Comedians have a number of paths they can travel. Some standups move as soon as possible to Los Angeles or New York hoping for fame and fortune. Others will work tirelessly throughout North America making a living delivering wisecracks.
James Johann has embraced the Heartland and chooses his spots when it comes to his itinerary.
Johann, 47, who has been a standup comedian for nearly 30 years, is content living the simple life in Kansas and performing when and where he wants.
“I like doing things my way,” he said by phone from his home in Paola, Kan. “I’ve been to all of the big cities, but I like it more laid back. I love living here, hearing the train whistle and the church bell. I can sleep at night with my door open. I have no neighbors. When I travel for work, it’s usually to the clubs in the Midwest.”
Penguins in Cedar Rapids, where Johann will perform Friday (5/24) and Saturday (5/25), typically is on Johann’s schedule.
“The people in Cedar Rapids relate to what I talk about,” he said.
Johann’s teenager daughter is fodder for quite a bit of his latest material.
“I’m going through a bit of an adjustment now,” he said. “My daughter is 14 and things are changing. It’s fascinating raising a teenager. She’s not into boys yet — or at least that I know of — but she’s all of a sudden always out with her friends. There just isn’t as much time for me anymore. That’s tough for a dad. That’s especially so for a dad who travels so much.”
Johann has turned the aggravation of the road into bits.
“It’s such a pain traveling,” he said. “It can be miserable. But funny things happen on the road. I’ve seen it all in this country. I love to talk about what I experience traveling. Everybody who ever travels understands.”
During his lengthy career, Johann has experienced virtually all of America.
“I’ve done standup in every state but Alaska,” he said. “I’m always fascinated how different it is around the country, and yet there are some common denominators.”
Johann, who split up with his wife a dozen years ago, waxes about dating.
“It’s not easy,” he said. “I find it harder now than I did before there was social media. You can make it funny talking about it now since nobody wants to meet face to face.”
While growing up in Kansas, Johann was obsessed with such comedy icons as George Carlin and Richard Pryor.
“I used to hide my tapes of my comedy heroes,” he said, “because if my mom heard me listening to Carlin and he was cursing or talking about drugs, I would get into trouble.”
However, Johann’s mother realized how much her son was into comedy and that he was amusing.
“My mom pushed me into comedy. She said, ‘If you think you’re so funny, why don’t you go to a comedy club and find out if you’re really funny?’ I went to an open mic night after she said that. After one performance I was hooked,” he said. “I’ve always liked doing observational material.”
Johann, who recently opened for the legendary Jeff Foxworthy, also is a clean comic.
“I love the old-school comics, who aren’t PC and can be profane,” he said. “But I like to be able to do my material in as many places and in front of as many people as possible. If I’m not obscene I can perform in front of 15-year-old kids.
“I don’t need the crutch of obscenity to try to be funny. Enough funny stuff has happened in my life. I have plenty to share that’s not dirty, but funny.”
WHAT: James Johann
WHERE: Penguins Comedy Club, 208 Second Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday (5/24) and Saturday (5/25)
TICKETS: $10 advance, $12 show day, (319) 362-8133 or Penguinscomedyclub.com
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ARTIST’S WEBSITE: Comedypro.com/performer/james-johann/