Published on November 7th, 2013 | by Ballard Lesemann0
Tommy Johnagin: The ‘Bob and Tom Comedy Show’ Funny Kid
Comedian Tommy Johnagin, an Illinois native currently based in Los Angeles, has the distinction of being the young up-and-comer on the four-comic bill of this weekend’s “Bob and Tom Comedy Show” at the Charleston Music Hall. At 30 the boyish, bespectacled performer barely looks his age, but he already has more than a decade of stage experience under his belt.
Local audiences might know Johnagin for his numerous appearances on late-night TV shows (see Letterman clip below) and his recurring role on the syndicated “Bob & Tom Show” with hosts Bob Kevoian, Tom Griswold, and Kristi Lee (it’s heard locally on Q104.5 FM each morning from 6-10 a.m.). Some may have caught of Johnagin’s sharp and witty opening sets with Daniel Tosh at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center back in 2011.
On Friday evening, Johnagin will share the stage with three other “Bob & Tom Show” regulars: Lee, redneck-styled Donnie Baker (a.k.a. Ron Sexton), and Ohio-based veteran performer Drew Hastings.
Johnagin chatted with Metronome Charleston earlier this week:
Metronome Charleston: Ready for another trip to Charleston? It’s been two years since your last visit.
Tommy Johnagin: Oh, yes. I’m really looking forward to spending some time in downtown Charleston this time. I’m actually coming in a day early after a show in Denver, so I want to check out the city’s food, bars, and sights.
Metronome Charleston: We caught your late-evening set opening for Tosh at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center in 2011. It was an appropriate contrast to Tosh’s more confrontational and dirty style. You were the clean act of the night. Are you a clean act in general?
Tommy Johnagin: I started touring when I was really young, like around 20 years old, and at the time I was a very small-town type of kid. I didn’t curse much, and I didn’t have a whole lot of life experiences. The word “clean” made its way into my bio, and it never really went away. Now, my act is pretty much like that, but clean is a relative term. I talk about some adult topics like sex and relationships, and I talk about them in a pretty clean way, but I wouldn’t want to do my act in front of a church audience. I can’t do it like Brian Regan can.
Comics can sometimes be extremely clean or extremely dirty, but most of them are somewhere in the middle. I think people want to hear about adult topics, and I like to think that I can touch on those in a clean way that doesn’t really offend too many people.
Metronome Charleston: Who were your comedy idols early on?
Tommy Johnagin: I really loved David Letterman as a young kid. Back when I was 8 and 9, I was allowed to stay up late enough to watch the monologue and Top Ten List. He was the role model for me for years, as a Midwesterner who was funny and eventually got his own show. I was 17 when I saw Chris Rock’s first hour-long special, and it blew my mind. Then I started watching other 30-minute specials on Comedy Central, and I really got interested from there. I did my first stand-up set when I was 18.
Metronome Charleston: Do you ever find it difficult to connect with an audience whether it’s an older crowd or a hip, underground comedy type audience?
Tommy Johnagin: I came up doing small clubs on the road, cutting my teeth on small venues and moving on up to headliner spots. Sometimes I’ll do these smaller rooms and I’m surprised at how well it goes. Moving out to Los Angeles from Illinois, I was aware that many audiences were into the alternative stuff, like Patton Oswalt, who’s one of the best comedians out there. He’s so different from me, though. I’m shocked when his audiences like me. But it feels good to know now that I can go to South Carolina and have a good show and I can go to club in L.A. and do a good show.
Metronome Charleston: Much of your material tends to hinge on sharing universal themes and life experiences that most audience can easily relate to, whether it’s something general or trivial or absurd. Was that something that intentionally developed in recent years?
Tommy Johnagin: I never sat down and went, ‘I need to change.’ It’s not like a professional athlete who can decide to improve a specific skill. As a comic, you just keep going and it naturally evolves itself. When I did 20 or 30 minutes on stage back when I was 20, it was really just a series of jokes. Now, I think people laugh as they get into the rhythm of a set and the stories within it. If you watch an entire set, you’ll know more about me personally by the end of it than some of my friends do.
Metronome Charleston: How do you fine-tune things these days?
Tommy Johnagin: You just write something new, try it, see if nobody laughs, and then try it a few more times. Then you can go back to it two years later, when you’ve become better at what you do and try it again. You might be able to make it work. As a stand-up, I don’t think it’s my job to take something funny and then say it out loud; it’s my job to make something funny and then say it. The job of a comedian is to take something that is relatable — something people haven’t realized how funny it can be — and then say it. And some stuff is just funny, and those are the easiest jokes you ever write.
Metronome Charleston: In the press or around the business, are you ever categorized as a certain type of stand-up comedian?
Tommy Johnagin: To my mind, there’s no real label or category. I think it’s good to go out and simply be funny and build up an audience. I may not have a label or get lumped in with certain thing, but I feel good about connecting with different audiences in different situations. Once you figure out a formula, you may be able to generate more of that formula, but that can take away a lot of the newness and sense of discovery. You kind of stop the evolution of it.
“The Bob and Tom Comedy Show” with Kristi Lee, Donnie Baker, Drew Hastings, and Tommy Johnagin is set for Fri. Nov. 8 at 7:30 p.m. at the Charleston Music Hall (37 John St.). Tickets are available for $27. Visit charlestonmusichall.com and tommyjcomedy.com for more.
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