North Texas Daily

Joey Johnson is here to make sure Denton has something to laugh about

Joey Johnson is here to make sure Denton has something to laugh about

Joey Johnson is here to make sure Denton has something to laugh about
June 09
09:30 2018

Joey Johnson is pretty serious about comedy. In the roughly four years he has been doing standup, the 27-year-old has become known as the catalyst for the blooming comedy scene in Denton. In 2017, he added podcast host to his list of credentials with the start of his podcast “Nobody Knows” with Joey Johnson, which he co-hosts with his friend, magician and rapper Ritchy Flo.

His journey of performing began when someone brought in a flyer to a backyard show while he was working at Denton Skate Supply.

“I asked her if I could do time and she asked me if I had eight minutes,” Johnson said. “I lied and said yes and got on the show, and it kind of snowballed from there.”

In his early days as a comedian, Johnson had to be self-sufficient when looking for ways to get out there and practice. His friendships with musicians gave him some experience with booking shows, so he used what he learned to get opportunities to perform.

“I just started going and talking to places,” Johnson said. “White House, which is now Killers Tacos, used to have an open mic and I ended up taking over [as host]. It just kind of happened from there and it slowly grew.”

The downtime he had during games as a baseball pitcher in high school is one of the situations Johnson feels helped to develop his ability to make people laugh.

“I think I was a funny kid,” Johnson said. “I think stuff like sports, schooling [and] all kinds of terrible life-things helped make me funny, [or rather] I stayed funny. Maybe I just never grew up.”

Music is a significant part of social life in Denton, and the growing comedy scene is on its way to equal prominence, though the two contrast in ways more than just content.

“The way an audience receives [comedy] is very different,” Johnson said. “It’s spoken word — it’s not exactly hidden behind a lot of lyrics or deeper meanings. [With] standup, it is what it is, and when you’re doing it in a college town with a bunch of people that are educated or full of many different backgrounds, that could be challenging, too.”

Johnson said the common thread between the two is the appreciation and encouragement both communities receive. Johnson feels that Denton is a good place for artists to find their footing.

“What is really cool about Denton [is that] Denton is very supportive of really any kind of art,” Johnson said. “They kind of give anything a chance. I’m sure people in Denton have seen great comedy out here, I’m sure they’ve seen bad, but what is cool about here is people are just naturally, inherently supportive of the arts because I think they realize how important it is to the community to keep Denton the cool little artistic bubble that it is in [Dallas-Fort Worth].”

Finding a comedic footing

With audiences come opinions, and there is no guarantee that everyone in an audience will be receptive to a person’s jokes.

“[Any joke] make, there is going to be a group of people that like it and a group of people who don’t,” Johnson said.

A comic and audience feed off each other, and though the outcome of the interaction is always up in the air, Johnson’s intention is always for everyone to enjoy themselves.

“I also think comics have a sense and need for validation — that’s why we’re doing what we’re doing,” Johnson said. “When you hear someone who doesn’t like it, it would almost be a lie to say it doesn’t feel personal because at the end of the day, a comic never goes to a comedy club or to a bar with the intention of hurting someone or making them mad or just not making them laugh. I want them to have fun like I’m having fun.”

Standing in front of several people with the goal of making most of them laugh will not always be a successful mission. Johnson has learned to deal with moments where his jokes fall flat and accepts it as a key aspect of being a comic.

“All in all, you can’t care, but you also need to,” Johnson said. “You toe that fine line because the audience is such a big part of comedy. Without the laughs, there is no standup. You have to do what is true to you, but you need to listen to the feedback that you are getting.”

Stephanie Martinez, 25, met Johnson when he hosted last year’s Denton Arts & Music Awards. At the time, Johnson went by “Joe Coffee” — Martinez didn’t hear any more of his comedy until he resurfaced and started going by his real name.

Martinez enjoys Johnson’s jokes, but has noticed his comedic style can be revered by some and misunderstood by others.

“He is kind of sarcastic, and I feel like his humor is kind of different for some people, but he is a pretty nice guy,” Martinez said. “I think that it’s just the humor some people have, and some people don’t get [it].”

There is also the separate circumstance of people taking offense to comedians’ jokes or the topics they talk about. Now more than ever, there is a disconnect between what some find funny and acceptable to joke about and what a comic thinks is funny, making it a difficult space for comics to navigate. But Johnson said there is a distinct line between comedy and hate speech.

“Any show I run or any show I’m on, if I hear comics spew anything that is absolute hate speech — that is never OK,” Johnson said. “In the same breath, I don’t think comics should be censored because some things do get taken out of context. Some bigger points that do tackle social issues sometimes get misconstrued because people hear certain words and then they immediately tune out the comic.”

Rather than viewing the microscope that comedians have recently been under as an attack, Johnson sees it as an opportunity for them to improve.

“What they call ‘PC [politically correct] culture’ I think is a good thing for comedy,” Johnson said. “I think it forces comics to write smarter jokes. If you are going to tackle something a little more taboo or what would be considered edgy, PC culture actually forces you to be more creative and clever about it. It forces the comic to work harder.”

Johnson wants audiences to keep an open mind when they hear a joke that may be controversial because it may not turn out to be the insensitive punchline they thought it would be.

“Again, it’s that symbiotic relationship between the comic and the audience,” Johnson said. “Let’s say you hear a guy who is about to talk about the Me Too movement, but as soon as you hear the man say ‘the Me Too movement,’ you immediately want to turn it off. [Comics] sometimes don’t get the chance to say something that actually could be like, ‘Oh, he’s totally on my side with this.’”

Johnson believes that context is very important in comedy, as is being open to critique.

“There’s no right or wrong way — you just have to use your best judgement and you just have to learn from it,” Johnson said. “I’ve said things at times that have made people really upset, and then I’ve had to sit back and [say], ‘You know, I didn’t even realize where that was an issue.’ Then I’ve had times when I’ve talked to people after shows and I upset them and then [they say], ‘Oh, I totally see what you meant by that, I’m sorry.’”

Podcast brings comedy to Denton Radio

Johnson records his podcast at Discover Denton, located next door to LSA burger on the Square. Before teaming up with Denton Radio, he recorded at his house, even using his phone to record segments. He decided to start the podcast because he noticed other comedians do it and saw it as yet another outlet for creativity.

“It’s just a time-waste thing,” Johnson said. “You think people care, and so you post it online and get 20 listens. All those podcasts [before Denton Radio] ended up failing miserably because I had to do the work myself. After I won the [Denton Arts & Music] Award in 2016, [Denton Radio] contacted me about doing a show, and that was really cool.”

He no longer has to deal with the tedious technical side to podcasting now that he is affiliated with Denton Radio, which allows him the freedom to fully focus on the content instead of production.

“Denton Radio is awesome because me and Ritchy, my co-host, just have to show up and do the show,” Johnson said. “They do the promo, they do the posting. I enjoy sitting with comics or just talking about comedy, so getting to do that recorded is pretty cool.

Fellow comedian Monna, 26, has been a guest on the podcast and praises the personable quality to Johnson’s comedy and the chemistry between him and Ritchy Flo.

“Him and Ritchy both provide different perspectives: Ritchy with the music and magic background works really well with [Johnson’s] comedy,” Monna said.

Both Johnson and Ritchy Flo truly take the role of hosts, focusing on guests rather than putting themselves at the forefront.

“He’s really good at remaining neutral,” Monna said. “They allow the stars to shine — their guests really get highlighted.”

A highlight of hosting “Nobody Knows” is the positive response Johnson said he has received from other comics, some of them telling Johnson that they’ve learned some things from him or his guests.

“[The fact] that someone would use their free time at their own house to listen to you has its own satisfaction to it,” Johnson said.

As the veteran comics in town work toward building their own golden 30-minute feature sets and possibly move to bigger cities, Johnson hopes to see the comedy scene he helped cultivate continue to grow.

“I imagine a lot of the comics here now who have been doing it a while — who are starting to work the clubs and get those 30 minutes — will eventually move to those bigger markets,” Johnson said. “What’s cool is there are always new comics coming in. I just hope it stays consistent. I hope that when some of us who have been doing it a while do go, some of the younger comics still book shows and we still have festivals and the audiences keep getting bigger. Who knows, maybe one day someone could open a club out here. A comedy club would be really sweet.”

Featured Image: Joey Johnson is the host of the podcast, Nobody Knows. Will Baldwin

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Nikki Johnson-Bolden

Nikki Johnson-Bolden

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