This week, The 5 comes from LA comedian Johnny Taylor. His new album, “Bummin’ with the Devil,” is out 12/7 on Stand Up! Records and available for pre-order here! It’s his second album as part of a three album deal with Stand Up! Records. Taylor has received recognition for his Tweets at @hipsterocracy, which have been featured on Good Morning America, The Huffington Post, Bossip, Esquire, Mashable, Buzzfeed, Paste, and People. Taylor shared five cities that you think are going to suck, but are actually kinda tight for The 5.
If you achieve any sort of following in this business, it’s a general rule that you’re gonna work the road at some point. I mean, maybe you’re not a national headliner or even a “road dog”, but in some capacity, you’re going to hop in your car, hop on a plane, or *gasp* hop on a bus, and head to a place that isn’t home in an attempt to make strangers laugh for $20 (if you’re lucky) and some drink tickets.
Over the past 8 years or so, I’ve had the pleasure of performing in some amazing cities at incredible venues and some absolute nightmare towns in really bad dive bars. I’ve also performed in rad spaces with amazing crowds in shithole towns and at awful bowling alley side rooms in metropolitan cities. It’s stand-up comedy. You never really know what to expect.
I’ve gathered the 5 places I thought were going to suck based on a variety of reasons before I went to perform there and what surprisingly didn’t suck about them at all. I hope you get a chance to visit them someday. Other places too. But also these ones.
#5 Reno, NV. Reno gets a bad rap because of its image as a poor-man’s Vegas. It’s really nothing like Vegas at all aside from the gambling, alcoholism, and prostitution. I lived in Reno from the time I was 8 until I was 13 or so. There was nothing to do as a kid in Reno so I picked up a nasty shoplifting habit out of pure boredom. I remember reading in the paper that a place called “Reno World” was opening and it was going to be like Disneyland. I was so excited! 30 years later there still isn’t a Reno World. I went to a middle school named Pine that looked like a medium security prison. It was bleak. When I left to live with my older brother in Sacramento, CA (more on that later) it was a welcome reprieve from my hellish experience in the “Biggest Little City in the World”.
I didn’t return to Reno until I was booked to headline a place called the Third Street Bar about 25 years after I moved from there. I went in with a sour taste of cynicism in my mouth. I wasn’t looking forward to the gig at all. When I got to Reno about an hour early for the gig, just before sundown, I was pleasantly surprised by its desert beauty. It seemed fresh and almost nothing like the city that I left all those years ago. Also, it helped that the venue was packed with rad comedy-lovers and I was old enough to drink. That goes a long way. Drinking helps in a place like Reno. I’m guessing that Reno is still a shitty place for a kid, but for an adult comedian, it was a decent time. I’ve been back several times since then and have always looked forward to it.
#4 Ft. Worth, TX. Texas can be bad because a lot of the people that live there believe really stupid shit. They think they need to carry guns in public and that George W. Bush is dope. Clearly, something in the water is weird there. I had been headlining a place in Austin called the Velveeta Room for the past several years and have always had such a blast there. Austin isn’t like the rest of Texas. It’s filled with mostly delightful weirdos that lean left where the rest of the state leans right. It’s refreshing. I mean, Alex Jones lives there so it isn’t perfect. But the comedy scene there is golden. Verified hitters like Chris Cubas, Avery Moore, and Michael Priest call Austin home and there are multiples quality mics and shows every single night. Austin is dope. But this isn’t about Austin. It’s about a place called Ft. Worth. This past year I booked a Texas run bookended by shows in Austin with some other Texas places sprinkled in the middle. One of those places was Ft. Worth. Ft. Worth is where my ex-wife’s mother was born and she was super proud of it. To taunt her I would refer to it as Ft. Worst. I know. Childish. Anyways, I was booked to perform at a rock club called MASS by a comic/producer named Brian Breckenridge. He’s a nice guy and a good comic to boot. That’s a rare combination. I was traveling with Daniel Humbarger and we got to Ft. Worth early to take in some of the local goodness. It’s a cute but smallish town with plenty of places to have pizza and an especially rad bar-arcade that made me a delicious old-fashioned and had all of the retro games set to free play. Fuck yeah. The venue itself was cool as shit with a great bartender and friendly owners. The club was packed out to capacity and they were just eating up good comedy. The crowd bought us drinks after the show and bought a shit ton of merch. It was a great night. I’ll never refer to Ft. Worth as Ft. Worst again. I promise.
#3 Portland, OR. Now this a weird one. Portland is generally considered pretty cool by most people. That said, I was told by comics in my local scene that Portland was a bastion of uptight comedy-goers that wouldn’t laugh at anything. So when my friend Keith Lowell Jensen booked us a run in the pacific northwest with stops in Seattle and you guessed it, Portland I was pretty intimidated. As a newer comedian, how was I going to get over in that kind of environment? I was doing well most of the time, but here I am in a new town where the crowd was going to be rooting against me? Scary.
When we got to Portland I was immediately taken aback by how pretty it is. It’s not that I’ve ever heard that it was ugly. I hadn’t. But there’s a beautiful sadness about the city. It’s almost like Elliott Smith starts playing right as you enter the city limits. There are bridges and shops and a ton of great places to eat. We tried to go to the famous Voodoo Donuts but the line was really long and there was literally no line at the dive bar next door so it was an obvious choice where I was gonna hang my hat pre-show. We were performing at the Funhouse Lounge. It’s a clown-themed bar that does comedy a couple of nights a week. It’s creepy and campy and we had a really good crowd that dug our shit. Portugal. The Man even came out and invited us out to drinks at a rock club called Rontoms after our show. It was hella tight.
Portland is legit one of my favorite places on the planet.
#2 Kamloops, British Columbia. When I was booked to do an atheist gig in Kamloops, British Columbia I had to google where it was. All I knew about British Columbia is that Vancouver is there and I dig Vancouver. I was hoping it was going to be right next to Vancouver. It isn’t. It’s about a 4-hour drive northeast. Luckily we were flying into Vancouver and then flying over to Kamloops. I thought it was lucky at the time. That was before we boarded a 12 seat plane that I’m certain the passengers weighed more than. It was white knuckle fever on that thing. I don’t mind flying all that much, but this was more like gliding on a paper airplane. I hated it.
When we arrived in Kamloops I was stunned by its blue skies and it’s incredibly fresh air. It was so easy to breathe! Coming from California you forget what breathing regularly is supposed to feel like. I felt alive! Now Kamloops doesn’t have much of a nightlife, but it does have one of the best malls I’ve ever been to. It’s called the Aberdeen Mall and it felt like 1984 all over again. They don’t make malls like this anymore. It had neon and coin-operated rocking horses, and even an Orange Julius. I spent hours in this mall getting my steps in and getting my shop on. The shows were in a gorgeous amphitheater with a ton of nerdy non-believers. Kamloops isn’t much for glitz and glamour but they had a dated mall and sometimes that’s all I need.
#1 Sacramento, CA. This is my hometown. I live in Los Angeles now. I have for a couple of years, but Sacramento will always be home. The reputation that Sacramento has as a cow-town will never be lived down. But it’s the furthest thing from the truth. Sacramento is a vibrant and diverse city, with gorgeous trees and a bustling downtown area with tons of bars and great spots to drink your nights (and days for that matter) away. It also has 4 comedy clubs in the immediate vicinity. Punch Line being the A-club, it’s the only place you’re going to see true national headliners on a weekly basis. It’s also my home club and I love them. There’s also the Sacramento Comedy Spot in the heart of midtown. An improv club that does stand-up shows a couple of nights a week, it’s a staple of the alternative comedy scene in Sac. They have a Tommy T’s out in the suburbs and Laughs Unlimited in Old Sacramento to round out the major clubs. Luna’s Cafe on 16th street is where I really cut my teeth as a comic. They have stand-up nights a couple of times a week with an open mic on Tuesdays and a booked showcase on Wednesdays. Easily the best workout room in the city. Also amazing nachos. After a show, there is no shortage of incredible places to drink. My personal favorites being B-Side, The Hideaway, and The Press Club.
Sacramento really is the best. Don’t move there though. It’s a secret.