“With green power, comes green responsibility.”
Nashvillian James Austin Johnson, a current “Saturday Night Live” member, is best known for his absolutely spot-on Donald Trump impression. This holiday season, Johnson is channeling another well-known character, one who is just as recognizable as the past President…but much fuzzier and greener.
Johnson is the newest actor to channel the Grinch. Yes, the iconic, ultimate holiday curmudgeon. Past actors to step into this role include Boris Karloff, Jim Carrey and Benedict Cumberbatch, so Johnson is filling no small shoes.
The podcasting company Wondery has worked with Dr. Seuss Enterprises to produce a new innovative holiday podcast, with Johnson at its center. The new project, the “‘Tis The Grinch Holiday Talk Show” podcast, is a celebrity talk show podcast series and the interviewer is none other than the Grinch.
James Austin Johnson on getting his start in Nashville
As a comedian that grew up and got his start in Nashville, Johnson hit the stage at Zanies Comedy Club when he was just a teenager. Then, his journey took him to Trevecca Nazarene University, a private Nazarene liberal arts college in Nashville, then to the entertainment hub of Los Angeles and his current home New York.
And now 34-year-old Johnson hits the stage as an “SNL” cast member every Saturday night. In fact, Johnson was the first Nashvillian to join the “SNL” cast.
“I do feel like ‘SNL’ came at this time when I was like, mature enough to handle the responsibility of being on live TV every week,” Johnson said of his start on “SNL” in 2021.
Johnson, now a new father as well, is working to strike a new balance between his comedy life and dad time, noting, “It’s taken some time to find the right balance between married time and personal time and creative time and baby time and I’m just taking it one day at a time and figuring it out.”
Though Johnson now spends most of his time in New York, he makes his way back to Music City in the summers and, fitting for his newest project, at Christmas time. For Johnson, he’ll always have a home in Nashville.
The younger members of his family, in Nashville and otherwise, can enjoy his new family friendly comedy creation. Johnson said, “A lot of the Christmas stuff is all ages. And it’s about finding stuff that kids can enjoy as much as adults because it’s like family time,” he continued, “The adults are going to get sort of the more like esoteric references…the kids will like the fun high jinks and mischief and chaos.”
Johnson, as the Grinch, does his best to chip away at Christmas cheer by grilling his celebrity guests, which include Olympic Gold-Medalist Shawn Johnson East, WWE superstar Cody Rhodes, actress Skai Jackson, and comedians Patton Oswalt and Bobby Moynihan.
Johnson on finding his version of the Grinch
“You know, with great with great power comes great responsibility. With green power comes green responsibility” Johnson told The Tennessean.
Johnson explained, “I’m doing my best to kind of like, find a Grinch character that has echoes of all of the Grinches from the past,” noting that he grew up on Karloff’s Grinch, while others were raised watching Carrey and the younger generation with Cumberbatch.
“So I’m trying to like find something that incorporates elements from all of them, because I don’t want anybody to feel left out,” he noted.
Dissecting what makes the Grinch so fun to play, Johnson said, “I found this character that I can jump between a lot of different emotions, you know what I mean?” And then, jumping to his upper register, suddenly Johnson faded away and the Grinch joined the interview: “There’s a high range to the voice,” and then dropping into a low baritone, he said in the Grinch’s voice, “There’s a very low range to the voice.”
Exploring the depth of the Grinch’s character is thrilling to Johnson, but conducting a podcast in a different persona is no small undertaking. “There have been times when I’ve like been in character, say as Donald Trump, for up to 30 minutes on somebody’s podcast or something like that,” Johnson said.
Of his experience on the podcast, he continued, “There are moments sometimes when I’m enjoying myself so much talking to the celebrity guests that the producer will chime in and be like, ‘Hey, guys, sorry to interrupt, James, you’re not doing the voice anymore.'”
So far, Johnson has enjoyed interviewing fellow comedian, and previous “SNL” cast member, Bobby Moynihan—and always looks forward to chatting with guests with improv experience.
If you find yourself ready to get into the holiday spirit, or enjoy the Grinch’s lack-thereof, fans can listen to some family-friendly audio fun with new episodes releasing weekly through Dec. 21.
First available on Nov. 6, the holiday show is now available wherever you get your podcasts.