Last Comic Standing finalist returns to Déjà Vu

Tommy Johnagin and Andy Woodhull will perform Friday and Saturday at Déjà Vu.

Standup comedy in college can lead to a lucrative career, and nobody knows that better than Tommy Johnagin, this week's featured comedian at Déjà Vu.

You might know him from Comedy Central's "Live at Gotham" and as the runner-up on NBC's "Last Comic Standing." Johnagin, 27, started standup comedy at age 18, and dropped out of college to go on the road full-time at the age of 21.

Johnagin grew up in the small town of Benton, Ill., without ever watching much comedy, except for David Letterman. Johnagin has appeared on Letterman's show twice since then.

Even though he didn't grow up with standup, Johnagin said he always knew he would be a comedian.

"I just knew," Johnagin said. "It was never a question of what I was going to do, just when I was going to do it. It was just a matter of getting old enough and life working out."

Johnagin got his start in standup comedy when he joined a friend for an open mic night - take note, all you Comedy Wars lovers.

"I didn't even know what (open mic) meant, at the time," he said.

Johnagin decided to pursue a career in comedy during a class discussion about what you could do with a mass communications degree (his major).

"I realized, 'I am the only person in this room who knows what they're going to do, so I should probably get started on that,'" he said.

After six semesters of college, he decided to drop out and take on comedy full-time.

"It's not like I was a 19-year-old LeBron James, saying I was going to join the NBA," Johnagin said of dropping out. "It's like I was me, a 5-foot-10-inch white guy, playing basketball in the NBA, which is about as much chance as I had in stand-up comedy."

Johnagin said his best comic advice came from the woman who ran the club where he got his start. That advice was to write, keep writing and keep getting onstage.

"I thought, 'I'll just do that more than anybody, and hopefully she'll give me better advice,'" said Johnagin. "Now I realize there is no better advice."

Johnagin appreciates the way he began his career.

"In the beginning, I was just out there without a net," he said. "It was a really good way to end up as my own comedian, instead of being influenced by someone else."

Although Johnagin is a young adult himself, he said he doesn't cater to any particular audience demographic.

"I would like to target the audience so they will buy a ticket at one point," said Johnagin, explaining that anyone ready to laugh is his target audience.

Johnagin doesn't curse during his standup. He says it's because, growing up, he didn't curse at all off the stage. Lack of profanity doesn't stop him from working more adult material into his show, though.

"If you don't curse, people will see you as clean," Johnagin said. "So you can get away with a lot more adult material. I like to be able to have an adult conversation with the audience about adult topics without using those words."

His standup is always evolving, little by little.

"I've been in standup for about nine and a half years," Johnagin said. "So I guess nine and half years is about how long it took to develop this."

Johnagin gets his inspiration from things that happen to him and to people in his life.

"I pay attention," Johnagin said. "I never like to make anything up. You talk about your own experiences and they're relatable to people."

Johnagin said he loves being on tour, but wouldn't mind a show one day.

"Being funny for a living is amazing, but I have lofty goals, and every time something new happens, the goal gets bigger," Johnagin said. "I feel like with my personality, I'm always going to want more."

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