“The Set” with Comedian Tommy Johnagin


Tommy Johnagin started performing stand up when he was just 18 years old, but his career really began to take off in 2007 when he was named the highest rated “New Face” at the Montreal Just for Laughs Comedy Festival. Since then,  he’s had six appearances on The Late Show with David Letterman.  He also took 2nd place in the 2010 season of Last Comic Standing, and just this past month his first  Comedy Central Half Hour Special aired.  Johnagin has appeared on Comedy Central’s “Live at Gotham” and “John Oliver’s New York Stand up Show.”  He’s also a regular on SiriusXM’s Ron and Fez Show, and just released his third album, “Stand-Up Comedy 3”.  Last week, RJ Waldron caught up with Tommy to talk about  his life on the road, being a new dad, and why he turned down an offer to do an hour comedy special.  

Catch Tommy at some of his upcoming appearance, July 17 – 20, at the Funny Bone in Omaha Nebraska, July 23 – 26 at Cap City in  Austin, Texas, and July 31 – August 4 in Orlando, Florida at Orlando Improv and Fat Fish Blue.

The IBang:  So, I know that you were recently in Cincinnati.  How was that?

Tommy Johnagin:  Well, I was arrested and I can’t talk about it.  But, I’d like to just say that it was non-violent and my lawyer says that it’s bullshit.

The IBang:  Okay, we’ll stay away from that.  You’ve always had a really consistent travel schedule are you used to it by now, or is it draining and just a necessary evil?

Tommy Johnagin:  I think it’s all of those.  For me, I started in the Midwest, so there was no option of going up three times in a night or going up every night of the week.  The only time to get stage time was to go on the road.  So, when I was twenty I started doing 51 weekends a year on the road and my act developed that way.  So now, I don’t write or create new material if I just stay in the city and do short sets every night.  For me, in order to turn over my act, I need to be on the road.  That’s what’s funny for me, people will say, “Oh, you’re on tour right now.  Do you have a tour name?”  And I’m like, I’ve been on tour for eleven years and I haven’t thought to name it yet.  I think when you get to the point that you have a TV show and you can only tour three months, then you name it and you’re like, “Yeah, I have a three-month tour.”  But, for me, I’m never not on the road.  It’s how I turn my act over and it’s how I make a living, so until something else comedy related comes along to help out the “making a living part,” I’ll always be out.  I think now I’m at 40ish weeks a year.

The IBang:  Do you find living in LA has fewer options than New York where you can stay closer to home and perform every night?  Or, would you still always choose to tour?

Tommy Johnagin:  I would always still choose to tour.  I consider LA home, but I have a girlfriend and a baby, so when I’m home, I really treat it like home more than work.  If I’m home for a week, I’ll do maybe two sets, but other than that, I’m having dinner with my family, and going out and just doing family stuff.  When you’re in the city, New York or LA I kind of feel like your sets are just ten minute sets.  For me, I’d rather go out and do an hour a night for four or five nights.  That way, I can try ten minutes of brand new stuff every night within an hour show, so that it doesn’t ruin the show while I’m working it out.

The IBang:  Plus, this way, you’re like a traveling business man and you can have all these secret lives.

Tommy Johnagin:  I am almost embarrassingly boring on the road.  I drink after shows or whatever, but I think just now, maybe in the last couple of years I’ll be in a city and try to do something that you can only do there.  I go to a lot of baseball games.  But I feel like I came on the road at such a young age, where I would just eat at Applebee’s in every city.  I’m like oh man, the Cincinnati Applebee’s is way better than the Columbus Applebee’s.  So, I haven’t really taken advantage of the secret life, or even just the normal adventures in traveling.

The IBang:  You’re the most boring constant traveler, ever! (laughing) 

Tommy Johnagin:  I am.  You know, I think it’s because my dad was a truck driver and I used to go on the road with him.  It’s one of those things where it’s just about getting from point A to point B, getting the job done, and then getting back.  That’s why when I’m at home I want to spend as much time with them as possible.  When I’m on the road, that’s “work.”  If I don’t treat it like work, then it can spiral.

The IBang:  You were recently on The Half Hour on Comedy Central, and it was hilarious.   When you’re out working on the road every weekend, when do you finally feel like you’ve got a good set?

Tommy Johnagin:  I feel like Louie [C.K.] has this new kind of standard where every year is a new hour.  For me, I’ve probably got a new forty minutes every year.   When I think about it, a lot of the jokes that I did on the special I was like, “Oh, I like these,” and some of them I’ve already stopped doing, so I felt like I should get them recorded.  So, I was asked if I wanted to do an hour and I said that I would rather do a half-hour because I feel like if you do an hour you give away the whole act and also there are a lot of hour [comedy specials], but there aren’t a lot of half-hours.  In my mind, I don’t feel like I’m good enough to do an hour, yet, that’s just a personal choice.  The Half Hour is a great, it gets the material on tape and it creates a nice commercial for my touring.  I can just take that and mail it to Hollywood, because that’s what you do, you mail it to Hollywood so they can look at it.

The IBang:  So, as a Last Comic Standing alum, are you watching this season?  Some comics seem to think that it’s selling out, what are your thoughts?

I mean, if we start separating for TV, I might as well get a mistress

Tommy Johnagin:  I haven’t actually seen it this year.  It’s not out of rebellion, it’s just that we have a tiny baby and we literally get about one TV show a night.  And it has to be a mutually agreed upon show, otherwise we end up being a couple where one person watches TV in the bedroom and the other in the living room and that just leads to single parenting.  I mean, if we start separating for TV, I might as well get a mistress. But, I would love to watch it and there are crazy good comedians on it; a lot of big names.  And the producers are great, they have a great eye for comedy.  The year I did it they narrowed it down to like 36 people and it was a real high batting average of guys who I think are really good at comedy.  Of course, there are a few that I think are not very good, and that’s always going to happen.  But, I’ve never fully understood why people come at Last Comic Standing in a negative way.  If you’re a comedian you can not do it, and you can ignore that it happens, it shouldn’t affect your life in anyway.  If you’re going to commit to doing it, you go, “You know what, there is going to be an element of casting and if I’m lucky enough to make it, then I get to do my stand up on TV for a few million people.”  I didn’t do any challenges my year, which is the whole reason that I agreed to do it.  I wasn’t going to go to a laundry mat or dress up like a court jester.  But, they don’t really mess with your stand up.  Mike DeStefano was on my season and I don’t think that it took any edge off of him, he curbed his language a little bit, but you can still be the comic that you are.  I mean, we may lose a couple of Dave Attell’s, there are maybe a few really great guys that you can’t put on network like that, but I think there is a high percentage of comedians that would be considered edgy or dirty that can stay in their style and still do a network show.  I still have people that come to my show that watched my season and became fans from it.  The one thing that was really funny about the show is that the top five from my season did a tour afterwards, and I’ve never experienced this before, but you had people that would go to the shows, and they would legitimately hate one or two of the comedians.  They didn’t vote for you, they wanted you to lose, they thought you sucked, but they are huge fans of Roy [Wood Jr.].  So you get this hilarious vibe, where most of them are great fans, but there are some crazy ones where in the middle of your intro they are just sitting there with their arms crossed going, “Ugh, this guy.”  Generally when I’m on the road, I have to work toward people hating me.

Screen Shot 2014-07-05 at 1.44.28 PMGet Caught Up on Everything Tommy: 

Follow Tommy on Twitter @tommyjohnagin
Visit Tommy’s Website: tommyjcomedy.com
Order Stand-Up Comedy 3Tommy Johnagin now.



Read more great interviews from our ongoing series “The Set” including Jimmy Shubert, Emily HellerGreg FitzsimmonsJimmy PardoDoug Benson,  and more.


RJ Waldron
RJ Waldron
Desert dweller searching for the next rain. Extremely fond of laughter and Murphylove.