Then Johnson's depression got the better of him. So he says he decided to walk away from all of it.
"I just kind of took off and tried to figure my life out because I had a lot of personal issues going on at the time, and it got so suffocating to do standup every night because I wasn't happy doing it," Johnson says. "The anxiety got to be just a bit much, and something felt wrong."
Johnson often joked about his depression, which he says can be therapeutic, but it only works for so long.
"It wasn't really addressing the issue," he says. "It was more of an escape, so I was having manic episodes again and making impulsive decisions again, and I was really backed into a corner there — and it's either get help or check out, and I just got a cat, so I couldn't check out."
Early last year, Johnson had a manic episode that lasted for months. He traveled to the Pacific Northwest, where he found work on a farm and started attending one-on-one and group therapy sessions at a nearby psychiatric clinic, where he received a new diagnosis and medication that he says is helping.
"I feel like I've balanced out, more or less, to a functional place," he says, "if not to a better place."
Johnson returned to Dallas in May. He recorded his second album, Tabitha 2: Heterosexual Princess, live last Saturday at the Main at South Side in Fort Worth.
"A lot of things have changed since the last album," he says. "It's going to be interesting to continue that journey in front of drunk strangers and friends."
After his manic episode, Johnson says, he found it hard to get back onstage, even if "part of me was jonesing for it."
"I had this mental block in my head," he says. "When I went to the club, I wouldn't go up, and I'd freak out and have an episode in the parking lot. I felt like I had fallen off of a horse and hurt myself, and I was [letting] that horse beat me."
Once Johnson got back onstage, he started with his old material and found it didn't fit the new outlook he had. It motivated him to begin performing new material he'd been working on.
"I've tried to put an emphasis more on empathizing and appealing to people in and with mental health issues," he says. "It's important to me. We're all in this big, stupid boat together, and sometimes the world doesn't make [as] much sense as it should, and I know how it feels alienating to keep that in for a long time. I'm hoping to come across as more honest about who I am because I have been taking more inventory of who I am by starting to do therapy and taking medication. I hope I'm not as dour and hope people don't leave more morose. I haven't changed, but I'm trying to change my feelings about my feelings."
Although his depression made him walk away from comedy, Johnson says he's proud of how hard he fought to get back to it.
"You can't let it kick your ass, man," he says. "Especially if you've given eight years of your life, you can't walk away from it. I've got a cat to feed."
Pre-order Josh Johnson's second album here.