashley Homestead Photography


Valerie Lopez


Valerie Lopez


Hol­ly John­ston grew up in the sur­round­ing sub­urbs of Boston, Mass­a­chu­setts (near Fram­ing­ham and Worces­ter) and lived life blend­ing in with var­i­ous crowds in school. One ele­ment that made her unique is hav­ing a dad who had spent time as a stand-up come­di­an who encour­aged cre­ativ­i­ty and silli­ness in the fam­i­ly. Mean­while, her mom’s sense of humor was more blunt and hon­est (store this in your mem­o­ry bank, dear read­er, it’s an impor­tant char­ac­ter trait). 

John­ston regales us with sto­ries about road trips spent play­ing improv games (though she did­n’t did­n’t know at the time that these were essen­tial­ly improv games) and of earn­ing a stand­ing ova­tion at her Senior Tal­ent Show in high school… for what she lat­er real­ized was her debut standup set. Her father even played an impor­tant role, get­ting her Judy Carter’s The Com­e­dy Bible (a book well-known among comics) to help her pre­pare for writ­ing jokes. John­ston admits, it was prob­a­bly the most impor­tant and only mem­o­ry I have of high school.” We should all be so lucky.

Despite the unheard of stand­ing ova­tion after your first com­e­dy set” mile­stone, she did­n’t keep at per­form­ing after grad­u­at­ing high school head­ing off to col­lege, despite being only 25 min­utes away from com­e­dy mec­ca New York City. Instead, she focused on the tra­di­tion­al col­lege expe­ri­ence at Hof­s­tra Uni­ver­si­ty: study­ing psy­chol­o­gy, join­ing a soror­i­ty, and tak­ing TV writ­ing and screen­writ­ing class­es. Con­vinced that she would become a neu­ro­science researcher, the uni­verse seemed to be hint­ing at oth­er plans. She kept her cre­ative mus­cles flexed by writ­ing screen­plays and doing a spec script for Fam­i­ly Guy. Yet her soror­i­ty sis­ters knew she had the fun­ny, and every year she would get the Secret Come­di­an” award.

It [Senior Talent Show] was probably the most important and only memory I have of high school.
Holly Johnston

That comedic nature kept com­ing out in the form of mak­ing friends and class­mates laugh dur­ing stress­ful times in col­lege. One of John­ston’s favorite mem­o­ries involves a very wob­bly chair in study hall. To break the ten­sion among her class­mates, she would make a beat and start ram­bling off every­thing that was stress­ing her out to cre­ate The Chair Song”. John­ston devel­oped a unique per­spec­tive about the col­lege expe­ri­ence — it was­n’t sole­ly about learn­ing a par­tic­u­lar sub­ject mat­ter or accu­mu­lat­ing friends. She knew then that learn­ing to deal with stress was near­ly as impor­tant as learn­ing to get good grades. 

After grad­u­at­ing, she was imme­di­ate­ly forced to prac­tice the how do I deal with stress” les­son after los­ing out on a job in her field in New York and head­ed back home to live with her par­ents. It was then that John­ston final­ly made her way to her first offi­cial open mic in Boston, tak­ing all the steps to be prepped and ready: as a life­long writer (whether it’s per­son­al jour­nal­ing, trav­el jour­nals, or screen­plays, John­ston is an avid writer), she metic­u­lous­ly wrote her first set and rehearsed for weeks by record­ing herself. 

You may be won­der­ing now, with Boston being its own thriv­ing com­e­dy scene, how did John­ston land in Austin? It won’t sur­prise you that it had a lit­tle some­thing to do with the pan­dem­ic. She first heard about Austin in Jan­u­ary 2021 through a friend who had recent­ly moved for com­e­dy. She was intrigued by the allure of per­form­ing four to five times a night in Austin. Her first trip to Austin was planned for Feb­ru­ary of 2021 (any­one else remem­ber that win­try hell­fire?) and it would be April before she could resched­ule her first vis­it to our fair city. Luck­i­ly, the uni­verse had come back with a boom­ing sig­nal that this was her des­tiny. In addi­tion to the plen­ti­ful stage time that she enjoyed, she met Joe Rogan, and fell in love with the city. After acknowl­edg­ing the uni­verse, John­ston real­ized that, if I real­ly want­ed to get seri­ous about com­e­dy this (Austin) seemed like a good place to be”. By June 2021, Austin had gained its newest res­i­dent and John­ston has­n’t looked back since.

If I really wanted to get serious about comedy this (Austin) seemed like a good place to be.
Holly Johnston

With­in two weeks of her move, on the same day that John­ston had been feel­ing con­flict­ed about whether she had made the right choice leav­ing Boston, she land­ed an odds-defy­ing buck­et draw appear­ance on the Kill Tony pod­cast in front of Ron White, Tony Hinch­cliffe, and Bri­an Red­ban. Hand­i­ly earn­ing their prais­es. John­ston even earned the gold­en tick­et of being invit­ed to Red­ban’s Death Squad Secret Show. Any doubts about her move to Austin dis­pelled after that appearance. 

In the time since mak­ing Austin home, John­ston has appeared on shows through­out the city, but fall of 2021 is where she made a name for her­self as Austin’s Roast Bat­tle Cham­pi­on. You would­n’t know it from sit­ting across the table from the demure, polite, thought­ful, John­ston, but this is where mom’s influ­ence comes in, com­bined with dad’s encour­age­ment of being sil­ly. Throw in John­ston’s work eth­ic when it comes to writ­ing, and it real­ly should­n’t come as any sur­prise at all. The only sur­prise is that she ignored the uni­verse’s sig­nals for this long. Luck­i­ly, we’re all so glad that John­ston has heed­ed the call.

Fol­low Holly

Hol­ly can be seen, heard, and read:

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Holly Johnston