Comedians have complicated jobs. Imagine you’re doing a stand-up set the night after the election and you happen to be a heartbroken Hillary Clinton supporter. Now imagine there’s a table of Donald Trump supporters celebrating in the front row.
If you’re Johnny Taylor, you end up flipping the table off, then becoming friends with them, and finally getting a new bit out of it for your routine. Taylor is still working on the new joke, but he’ll likely drop it in when he and Keith Lowell Jensen co-headline two nights at the Punchline on Thursday and Friday, Dec. 22-23.
The two Sacramento-based comics frequently work together and record material for the same label, Stand Up! Records. They’ve each played the Punchline, considered the “A-Room” for comedy in Sacramento, but never at the top of the bill on a regular business night, so the booking is not nothing for them.
The two recently sat a coffee shop discussing the emerging Sacramento comedy scene and their place in it.
“It’s super flattering and a big honor to headline the Punch,” Jensen said. “They’re tough dates, and it’s really a chance for us to prove ourselves and to prove the strength of the local scene. It’s like repping Sac for two locals to be headlining on not a Tuesday.”
The two have been repping the 916 for quite a while and, as their imprint has expanded, the scene around them has expanded as well. Jensen had a hand in that expansion, teaching comedy classes and hosting for years a popular comedy showcase at Luna’s Cafe that has been discontinued.
Both still hit open mikes to work out material, and they each have recordings and accompanying videos to release next year.
“I recorded mine in June, and it turned out really well,” Taylor said of the performance recorded at Harlow’s. “I’m my own worst critic, and I’ve nitpicked a few things on it, but the performance is really good, and it looks amazing.”
Jensen recorded and videotaped a performance at the Harris Center in Folsom.
“Going forward it will always be in two formats – video and audio,” Jensen said. “Audio-only is a pretty tough market right now. I’m impressed with the number of listeners I get on Spotify, but it doesn’t put much change in my pocket.”
Taylor said he made only about $300 from the exposure of the more than 50,000 listens on Spotify.
While still in his early days, Taylor remembers being called out by an older Sacramento comic for his low-key, laconic style.
“I had been dong stand-up for maybe a month, and I got into this dust-up with this old road hack who was something in Sac at that time (and nowhere else),” Taylor said.
“We used to be called ‘Hackramento,’ ” Jensen interjected. “Because all that’s what was here, these road hack comics.”
“This guy’s like, ‘Yeah, you’re a cafe comic; you’ll never go anywhere. Go to a bar, and see what you can do.’ We embraced that name immediately and used it as a rallying cry,” Taylor said.
Taylor said the personal, observational story-style comedy has become a dominant feature of the scene here.
“It wasn’t like that when I started. In a way I feel like that the Luna’s scene Keith cultivated changed the comedy culture in this town. It’s generally pretty smart comedy,” Taylor said.
He said he thinks the Sacramento style of comedy uses much more slang on stage than most places.
“I also feel like there’s way less yelling here,” Jensen said. “I remember being in a group at the Punchline and thinking we are the quietest comics.”
“It’s definitely a dry, soft-spoken style,” Taylor said.
Jensen believes stand-up comics have to cultivate their audiences, and lot of them don’t.
“That was really important to me and Johnny from the beginning. There may not be an established room for what we’re offering right now, so let’s make a room,” Jensen said. “I think we’ve worked really hard to cultivate an audience while also doing what all comedians have to do – learning to adjust.”
Keith Lowell Jensen and Johnny Taylor
When: 8 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 22; 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. Friday, Dec. 23
Where: Punch Line Comedy Club, 2100 Arden Way, Sacramento