Whether you know him from his insanely hilarious comedy stand up specials (This’ll take About an Hour, Comedy Central Presents, I Love You), his bazillion guest appearances on David Letterman or as the host of one of my favorite shows from the early 90’s “Two Drink Minimum”, chances are… you know him. I’m talking about of course, one of the funniest and most talented standup comedians of the last 25 years- Jake Johannsen. If anybody’s been following my work here on the Backstage Beat, you’ll know I’ve only been doing this for over a month and truthfully thought it was nuts to even ask to be allowed to cover someone of Jake’s caliber. I still remember watching him back in my teens when a huge curly bang covered half his face while being swallowed in pastel, oversized rayon shirts like most dudes of the era. Even then as a dumb kid, I could tell that his delivery and timing were unique. His purposeful pauses as he guided you through his self-proclaimed “weird stories” were completely understood when he reached the conclusion. Unlike most comics back then, Jake wasn’t doing the same old “blah, blah, here’s the punchline, now laugh” deal. With Johanssen , you were busting a gut all the way through. It’s not just the story itself, it’s the way Jake tells it that’s tear inducing.
Like I said, I was just grasping at straws when I submitted the request, but miraculously Ange told me to bring my big dreams to the Funny Farm this past Friday night to meet a legend. Still thinking the joke was on me when the girl at the front door told me I’d be sitting in a booth all to myself covering the show (CRAZY), I just about had a cardiac event when she also relayed that Jake was at the bar with my cohort already schmoozing it up. Walking over, all the air left my chest as I tried to think of what I’d say. I mean he’s Jake Johannsen man! Honestly, I don’t even remember what it was but I do remember that he overlooked my nervousness and was exceedingly kind just as I was sure that he would be.
Still walking on clouds, I trucked it over to my station and got out all of my stuff like I was an actual journalist. We were told that pictures could be snapped but only during “laughter” breaks so I decided that taking a chance of the flash being delayed and going off during a joke was too much of a risk. The last thing I wanted to do was make Johanssen regret letting a dingbat like me in there in the first place so I didn’t take any. By the way, for anyone who hasn’t been to the Funny Farm (I hadn’t) it’s a great club. The seating is eclectic with various sized booths, tables and so forth facing a perfectly accommodating stage. The walls are adorned with large prints of George Carlin/Richard Pryor and being that it’s nestled inside of “Andretti indoor Karting and Games”, there’s a ton of stuff to keep you occupied before and after a show. Jake would make light of the location during his act (which was funny as hell) but in the end, for a patron, the variety is pretty cool.
The show began with our MC/comic for the night (Landry) who was definitely smile worthy. His ethnic appearance fed much of his comedy with lines like “Why didn’t they tell me when I moved here from Toronto I’d be a Mexican?” Big laughs for that. It so happened that the area right beside my booth was also where the next comic would stand on deck and as Landry entertained the crowd, a new batter entered the box. He looked familiar to me-the beard-the glasses-and I found it beyond interesting to watch him stare at his hands, grinding his fingernails uneasily as he waited to be announced. I thought to myself that this chick right here would probably be having a full-blown panic attack if filling those same shoes and what massive jewels it must take to put yourself out there like that. Turned out it was Andy Sandford from the Atlanta-based “Beards of Comedy”. I’ve heard him on the Regular Guys show several times and he’s always a riot. Never seeing him perform live before, I can tell you that if you enjoy alternative comics like Patton Oswalt, Doug Benson, Maria Bamford or Eugene Mirman, you will totally dig Sandford. He’s edgy but not for the sake of it, he just is and it’s good stuff. As he told the audience during his trying to lose weight bit, “I do sit ups a lot. I’ve found it’s the only way to get up” the Farm rocked with loud “ha-ha’s” that made a crack in the previously established decibel level.
Another young man named James Parkinson came out after that. Sadly, he didn’t really have the same way with the crowd. Some of the jokes were hits but there were far too many “crickets” moments to say he was successful. Look, I can’t even imagine what that’s like up there. Hell, I almost made lemonade in my pants just being introduced to Jake Johannsen so hat’s off to the guy for trying. It looks hard and is probably still even tougher than it appears to be. I’m not sure how all this stuff works but it may also be set up like that so the headliner seems even funnier than they already are in comparison to the previous comic. I’m just going by countless documentaries I’ve seen on rock bands and how they never want to be outshined by the opening act although they would’ve been hard pressed to find someone who could’ve overshadowed who was on the marquee that night.
When Johannsen came out, the joint went completely berserk. There he was, a dude whose comedy had (as one audience member told me) saved some of our lives. Prior to the show, the woman claimed she was so depressed one day, just wanted it all to be over and saw Jake performing on Comedy Central. At the end of his set her mood had been elevated to a point where she realized things just weren’t so bad. If that’s what most of the individuals at this particular show were looking for, then I can profoundly say that’s what Jake gave them.
Right from the start he riffed on some of the bits by all three of the proceeding acts, giving them props, pure class all the way. You can tell immediately what a difference it makes having the amount of experience he does. There’s no hesitation (except for the sake of the act), no uncomfortable silences, he’s intoxicating and there is zero need for him to beg that you drink him in. He’s still deprecating even now after the name he’s made for himself and cracked everyone up by making fun of how far he’s come by playing at a go-kart track in Roswell. Really, I’m extremely surprised that he’s not a bigger star than he is. When he made the comparison of the heat in Atlanta to that of a fat lady breathing on you, everyone was in stitches.
Jake’s comedy is just so easily identifiable with the masses. He talks about stuff we all think about and live through on a daily basis but when these things are processed through his bizarre train of thought, they just come out funnier than when anybody else expounds on the same topics. Like when he discussed his feelings on talk radio or as he likes to call it “The Fear/Anger Combo” and how they want everyone to be afraid of terrorism or angry at some other sect of society. Being a zombie freak, I loved it when he said “That kind of stuff doesn’t scare me. I watch movies. You wanna scare me, tell me were being attacked by zombies. When zombies show up, you’ll wish for f*%&ing terrorists.” Before the guffawing could even die down, Johanssen then began instructing the audience on what to do if we were attacked by zombies at that very moment and I found myself struggling to breathe again.
His act runs the gamut when it comes to regular life. Marriage-“Tid bit about marriage…you’ll be makin’ your own f*&#ing bacon”, the economy- “Was I the only a-hole paying his mortgage?” and children in regards to his daughter’s unstoppable optimism when asked about her mental state….”I AM HAPPY”. Then there’s just his ability to roll with the punches. The microphone kept messing up towards the middle of his gig and even that was something to have fun with. “Big surprise, the mic is messed up at the magical go-kart track.” After they fixed it “Oh good, they’ve replaced it with the one that wasn’t working last night.” Side-splitting!
Before the house lights came up and Jake met folks out front to sell his hilarious t-shirts (Touch It), c.d.s and books, I looked at those men on the wall that we all know once more. Would Jake’s print be up there beside Carlin someday? Hopefully, but for now Jake is still hustling, doing what he’s done for more than two decades and better than ever. I summoned some guts, waited till he finished with his last paying customer and approached him again to give my appreciation for allowing me the privilege of seeing him on stage. He’s as gracious as he is humble and by that I’m speaking directly to the response he gave when I asked this question.
“Man, how do you not have your own show? I mean seriously….how does D.L. Hughley have a show and you don’t?”
Kind of a jackass thing to ask but I’m in full agreement with Daniel Tosh when it comes to Hughley. Why DID it have to be Bernie Mac?
He looks down at the wooden stand in front of him, running his finger in a circle “Well hey, D.L.’s a great guy and I’ve shot several pilots. It’s just all timing and you just keep trying. Knock on wood ya know?”
I truly hope he didn’t take it to mean that I was suggesting his career isn’t already amazing, I just find it confusing how someone as funny as him is still having to be out on the road like this. Bill Engvall has a show for the love of God!
I thanked him again, we shook hands and off I went into the night. On the icy drive home, my mind drifted to what sort of show I’d like to see Jake in. It certainly wouldn’t be the standard family man sitcom kinda thing, been done and he’s too smart for it. No…I’d like to see him as he is right now. Like a great comic who just tires of trying to get “that show”, gives it up and opens his own comedy club. Maybe none of the comics are worth a damn, he’s way better than all of them but that’s the whole premise. Johannsen dealing with these goofballs and all the nonsense that goes with it. Half Sam Malone, half Jerry Seinfeld. Would that be so bad? I know I’d watch it.