When funding and producing your own comedy special, you make your list of dreams and attempt to remain calm. Staying serene doesn’t seem to be an issue ever, at least on the surface, with comedian, musician and “The Daily Show” writer Josh Johnson.
Case in point: When Johnson saw the Bourbon Room in Los Angeles, he knew this was “his” venue. And he didn’t even see it in person. That’s like the equivalent of buying your wedding dress online and finding out it actually fits. .
Sure, deciding where to film his latest special clicked instantly — but he can’t be this chill about everything, right? We talked to Johnson ahead of his taping on May 12 to dig in deeper about how he got to this moment in comedy, how it’s not all rainbows and unicorns, and why therapy is important not just for your mind but for your jokes too.
Congrats on packing the Bourbon Room for your taping. How are you feeling? Excited? Nervous?
Josh Johnson: Things like this usually feel amazing once they’re done. Up until, it feels pretty nerve-racking because you just want to do a good job and make sure the people enjoy the thing that you made. But then also, we added a second show and it’s one of those things, outside of being a mega-superstar, where you put something on sale and there is a surprise and elation when it starts to sell well. It’s a special feeling I am glad to have.
Is it true you fell in love with the Bourbon Room through photos before you stepped in it? How salacious were those photos?
Yes, I just knew it because the Bourbon Room is beautiful. The richness of the setting yields itself to different events, but I think comedy is a good one to have there. When you look at the spacing of the seats, the lighting setup, the staging — all of it just fit so perfectly. It’s one of those places that I think in the future will be a historic comedy spot. It may seem like I am just gushing, because I am, but it just has this legendary feel to me.
I mean, you sold me. I would’ve booked it off of your words. It’s great to see people showing up for comedy. It was kind of touch-and-go there for a minute.
Every show I do I have one or two people, mainly in New York or L.A., that say it’s their first time planning a night out. It means a lot to me. I think there has been a sigh of relief and it’s great to have something to give people that coincides with their willingness and need to go see something. It feels nice. I think this is going to be another “golden age.”
On the topic of golden, you’ve had some golden opportunities with “The Tonight Show” and “The Daily Show.” How smooth was the path from comedy to TV writing?
In a weird way, I was always prepping to be a writer because I would always write things I wouldn’t use onstage. When I moved to New York from Chicago, I submitted stand-up for “The Tonight Show” and the head writer happened to see my tape and liked it, so I was asked to send in a writing packet. I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me that comedy writing interviews are just the same as any job interview. So, I go in and we’re just chatting it up and laughing, having a good time. The next thing I know, I got it. It felt like this kind of weird Cinderella story about going from open mics in Chicago to “The Tonight Show” in New York. After I left [“Tonight”] to tour for a bit, I was encouraged to send in a packet to “The Daily Show.” They called me to meet with Trevor [Noah] and the producers, we had a really great chat, and they hired me. That was 2017, and I’ve been there ever since. I think it’s really improved my writing for stand-up and my overall approach on how I communicate things with people. It’s given me a wider aspect of perspective. I think about way more angles to jokes now than I did before.
Post-pandemic comedy has been a wild ride so far. Do you feel like your approach has changed any over the last few years?
I’ve put in as much effort as possible to be more present. I think after such a long period of time where people have had nothing but prepared content through streaming, they need something that isn’t just “in that moment.” Making something for people who will feel like it’s just for them is something I’ve been working really hard to do.
A lot of people find you relatable because what you’re going though, so are we. What’s your material like for this one?
What I did for this one, which is different than anything I’ve ever done, is I took an hour of a therapy session that I had and tagged it up with jokes. That’s essentially what this special is. All of it was born out of this long therapy session and, over time, turning some of that subject matter into jokes. It’s not just some revelation and I think that’s why some people have a problem with the idea of going to therapy. They think they need to have some sort of end-of-the-movie breakthrough. Therapy is a place to be petty and to air things out, so this special is actually still pretty light in its subject matter, for the most part, but that’s where all of it came from.
Josh Johnson performs May 12 at 10 p.m. (doors 9:15 p.m.) at the Bourbon Room, 6356 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles. Tickets $20-$35 (21+)
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