Jermaine “FunnyMaine” Johnson remembers not feeling the love from the West Coast comedy circuit. He wanted to take his act to California and had contacted a number of comedy clubs in Los Angeles, but he couldn’t get a response.
“I was like, ‘You know what? I really don’t need them. … We’re selling out shows everywhere — Atlanta, Georgia; Nashville, Tennessee; Birmingham, Alabama; Charlotte, North Carolina; Jacksonville, Florida; Memphis, Tennessee. The audience is there, so all I need is the building,” said FunnyMaine, a radio personality for Birmingham’s 95.7 JAMZ.
FunnyMaine has succeeded because he’s been able to “figure out the formula.”
Between 2013 and 2015, he spent time in Los Angeles trying to meet the right people: “I did … but I saw where (the industry) was headed back then. The social media takeover was on the rise.”
That realization helped FunnyMaine combine his two passions.
“I was like, ‘Yeah, this social media stuff is about to take off,’ so I started reading books about social media, which basically said you should do what you love and to do it consistently,” he said. “I love college football and, sure enough, (followers) found me because I was making the content they were looking for.”
FunnyMaine has since become a video viral sensation following the release of his first college football video for his YouTube series “How Bama Fans Watched,” weekly recaps of University of Alabama football games. The lifelong Crimson Tide fan captures close to 1 million viewers weekly on all of his social media platforms — Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube — combined.
‘Gotta have a plan’
FunnyMaine reflected on going from being broke to selling out shows.
“You gotta have a plan,” he said. “You gotta work the plan and keep being consistent.”
That plan started for FunnyMaine before he probably even knew it. He acknowledges being crowned class clown from first through 12th grades. The Opelika native’s family moved to Pratt City when he was 10 years old, and he said the difference between the two cities was culture shock. He attended Jackson-Olin High School, a time he describes as “a learning and adjustment period.”
“I saw stuff … and gang violence that I had only seen in movies. I had to learn to deal with that,” he said, adding that comedy helped make light of the world around him.
FunnyMaine attended Tuscaloosa’s Stillman College, where he majored in mass communications and became the school’s go-to host for basketball games, as well as a student recruiter.
“I was the announcer for the marching band and drum major, so there was always a lot of public speaking,” he said. “I never thought to incorporate the jokes into it, though, until I saw my friends do it. Then I was like, ‘Well, I’m already on stage, so let me try this part of it.’”
Recalling his first standup act in 2005 at UAB’s Hill Center, FunnyMaine said the experience “made me feel like I belonged. I wanted to get better, so I just kept going with it.”
“I just sort of watched them,” he said. “They made it work, and it looked fun, so I decided to give it a shot.”
FunnyMaine has been on the air at 95.7 JAMZ for seven years, but his first stint at the station in 2007 got off to a rocky start.
“They threw me in with three professionals who had been doing the morning show together as a team for years,” he said. “I was brought in to be the comic relief, but I wasn’t adding anything. I wasn’t ready to contribute to their chemistry.”
A year later, FunnyMaine was gone. In 2012, however, he was ready for a radio return.
“I just stayed in contact with the people I met (at the station), and I kept working at comedy,” he said. “When that next opportunity came around, I was quicker.”
In 2012, 95.7 JAMZ offered FunnyMaine an opportunity to co-host with radio personality Dwight Stone the “D. Stone and FunnyMaine in the Afternoon” show. On air, the pacing and delivery have to be rapid.
“You’ve got anywhere from 15 to 45 seconds to get that joke out, so there’s not a lot of extra time to set up,” FunnyMaine said. “You gotta jump right into it if you’re going to do it. That definitely makes you a lot faster.”
Next, FunnyMaine plans to get into writing and producing sketch comedy. He already works with other comics in Birmingham and across the U.S.
“My goal is to do the behind-the-scenes comedy stuff,” he said. “We write a lot of scripts and try to produce them. I like the behind-the-scenes aspect of it, I don’t have to be the (leading man, like) Denzel (Washington). … I’d much rather write great scripts and inspiring pieces, and coach people. That’s more of what I’m about.”
FunnyMaine is the youngest of 11 in a family that includes four adopted siblings. Being the youngest helped him learn through observation.
“There was nothing left,” he laughed. “There was a fight for everything. My parents were loving, but by the time I was born they were like, ‘Maine, just figure it out. … You’ve got 10 examples to watch; we’re sure you can figure it out.’”
So, he did just that.
“I learned to drive a car that way. I learned to play instruments that way,” said FunnyMaine, who plays percussion and piano. “I was the smart guy of the house. Straight A’s.”
Speaking of family, FunnyMaine’s “big brother” in the business is Birmingham’s own Rickey Smiley. The two host “Karaoke Nights with Rickey Smiley” every Monday at The StarDome comedy club — an event that’s sold out through August.
“We acknowledge Rickey as our ‘Top Guy.’ There’s admirable respect from everybody (in Birmingham’s comedy scene),” FunnyMaine said. “He and I talk almost every day. We have a relationship in which he will let me know when I’m out of pocket. He’ll let me know when I’m doing the right thing or when I’m on the wrong path. He’s never led me wrong, not one time.
“He tells me everything he sees in me. He told me to take the cursing out of my act, how to be professional and be on time. And this is a consistent thing. I’ve been in the game for so many years, and Rickey is still on me till this day.”
FunnyMaine describes Birmingham’s comedy style as one that’s based around the church, “and just being Southern, a little country and the stuff we go through … but it appeals to so many people,” he said. “Rickey has elevated that style, and now it’s up to us to keep the momentum going.”
Follow FunnyMaine on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat @Funnymaine; and visit his website for tour info and more at www.funnymaine.com.
This is part of a series on Birmingham comedians. Read about Deno Posey.
This story originally appeared in The Birmingham Times.