Skip to main content

Josh Johnson heads to therapy in new comedy special Up Here Killing Myself

For Josh Johnson, comedy is not just a profession, even though the 32-year-old is very good at his job, touring the country as a stand-up comedian and serving as an Emmy-nominated writer on The Daily ShowJohnson has worked for late-night hosts Jimmy Fallon and Trevor Noah and lived out every comedian’s dream by performing at the iconic Madison Square Garden. Bu again, comedy is not just a profession for Johnson. It’s his therapy, and Johnson addresses his mental health and other personal issues in his new comedy special, Josh Johnson: Up Here Killing Myself.

In the one-hour Peacock special, Johnson explores seminal moments in his life onstage while weaving in scenes from a conversation with his therapist offstage. Johnson tackles multiple issues throughout the special, including Black mental health, self-discovery, money, family, and a “crazy man on the subway.”

In an interview with Digital Trends, Johnson explains how comedy can be a form of therapy, discusses the New York comedy scene, and shares the best piece of advice he received from Noah.

Josh Johnson on the poster for his comedy special Up Here Killing Myself.
JOSH JOHNSON: UP HERE KILLING MYSELF -- Pictured: "Josh Johnson: Up Here Killing Myself" Key Art -- (Photo by: Peacock)

Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Digital Trends: Congratulations on the special. I appreciate your bit about the subway and the crazy things that go on there. As someone who lives in New York City, I think people who aren’t from here believe they would step right in and do something if a crazy thing happened. As you described it perfectly, you put your head up, look at it, and put your head back down. It’s just another day that ends in “y.”

Josh Johnson: Yeah. There’s no way you want to get involved.

Seriously. Anything could happen, and I don’t think I would ever step in.

Yeah. That’s how you know somebody is a tourist, by the way. When they immediately go to interact, I’m like, “Oh, geez.” Like, give it a second. I was having a conversation with somebody else from New York, and they were like, “Even if you need to help someone, really take a second to process what’s happening.” You know what I mean [laughs]?

You point at someone else to step in. “Oh, that person could help.”

Yeah. “Let me go get someone.”

Speaking of New York City, I think the pandemic might have shifted comedy a little. It used to be that you move to a major city and try to make it at the [comedy] clubs. Now, you see comedians all over the country with podcasts, and they’re constantly touring. How do you view the New York City comedy scene right now in 2023? Is this still the place where someone goes to try and make it in the business?

I think so. You make a good point that there are so many avenues now. Let’s say you do the full DIY approach, and you have your own podcast. You make your own media company by having a YouTube channel and all the socials branded to you. You’re constantly making things, and then once people start responding to that, you’re able to get bookings off of it and everything. Those personal conglomerates can be built.

But I think the advantage of New York is that you’re in such a concentrated area of comedians. You end up having a ridiculous amount of collaborators and peers to bounce things off of people. Whether [they] invest their time or actually invest money [for] people to go in with you on your projects and everything. I think that as much of a loner and lone wolf game as stand-up feels for people, I think there’s still a lot of community in it. I think that if you’re missing community, you’re going to be missing out on some of the perks of doing comedy, having all these incredibly funny people at your disposal.

The main thing with living here isn’t just the amount of sets you can do because of all the clubs and all the indie shows. It’s that you are surrounded by some of the best comedians in the world. I felt that way when I was in Chicago, and I really feel that way now. The major city thing is not as important as it used to be, but I would say that at least moving to a tertiary market for anybody getting started in stand-up is important.

A man smiles and stares on a couch in Up Here Killing Myself.
JOSH JOHNSON: UP HERE KILLING MYSELF -- Season 2023 -- Pictured: Josh Johnson -- (Photo by: PEACOCK)

So where is the best comedy club to do stand-up in New York?

It’s tough, man. It’s so hard. But I will say The [Comedy] Cellar is iconic and is the place where a lot of people drop in. The tand also has a lot of both drop-ins and really, really incredible comics that are going up there every night. And then New York Comedy Club is another place that has just the rawest [comedy].

For any comic, each club will give you a different experience and something that you desperately need to make sure that your set is 100% tight. So if you’re at one place and no other place, you’re not going to grow. But, I think that those three to me are like, “Wow.” Every time I’m at each one of them, whether it’s New York Comedy Club, The Stand, or The Cellar, I’m getting different audiences, and I’m getting different levels of energy.

This comedy special has a unique twist. The majority of it takes place onstage with you doing your routine. But it also has parts where you’re speaking to a therapist. This hour becomes about discussing your life, your problems, [and] your feelings. What gave you the idea to frame your special through the eyes of a therapy session?

I think it’s because that is how some of the subject matter came about. That’s why when you watch it, you see me in therapy. In the beginning, I’m talking about something, or I’m being asked a question. I don’t know how I feel about it, and I’m just trying to get it off my chest, but then it ends up onstage because that’s the trajectory of the joke. I started off not really knowing how I felt, and then by the end of it, I not only processed how I feel, but I’m able to share with people and try to use it to make them laugh.

We felt like that was the best structural tool to use to tell the story and keep that theme up because if we just do it in the beginning and then never do it again, people kind of forget about it. But if you have those interruptions throughout, that resets the audience’s mind. The director, Jacob Menache, and I worked really hard to make sure that we did it just enough. Not too much, [but] at certain points to where you never forget. We’re not in it so long that you lose sight that it’s a comedy special.

Josh Johnson: Up Here Killing Myself | Official Trailer | Peacock Original

When did you realize that you could use comedy as therapy and a release? 

I think early on, maybe the first two years in. I was realizing that when I was pressed for more “jokey jokes” and I hadn’t written anything completely different or cool, like something I was excited about, just telling a story about something that happened and then shedding light on it and then making light of it, [that] felt just as fulfilling as having the next best one-liner.

You have experience writing for Jimmy Fallon and Trevor Noah. What’s harder: to write jokes for someone else or to write jokes for yourself?

I think writing for someone else is a bit more difficult because you are trying to fuse together your sensibilities with their voice. You’re writing a bunch of jokes, so let’s say you write 50 jokes, and out of those 50 jokes, maybe 14 of them get picked. Now, it’s not that the others weren’t good. It’s just that these were the ones that both take your perspective and mesh with what that person finds funny.

Whereas when I’m writing for myself, everything that I want to say, I think, is funny. It’s like I already get all 50 picks. Sometimes, I’m wrong because, yes, I wrote 50 things, I said 50 things, [but] the audience was like, “Look. Thirty-nine of those were great. But oof. The other ones, oof.” And so I think that that process feels more organic to me. Because I’ve been doing stand-up for a while now, it all feels really natural, and I have no problem trying things. Whereas, when I’m writing for a different person, it takes much more thought. Like is this something that they would say, or am I wording it in the way that they’d say it, even if they agree with the sentiment?

What’s the best piece of advice Trevor Noah gave you?

That’s a good question. It’s hard to pick. There’s a difference between doing an hour and having an hour, and I think that’s something that is beneficial for any comic to be able to recognize. You can be onstage for 60 minutes, but do you have an hour’s worth of things to say? That’s something that I always try to keep in mind when I’m building out my next piece of work.

A comedian stands onstage with a mic in Up Here Killing Myself.
JOSH JOHNSON: UP HERE KILLING MYSELF -- Season 2023 -- Pictured: Josh Johnson -- (Photo by: PEACOCK)

You also lived out every comedian’s dream by doing a set at Madison Square Garden. Can you even put into words what that was like?

Yeah. I was blessed enough to do it twice. I think the first time, I was super nervous. I put a lot on it. I was freaking out and everything, and then ended up having fun doing it. But the second time was easy. The second time felt familiar, felt like home, so [the] second time was a blast.

I was so happy to get that one back because you have this thing of like, “OK. I had fun, and I got the laughs, but that first minute, I was a little in my head. I was nervous. I wish I could have enjoyed the whole thing.” Then going there again, I was really able to break through that second time and enjoy myself the whole time.

Josh Johnson: Up Here Killing Myself is now streaming on Peacock.

Editors' Recommendations

Dan Girolamo
Dan is a passionate and multitalented content creator with experience in pop culture, entertainment, and sports. Throughout…
How to watch the Chelsea vs Aston Villa live stream
Massive open air soccer stadium with a game in play.

Chelsea vs Aston Villa kicks off at 9 AM ET/6 AM PT on Sunday and it's sure to be a thrilling game for anyone keen to get up early to catch up with it. It seems likely we'll see a Chelsea win but Aston Villa's recent mixed fortunes could go either way here. Whoever you're backing, read on while we take you through how to watch the Chelsea vs Aston Villa live stream online. It's exclusively on Peacock Premium but we're here to explain why it's worth signing up for.
Watch the Chelsea vs Aston Villa live stream on Peacock TV

Peacock is the home of a lot of Premier League matches including Chelsea vs Aston Villa. You need the Peacock Premium service which costs $6 per month to catch the game. Alongside that, you also have access to plenty of movies and TV shows. In all cases, there are ads to deal with in between whatever you're watching. Some of the best shows on Peacock include The Continental: From the World of John Wick -- a prequel and spinoff from the movies -- along with Twisted Metal, New Girl, The Blacklist, and many, many others. The best movies on Peacock are worth checking out too with the John Wick movies, Fast & Furious saga, and many others. There's no Peacock TV free trial but it's worth signing up for with so many great options around.

Read more
How to watch the Liverpool vs West Ham live stream
A soccer goal net with the rest of the pitch in front.

Liverpool vs West Ham kicks off at 9 AM ET/6 AM PT and is sure to be one to watch for fans of both sides in the English Premier League. If you're excited to watch the Liverpool vs West Ham live stream, you've got one option -- Peacock Premium. We're here to tell you all about Peacock Premium and explain what to expect from the streaming service.
Watch the Liverpool vs West Ham live stream on Peacock TV

Peacock isn't one of the biggest streaming services around but it's a key one for Premier League fans thanks to offering many of the matches throughout the season. Peacock Premium costs $6 per month and offers everything the service has to offer, albeit with ads. The best movies on Peacock number some of the latest hits like The Super Mario Bros. Movie, and Fast X, along with popular favorites such as the first three John Wick movies. The best shows on Peacock are pretty great too. In recent times, we've seen Twisted Metal added along with Based on a True Story, and The Continental -- the spinoff to the John Wick franchise. There isn't a Peacock TV free trial but if you're solely interested in watching the Liverpool vs West Ham game, you can do so for just $6 for the month which will also include other games and plenty of entertainment too.

Read more
How to watch the Arsenal vs Tottenham Hotspur live stream
A soccer goal net with the rest of the pitch in front.

Arsenal vs Tottenham Hotspur kicks off at 9 AM ET/6 AM PT and we think it's going to be one worth getting up early for on a Sunday. While Arsenal has the edge, this is the North London derby and any grudge match has the potential to turn very interesting. If you're keen to see how things play out, your sole way of watching is via Peacock Premium. Here's all you need to know about Peacock Premium along with what to do if you're traveling abroad in time for the game.
Watch the Arsenal vs Tottenham Hotspur live stream on Peacock TV

Peacock isn't as popular as some of the bigger streaming services out there, but it's a crucial addition for fans of the Premier League. That's because it airs many of the games while being fairly inexpensive at $6 per month. There isn't a Peacock TV free trial but at this kind of price, it's worth investing in the ad-supported model. Besides all those Premier League matches including Arsenal vs Tottenham Hotspur, you also have the best shows on Peacock to check out. These include new favorites like Poker Face and Twisted Metal, along with John Wick spin-off, The Continental. There are also old favorites like New Girl and The Blacklist if you feel like watching something more familiar. Besides TV shows, the best movies on Peacock are worth your time too. Recently, The Super Mario Bros. Movie has been added as well as Fast X. You can also enjoy the John Wick franchise once more, with plenty of other old hits too if you want familiarity. There's a decent mix of content to make Peacock pretty tempting.

Read more