Despite being relatively new to the field, Johnny Taylor has already put some impressive notches in his comedy belt. He’s opened for comedy legends like Robin Williams and Bobcat Goldthwait, performed at pretty much every major comedy club in Northern California, and recently recorded his debut album, Tangled Up in Plaid. He took a little time from his busy schedule for an in-depth chat with Savage Henry on comedy, music, movies, and drinks.
Isaac Kozell: Hey, Johnny. I’m looking at your schedule and I see that you’re smack dab in the middle of two nights opening for Dave Attell. How’s that going so far?
Johnny Taylor: It’s been great. Dave is a really nice guy and is super supportive of his opening acts. His crowd has been really receptive to my act and doesn’t mind if you go into darker areas, which is really my sweet spot. The first show my ex-wife attended and Dave called me up on stage and asked me to point her out. He was like, “Oh, she’s hot.” It was awkward, surreal, and totally hilarious.
IK: Do you do much crowd work in your act?
JT: I love interacting with the crowd but I go into every set with a “material first” mindset. That said, I always leave myself open to the possibility of some riffing and crowd work. Sometimes you can get little nuggets out of those interactions that become great bits.
IK: Can you give me an example of a bit that evolved in a positive direction due to something spontaneous that occurred during a set?
JT: It happens all the time. I have a bit where I say, “I’d only fuck a guy for two reasons,” and a guy in the crowd yells out, “Money!” to which I respond, “No. But now we know what it takes for you to fuck a guy.” Huge laughs. If funny happens in the moment, it’ll almost always get a response that’s similar to – or better than – your best material.
IK: What is your best material? What subject or theme do you feel the most adept at discussing?
JT: It’s pretty subjective. What I think is my best material might not be what does the best night to night. I think my best stuff is when I’m being the most honest and vulnerable. That stuff tends to be kinda dark. Dark doesn’t work in every room. My silly stuff works just about everywhere but at the end of the day, those jokes are easier jokes. I guess what I’m trying to say is, I love all my bits for different reasons. It’s up to the individuals laughing – or not – to decide what’s best.
IK: When you opt for lighter material in order to play to a room that isn’t into the darker stuff, do you feel like you’re compromising your integrity, or being less honest with the audience?
JT: I really don’t. It’s material I wrote. Just because it isn’t as personal to me doesn’t mean I don’t like it. I’ve had jokes that did well that I didn’t like. When that happens, I stop doing them. Or, I’ll take something that I like in the bit, like a tag or phrase or something, and add it to an existing bit if it’s congruent. It’s a puzzle, ya know?
IK: Absolutely. I had a bit that I could have sworn was complete in every way possible. Then, one night, something happened in the crowd that caused me to ad lib a line. That line killed and became a permanent part of the bit.
What is your pre-show ritual?
JT: Heroin. Loads of it. (Laughs.) In all honesty, very few things are a constant. I might have a Coors Light or two. I’ll walk around the venue a little, check out the crowd. Try to get a feel of the mood of the room. One thing I do every single time without fail is, in the moments just before I’m announced, I’ll repeat the word “Yes” to myself. Positive affirmations are important to me.
IK: I love that. Good tip. You’re pretty new to comedy, right?
JT: I’m in year 3. I’m a toddler.
IK: What has been the high point of your comedy career so far?
JT: There have been so many! Just in the last year I’ve opened for so many heroes of mine, from Robin Williams to Dana Carvey to Brian Posehn to Doug Stanhope to this most recent weekend with Dave Attell. But the highlight was recording my first comedy album (Tangled Up in Plaid, available December 2013/January 2014) in September. It was really the culmination of my comedy career to date and I ended up making something I’m really proud of. Either that, or when Robin Williams dropped by the Throckmorton Theater in Mill Valley to wish me a happy birthday.
IK: Not to minimize the Robin Williams drop-in, because that’s fucking awesome but let’s talk about Tangled Up in Plaid. You got help financing that through Indiegogo. What made you decide to crowdfund the project?
JT: Well I had talked to a bunch of comedian friends that had done the DIY route in regards to making their records. Some of them were as simple as using an MP3 player or their phone to record themselves and then editing it down and mixing it from there. Others had hired a professional sound person to record, mix, and edit. The difference in quality was amazing. The problem was, professional sound people are expensive. But you definitely get what you pay for. I decided to use Indiegogo to help me fund it. People really came through for me and I was fully funded 17 days before my deadline. I ended up hiring Matthew Bouler who recorded Keith Lowell Jensen’s first two records and more recently, Kelly Pryce’s CD. I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out.
IK: As they say in the biz, when does it “drop?”
JT: That’s a good question. I was planning on self-releasing it with a date of November or December of this year but there has been some label interest in it, so I’m going to let the people that make those kinds of decisions have a listen to it and go from there. It’ll push things back but I think it would be worth it to have a wider distribution. So the short answer is: Who fucking knows?
IK: Let’s shift gears a bit and talk about what makes you tick, starting with music. Go!
JT: I’m kind of a sad bastard so I love listening to stuff like Elliott Smith and Bright Eyes. But I’m also a huge fan of old school gangsta rap like The Geto Boys and Too Short. The Geto Boys self-titled record is one of the funniest albums ever recorded. It’s just so unapologetically dirty. Listen to the song “Gangster of Love” and tell me it’s not a comedic masterpiece. If I’m feeling nostalgic I’ll throw on some Ratt or Slaughter. I love butt rock.
IK: How have I never heard the term “Butt Rock?”
How about movies? What’s your favorite comedy film?
JT: Man, there are so many I like for different reasons. I love The Blues Brothers and Animal House for pure Belushi factor. The Judd Apatow movies are great. I loved Knocked Up and Superbad. Comedies are great but I’m a huge horror film fan.
IK: Me too! I won’t ask for your favorite horror film because it’s probably too hard to pin down just one. But what is a scary movie that you think people are sleeping on?
JT: Well, the remake of Fright Night that came out a few years back was fantastic. I also think people don’t give Cabin in the Woods enough credit for being entertaining while being completely innovative. Everybody has seen it already but The Conjuring was terrifying.
IK: So, the theme of this issue is “Cocktails.” You mentioned Coors Light earlier, which, for some might be considered a cocktail. But do you have a unique mixed drink recipe or fancy libation of choice that you would be willing to share with our readers?
JT: My drink is pretty simple. Jameson, Ginger Ale, and a packet of sugar. Perfect.
IK: That drink suits you, friend. Before we go, do you have anything that you would like to plug?
JT: I’m gonna be back in Humboldt on December 1 headlining a show at the Arcata Theater Lounge. If people want to get in touch with me via social media they can add me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/johnnymothereffingtaylor or follow me on Twitter or Instagram @hipsterocracy. My website is www.johnnyisntfunny.com and I blog at www.hipsterocracy.com. I also write sports satire for Sam Tripoli, Ari Shaffir, and Jayson Thiebeault’s website www.punchdrunksports.net. Is that enough plugs? Jesus, I’m a whore.
IK: This is the first interview we’ve done that has closed with a Mary Magdalene quote. Congrats!