Behind The Bit – Whitey At The Hip Hop Concert

This is one of the first “trigger-y” kind of bits I wrote that really worked well.  And by “trigger-y” I mean that the subject matter catches people off guard. And if they’re not paying attention to actual intent and content they freak out a little bit.

The premise is all true of course.  I believe the tour was called Kings of the Mic and included LL Cool J, Public Enemy, De La Soul, and Ice Cube.  And my girlfriend and I had this discussion about “put your hands in the air” during the show.

In my writing I covered a ton of ground about the concert.  The differences in the audience makeup between modern hip hop shows and old school shows.  The one white guy who was dressed in powder blue slacks and a bright orange sport coat to call attention to himself.  The jarring moment when my girl realized that Ice Cube on stage isn’t Ice Cube from the Friday movies.

But as with any bit, a ton of stuff gets whittled away leaving just the core nuggets that work best.  For me it often feels like parts of the experience are missing.  But I have to remind myself that that audience doesn’t even know about that guy in the suit if I don’t bring it up.  So if I don’t bring it up they won’t know something is missing.

I’ll show you some of the stuff that didn’t make it in below.

The punch line at the 1-minute mark is my favorite part even though I never feel like I got it quite right.  It’s not in the video above.  But you can hear it in the full version on this Spotify player.  (Or see the whole special on Amazon or buy the download from my store.)

The one word that, I think, makes people uncomfortable with the last punch line is “beats”.  As in “paper beats rock”.  Because while in this case it means “wins” it also can mean physical violence.  And that was not my intent at all.  But because of the subject matter, I’m sure it springs to the audience’s mind sometimes.

I tried different words in there to make it more palatable.  “Wins” didn’t work for me because it sounds awkward.  “Triumphs over” sounds too grandiose and connotes a superiority that I didn’t want in there.  Anything longer than one word ruined the rhythm of the joke.

So I stuck with “beats” and the joke would work most of the time.  It’s the kind of joke that’s got a solid logic and meaning behind it.  Even if the listener is vaguely uncomfortable with it they’ll still laugh.

And I really enjoy that kind of reaction.  Something that feels a little bit dangerous to laugh at but still gets the laugh.  And it’s not actually malicious at all.  But it makes the listener take a step back, examine their own first impression of the joke, and then make a decision as to whether they’ll accept my position or read something into it that I didn’t intend.

And the fact that the human mind can do all that within 5 seconds astounds me constantly.

What Didn’t Make The Cut

My girlfriend never liked the last half of this joke.  She would always say “But rock beats scissors.”  And I tried a variety of ways to close that loop, but never found one that worked.  Plus it seemed out of my jurisdiction to pit black people against Asians in a joke. Once my personal experience is taken out of the equation things start to get dicey.

Here’s a couple lines about the difference in audiences that worked a few times, but I couldn’t get them consistent:

There were obvious signs that it was an older crowd. The couple behind us brought food in Tupperware. There’s no Tupperware at a Lil Wayne show.

“Put yo hands up! Burp yo Tuppaware! Burp yo Tuppaware! Keepin’ food fresh! Keepin food fresh!”

This was like the black version of a Fleetwood Mac concert.

I think just me trying to do the Lil Wayne part is tough to pull off.

Here’s the chunk about the guy in the weird suit.  From an actual discussion we had during the show.

There weren’t a ton of white people there, but we weren’t hard to spot. Not because of our color, but because of the completely inappropriate clothing. One dude showed up wearing powder blue slacks and a bright orange sport coat. And his hair was orange. Not redhead, I mean dyed Crayola crayon orange.

My girlfriend leaned over and said, “I hope his friends dressed him like that.”

“Yeah, man. This is what they’re wearing in the clubs. (aside) No, shut up… (back) Man, everyone looks like a popsicle. You’ll be the coolest!”

It really turned out you had to be there for that one to be funny. 🙂

And this last little bit about how the audience was dressed:

It was an old school show, so most everyone was nicely dressed. All the black folks were dressed nice. All the Mexican folks were dressed nice. And right in front of us were two white couples that looked like they’re days away from having their own Discovery Channel show.

Maybe something about wrestling alligators or harvesting organs from wayward tourists.
All of them pushing 50, with doo rags and neck tattoos. When you see an older black man or Mexican guy with a neck tattoo, you think, “Damn, he’s seen some shit… I’ll bet he’s got some wild stories.” When you see a 50 year white dude with a neck tattoo, you think, “Awww… That’s sad.”

That guy only has stories that start with, “So we’re drinking Jack Daniels, right?…”

Looking back at some of these, I think I could rewrite them and make them work better now.  But when a bit is done, it’s done. And those parts didn’t make the cut.  Relegated to the “extras” bin.

Thanks for taking this little tour of the bit with me.  I hope it gave you a little deeper insight into it.

If you’d like to check out the whole “Pretty From The Back” special, here’s your options:
Download from the Phil Johnson and Roadside Attraction Store (audio and video)
Amazon (video)
Spotify (audio)
iTunes (audio)

Come to a show! – Click here for upcoming tour dates.

Is there a bit or song you’d like me to take you behind the scenes on?  Leave a comment below and let me know which one.


Let’s Get Sexy… Binary Love is ready for you.

Binary Love - Phil Johnson and Roadside AttractionAwhile back I read about Google’s AI called Magenta that they’re trying to teach how to write music.  I am, obviously, not excited about the robots coming for my job already.  But curious nonetheless.

Then they released Magenta’s first track and it was a steaming pile of nothingness.  So the hitmakers of the world are safe for another year.

BUT.. I got started thinking about what Magenta’s first release should have been.  And this is it.  Binary Love.

Check out the song on the player below.  (And feel free to use those “Buy” and “Share” links…)  Then check out the contest details below.

Contest Time Is Over! Look below to see who won!

I was thinking a lot about Prince while writing and recording this song.  Trying to find that “Diamonds and Pearls” or “If I Was Your Girlfriend” kind of feel.  And I always liked when he used his alter ego “Camille” voice.  It was a pitched up version of his regular voice to make it feminine and androgynous.  (Check out ‘Housequake’ and ‘U Got The Look’ for examples.)

I decided my protagonist needed to be more deep and masculine than my regular voice to help sell the ridiculous jokes.

To get it working I ran the tracks at 1.3x speed without pitch compensation and sang the vocal higher than the regular speed track.  Then I brought it back down to regular speed and my voice came down with it for something more baritone-y than my own.

And the winner is Christine Koribanics!

Christine suggested the name “Earl Boberle” which makes me think of a 70’s soul singer who was probably a real hotshot in his day but has since been forgotten by the general public.  And now I get to bring him back into the public eye.

There are more Earl Boberle stories to be told methinks. 🙂


We’ll pick our favorite name and it will become Phil Johnson and Roadside Attraction canon.  Plus the winner get to choose a prize from this list!:

  • An autographed T-shirt, CD, or DVD
  • A really unique vinyl record of “Binary Love” plus another track of your choosing
  • I’ll write a totally made up and bizarrely over the top blog post about how you and I met
  • A pair of show tickets for next time I perform in your area
  • An appearance in my next music video. (Even if you’re far away.)
  • I’ll write a comedy bit that you and I can do together on stage next time I perform near you
  • I’ll write and record a custom song either about you or from an idea you have
  • A day on the town with Phil that will invariably involve eating at some of my favorite spots and a little recording in the studio

Submit your entry below by May 16, 2018.  We’ll announce the winner on May 18, 2018.  If you win I’ll contact you to find out which prize you’d like.  (See below the form for details.)

Contest Details:

  • This is not a random drawing.  The winning name will be decided by me (with some input from my girlfriend). 
  • While I plan on doing more songs with this altered voice there is no guarantee that I will in the future.
  • Submissions end on May 16, 2018 at midnight PST.  The winner will be announced on May 18, 2018.
  • Prize details:
    • For autographed items, you may choose any one of my CD, DVD, or T-shirt releases to be autographed and sent to you.
    • For the vinyl record, you will receive a really cool 7 inch 33 1/3 speed record featuring “Binary Love” and one other track (of mine, not someone else) up to 6 minutes in length.  Or you can choose both tracks if you’d like.
    • Show tickets or the comedy bit to be done on stage will depend on when I’m coming to your area to do a show.  If you’re somewhere I don’t think I’ll be able to get to, we’ll discuss a different prize for you.
    • For the music video appearance, even if you’re far away we’ll figure out how to work you in with some Skype video or something.  We’ll get creative with it. 🙂
    • For the custom song, I can either write something about you or from a lyrical concept you’ve come up with.  Depending on my touring schedule it could take up to two months to receive your final recording.
    • For the day on the town with Phil, you’ll be responsible for all travel and lodging costs.  But I’ll definitely treat you to a burrito. 




3 Albums That Changed My Life

Every year my music collection grows by leaps and bounds.  When I was a kid I had to save up my money and make careful decisions as to which albums I’d buy with my hard-earned dough.

Unless I could score one of those Columbia House “10 CDs for a penny!” deals.  Then you could load up on whatever they’d let you have for free real quick.

These days I’ve got Google Play and Spotify accounts. And my library has, as of today, 26,587 songs in it.  I LOVE finding cool new stuff to listen to and engaging my completist tendencies to round out my collections of favorite artists.  Spotify’s Discover Weekly playlist is one of my favorite things in the world.

But yesterday I started thinking about which albums really changed my life.  Which ones were not just enjoyable to but also came into my life at just the right moment to really change the course of things?

Three albums came to mind.  And the interesting thing is that only one of them will really stand the test of time as a great album.  The other two just happened to be the right music at the right time to tweak my brain into a new life direction.

And they’re old albums of course.  After listening to and playing so much music in my life I doubt there’s anything out there that would cause me to alter my life in any drastic way now.  But I’m certainly always looking for it. 🙂

Let’s get on with it.

Hooked On Classics 2Hooked On Classics II (1982)

This album by Louis Clark conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra with the Royal Choral Society is an abomination of classical music.  Each track crams a ton of famous themes into 3-5 minutes and lays a rudimentary kick/snare from a drum machine underneath the whole thing.

Make no mistake… This is a terrible album.  The orchestral performances are fine.  But the arrangements with the stupid beats layered beneath them will make you think you’re watching an ill conceived Disney parade.

But this album changed my life. It was one of the first albums I ever owned and an early exposure to orchestral music.

My brother and I used to create an orchestra full of toy instruments mostly out of Tinker Toys.  We’d lay them out by section on the floor of our playroom and put this record on.  Then we would run around like crazed wild dogs attempting to “play” every instrument as it came up in the music.

“Trumpet part! Run!  I’ll get the violin section over here!”

It was ridiculous and we were sweaty messes by the end of the album.  (Which is probably why, to this day, I judge the quality of my own shows by how drenched I am by the end…)  But for both of us it was a first experience with critical listening to music.  Not just letting it waft over me, but engaging with the music actively and trying to pick out each of the parts and how they worked together.

Girls Girls Girls by Motley CrueGirls Girls Girls by Motley Crue (1987)

When you saw that title you thought one of two things.  “Oh my god, cheesy hair metal.” Or “That album?  Dr Feelgood or Too Fast For Love are way better albums!”

Granted.  Right on all accounts.  Dr Feelgood is a better album and bigger hit.  Too Fast For Love was way more raw and edgy.  And all of it is super cheesy hair metal.

And this wasn’t even my first foray into the musical world of spandex and Aqua Net.  That happened the year before when I heard a new band mixed among the Foghats and Foreigners that were the mainstay of my local rock station.  And when I heard “Talk Dirty To Me” by Poison I went out to buy that album.

“Are they women?” my dad asked upon seeing the cover.  But Poison was only one step removed from the Journey and AC/DC being repeated ad infinitum on the radio.  It was still fun party music.  Just with longer receipts from the cosmetics store.

Girls Girls Girls was my second purchase on that road and it was different. Darker, dangerouser.  (I know that’s not a word, but I like it.)  Leather and motorcycles and what all.

There were better role models I could have picked up for such things.  Motorhead, say. But that’s not what the universe presented to me that day.  All I knew was the girl who had a mohawk and lived up the street from me had a Motley Crue patch on her denim vest. So they must be worth a listen.

Right from the first song, this album taught me that music could be uncomfortable, scary, challenging.  It literally raised my heart rate. Not out of excitement.  Out of fear. Out of the idea that maybe I shouldn’t be listening to this.

Of course, I eventually got accustomed to it and went further afield.  Metallica, Slayer, Carcass… Always looking for that new hit of “this might be too much.”

And I’d argue that the same spirit of challenging the listener to experience something unexpected filters right into the comedy music I write now.  When people laugh uncomfortably at a joke and consider their own beliefs on a subject it makes their heart pound a little too.

I wrote more about this album awhile back too.

Sign O'The Times by PrinceSign O’ The Times (1987)

’87 was a big year.  I was 14, so it’s to be expected.  I had gotten away from the pop music of my youth.  Shout out to KWSS.  Mr Mister, Madonna, Cutting Crew, Billy Joel, Culture Club, A-Ha… All that stuff. I’d even got away from the rap mixtapes my friends traded.  And I hated Prince.

(Oof… I hated typing that sentence just now…)

I’d heard the hits from Purple Rain and totally didn’t get it. My brother and I ACTIVELY didn’t like his music.  We made jokes about it.

For some reason I was given Sign O’The Times for Christmas that year.  I don’t remember asking for it.  And I’m pretty sure I didn’t understand it on the first couple listens either.  The production was weird.  So dry.  And so much going on.

But I was getting accustomed to seeing that an album had something important to give even if I wasn’t ready to get it yet.  And I saw that with this album.  So I kept listening until I got it.  And it blew my mind.

Pop music didn’t have to be just the shiny produced stuff on the radio.  It also didn’t have to sound the same all the time.  It could mix all these different styles… rock, funk, blues, folk.. the sacred and the profane.

And from the time I started writing songs I never wanted to be stuck writing in one style.  You can still hear that in my work.  I’ll use whatever sound suits the story.

This isn’t even my favorite Prince album.  For those I gravitate toward Around The World In A Day or The Symbol Album.  But Sign O’The Times came at just the right time to click my understanding of music into another gear and the effects have guided my musical career since then.

I wrote some more in depth stuff about this album awhile back.

Sure there are other landmark albums in my life… Earth vs. The Wildhearts, Master of Puppets, Butch Walker and the Let’s Go Out Tonites, Appetite For Destruction, Music In Our Mess Age, Real People…. But the reasons I find them valuable stem from those three old records that were in the right place at the right time.

The great thing about music is that nobody else has the same experience with those albums as I do.  Nobody else would even utter them in the same breath, let alone have the same reasons to cite them.  Everyone has their own life-changing albums for different reasons.

So, what are your life changing albums?

Fall Down Go Boom?

I’ve never been the most graceful person to stand on a stage, but this was a new one even for me.

I was playing at Loonees Comedy Corner in Colorado Springs last weekend.  And it wouldn’t be a Saturday late show if some weird shit didn’t happen.  And for this one, I apparently forgot how to walk up a simple set of stairs to the stage.

Laugh and enjoy.  My girlfriend did. Over and over and over again.

Punched in the face by Thai food

Spicy Thai FoodOne of the side effects of being with a Singaporean girl is having to get used to spicy food.  Before her it’s wasn’t my strong suit.  I’m a firm “Mild” at Taco Bell.

But I’ve gotten used to it over the years and I know if we go to a Thai restaurant I’ll come out looking like I just bombed an audition for Survivor.

We went to a Thai food place the other night and the waitress brought us glasses of water. I said, “I drink a lot of water. You can just leave the pitcher.” She looked at me… and back at her boss… and said, “I’ll just bring it when you need it.”  Like this was my big plan to steal a plastic pitcher and escape to Mexico to fence it to the Cartel.

Her boss came to take our food order.  Probably because we were now “suspect”.

He asked how spicy we wanted our food on a scale of 1 to 10. Which is like your dominatrix asking “How far do you want to go today?”  But there’s no safe word with at the Thai restaurant.

Of course, you’re there and you want the really good stuff.  And you’re also sure it’s a really bad idea.

We told the guy 8.  And when we do that they look at me, then look at my girlfriend.  And she says, “It’s ok. He’s cool.” And I can only imagine the cook looked out at our table and went, “Oh, he thinks he’s cool, does he?”

Because the food that came out was so covered in red Thai chiles it looked like it had measles.

We each took a bite and looked at each other. And my girlfriend said, “We’ve made a horrible mistake.”  But we can’t send it back. We’re in now. So I put on my Richard Simmons terry cloth headband and got to work.

Science has shown that spicy food gives you the same endorphin rush as having sex. Right down to the expelling of bodily fluids if you do it right.  But unlike spicy food, sex doesn’t burn.  Usually.

Not only that.  They also claim that spicy food is an aphrodisiac.  You ever eat a big spicy meal and then feel like jumping right in the sack for a pork session?  Yeah, me either.

My girlfriend said, “You’re gonna be able to write a whole new hour of comedy in the bathroom later.  I said, “I’m going to name that special ‘8’”.

The waitress came out and said, “Is it too spicy?”  Which is like asking someone at the end of a marathon, “Hey, out for a little jog?”

She asked if we’d ordered Thai Spicy or another number.  We said 8.  And she said “Oh, Thai Spicy is 11 out of 10.”  I said, “What are you?  Spinal Thai?”

“Our food goes to 11.  And our customers keep exploding.”

My girlfriend said, “What was that all about?”  I said, “I’m pretty sure she just called us pussies, dear.  Keep eating.”

They also say spicy food is good for losing weight.  Well sure.  If someone is punching you in the face with every bite of food, you’ll probably eat less.

So we finally gave up, only getting about 2/3 of the way through the food.  And then the waitress has THE BALLS to bring us a bill.

Cuz you gotta pay the dominatrix.

The leftovers are still sitting in our fridge.  Waiting to strike.