Josh Johnson's Up Here Killing Myself, Takes A Hilariously Lighthearted Approach to Therapy
Josh Johnson's latest comedy special, Up Here Killing Myself, takes the phrase laughter is the best medicine to a new level.
Josh Johnson is a comedian and musician who first burst onto the scene as a writer for The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon. He currently writes for The Daily Show and tours with Trevor Noah. Johnson's second hour-long special, Up Here Killing Myself, premiered on Peacock on February 17th.
Up Here Killing Myself takes a unique approach to comedy. Johnson takes us on an autobiographical journey from his poverty-stricken childhood in Louisiana to the loss of his father and contemplating children in New York in the form of a therapy session.
The special starts with black-and-white footage of Johnson in a therapist's office, explaining how he laughs through pain. Cut to Johnson on stage at the Bourbon Room with soft, colorful lighting and a couch behind him to mimic the office, telling jokes about his childhood experience with the tooth fairy.
Unlike other specials where the introductory storyline only returns at the end, there are multiple cuts back to the black-and-white therapy session. The faceless female therapist asks questions that add to the comedy and help transition to the next segment.
With such an unorthodox structure that moves between serious subject matter and funny storytelling, the viewer's emotional experience tends to wander. Each segment starts and ends with a joke, but the punchline is backed with a serious topic like having kids or growing up poor. Sometimes the more serious topics caused the punchline to have a delayed reaction.
A great example is the story about the phone call that made it possible for Johnson to spend time with his father before he passed. This story embodied the laughter as therapy concept. The story was long and without a joke. It was a moment of genuine gratitude for his ability to spend his father's last minutes on Earth with him that it took some time to process when Johnson transitioned back into jokes. It was so heartfelt you almost forgot you were a comedy show. Although you were waiting for the punchline, it didn't feel absent because you were still engaged and entertained.
Incorporating therapy as the structure for the special is a bold move considering therapy is so stigmatized in the black community. Seeking mental health care is rooted in the distrust of the medical system but is popularized by the minimal and usually harmful representation of mental illness in media. Josh Johnson's comedy special places a positive spin on therapy.
Being able to laugh about his life struggles is a subtle way of showing that therapy helped him come to terms with his experiences. More importantly, using his life as an example, Johnson shows how attending to your mental health can improve your quality of life.
The special comes full circle when the title's meaning is revealed as a double entendre. Once Johnson walks off stage after a risqué joke, it cuts back to the black-and-white therapist's office, where he explains that had it not been for comedy, he probably would have killed himself. He stares right into the camera ad thanks the viewer for giving him something to live for and work towards. Thus, revealing the second meaning to the title, he's "killing himself," working hard to become a comedian.
Josh Johnson's Up Here Killing Myself helps build positive associations with mental health by highlighting the humorous perspective of his life. Johnson's comedy special is the epitome of laughter
Stream Up Here Killing Myself on Peacock