Hey gang, meet Joshua Barnes, one of the newest comics on the Humboldt scene. Not just a newbie to Northern California, he’s also a new comic, having clocked in just over a year of stand-up. But don’t let his short time doing comedy fool you. The kid has it. I talked to Barnes about his journey to Humboldt, his time spent as a rapper and his main comedy influence.
Isaac Kozell: You’ve got a wife of five years and a three-year-old child. Does life with them make it into your comedy material?
Joshua Barnes: A lot of my stuff comes from my life in general. Plenty of jokes about my kid and a lot of stuff I’ve seen because of him. I’ve watched more kids’ shows and seen more Disney movies than I would have liked to. I now pick up on different things from movies and things that I probably wouldn’t have seen before.
IK: Where are you from originally?
JB: I came here (Humboldt) from Riverside, like about an hour and half outside of L.A. I’m originally from Washington, D.C. I lived in Charlotte for a little bit too, about six years.
IK: How did you end up in California?
JB: The military got me out here. I lived in D.C. My mom and dad didn’t really like what was going on up there at the time, a lot of drugs, stuff like that in the ‘80s and ‘90s. They decided we were going to move to Charlotte, which wasn’t that much better. I joined the military from Charlotte and ended up in California about six years later.
IK: You started comedy shortly before you moved to Humboldt, right?
JB: Yeah. In L.A.
IK: That’s a hard market to get a start in. How was it for you starting out?
JB: I actually signed up for a class. There is a thing in Orange County called The Orange County Crazies. I guess they used to be some big group back in the day. I wanted to do stand-up because all of my friends had been trying to talk me into doing it. Before stand-up I rapped a lot. I enjoyed that, but what I was looking for was actually inside of comedy. I thought that if I wanted to do something I should have an idea of what I’m doing, not just try to jump out there and try to do it. So I signed up for this stand-up class in Orange County and that’s what actually got me my first show. The shows I got after that were because of it too.
IK: So you got booked early, but did you also get out to the mics and meet other comics? What was your strategy?
JB: The weird thing is I didn’t know the process of how it was done. I had never done an open mic until I moved up here. It was a bit overwhelming at first. I didn’t know what to expect. When I took the class they said, “When you go to these open mics this is what it’s going to be like.” But I wasn’t really expecting what I saw at the open mics, which was a lot of polished comedians killing it. Of course you have a couple that suck. But most of the comedians who were there you could tell that they took their craft very seriously. I did well. I was surprised I did well. It took me a while to get over the nervousness.
IK: When you were rapping were you performing in public or just making music at home?
JB: I did a ton of shows. Granted, I obviously wasn’t famous or anything. But I was out there performing, trying to get exposure and stuff. But I definitely like comedy more.
IK: Why is that?
JB: As much as I enjoy making music, being an East Coast type rapper, you want to say something cool with a punchline or something to get a response. Throughout time, more and more people started getting obsessed with “How does this beat make me feel?” as opposed to the words. I could say a cool punchline and it wouldn’t matter. For instance, one of my favorite punchlines from around when I first started was kind of based around the Biggie premise of talking to girls. I said, “I’m the new age Juicy/Xbox, PS2, bitches try and seduce me/All type of girls want in on the action/Black, Puerto Rican, Asian all want me to smash ’em.” Then the punchline would come in and I wouldn’t get the response I wanted. “Even white girls trying to get me to smash ’em/To get black up in their system like affirmative action.” People would just be like, “Uh…” And I would be like, “Did you just miss the fuck I just said?” A lot of my songs had a lot of punchlines that I wanted people to catch on to, but nobody cared. But if you go do a comedy show people are there to actually listen to what you have to say, as opposed to trying to dance. I didn’t realize that was what I actually wanted until I started doing comedy.
IK: I’ve done shows in Humboldt and have at times felt that – due to the amount of psychedelics that people are doing – sometimes I have to switch up the pace of my delivery to adjust to the crowd. As someone who knew their punchlines were being missed in rap, have you had to adjust your stand-up style to connect to a more chill, laid back crowd?
JB: No, I actually haven’t. That’s the weird thing. I think it gives me a different feel from everybody else. There are a lot of drug references and I don’t really have a ton of that material because I haven’t really done any drugs in the past 15 years because of the military. But it gives me an edge in the sense of like, a lot of people don’t talk about the day to day rigamarole shit. My stuff is more openly relatable. I mean, when I talk about being in an interracial relationship, that’s not something everybody can relate to. But at the same time, I don’t change it because I’m just trying to tell what I do.
IK: I think one edge you have is that if you’re not totally immersed in the culture, you can present an outside perspective and say, “This is how the rest of the world works,” and make it funny.
JB: I enjoy that. Another thing I talk about is how difficult it is feeling like you’re one of only eight black people up here. Like, “You don’t know how difficult that is. Every time I go to the gym I get picked first. People expect me to be LeBron James. I have to ball.” I would tell a joke like that, but I wouldn’t tell a joke about how I’ve literally been called “nigger” four times since I’ve been up here.
IK: A lot of comics in their first year are heavily influenced by their favorite comics. Is there anyone who helped shaped your style? Is there anyone that you aspire to be?
JB: I always loved and admired Dave Chapelle. Hands down my favorite comedian. I watch a lot of comedy and Dave Chapelle is the only one that I will watch repeatedly. I would say he has a heavy influence because of the cleverness behind his jokes. There’s a guy coming up now who I think could be as big as Chapelle: Jerrod Carmichael. I feel like they’re kind of cut from the same cloth.
IK: Any shows coming up that you would like to promote?
JB: Yeah. February 13th I’m doing Make Me Laugh at the Palm Lounge. March 8th David Gborie is coming up and I’m opening that show. March 17th – 19th we’re hitting San Francisco, Marysville and Tahoe.
Follow Joshua on Twitter @JBarnesIsMental