Comedian J. Chris Newberg didn’t take up comedy until 2000, but he always had a knack for making people laugh.
“When I was in high school, I would start saying to people, ‘Oh, I heard this joke and it’s funny!’” Newberg said in a 2016 interview. “It was something that I wrote, but I didn’t have the courage to say that I had written it. Everyone would laugh and that was it, and I just put it in the back of my brain.”
Newberg, who had a career in music before comedy, will be appearing at the Ice House Comedy Club in Pasadena on Friday, Sept. 27.
A suburban Detroit native, Newberg played guitar in the band Vudu Hippies for 15 years. The run with the band schooled him on stage presence and commanding a room. He said he believes nearly two decades of telling jokes have made him better.
“They made me stand in the back,” he says about Vudu Hippies. “I took everything I learned to comedy. I’m driving and steering the show now so I have to take it to a different level.”
He still loves to listen to music, but the Vudu Hippies stopped being fun. Several members of the group fell off. “One person quit and another got married — and it just wasn’t fun anymore,” he said.
Newberg has thrived comedically, performing on “America’s Got Talent,” as well as “The Tonight Show,” “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and Comedy Central. He’s toured with Dane Cook and written songs for “American Idol.” He’s also contributed to “Saturday Night Live,” “Late Night with David Letterman,” “Chelsea Lately” and “The Conan O’Brien Show.”
As far as his own material is concerned, Newberg is putting together his next hour of comedy. Formulating jokes is his favorite part of the job.
“This is the most fun because you’re trying to connect ideas, morphing ideas from nothing into a polished joke. It’s a challenge and I find it pretty rewarding,” he said.
He has not, however, parted with music entirely. Early in his career, Newberg led with his guitar, much to the audience’s chagrin. Now he regularly brings his guitar on stage, and plays a few minutes of humorous songs toward the end of his act.
“I’ve tried to cut down the songs to 30 seconds to a minute or so max, kind of cutting out all the fat,” Newberg said. “I try to go out there and tell jokes first and prove that I’m funny, so that they’re laughing and they trust you. So then when I pull out the guitar at the end they’ve been anticipating it, so that’s more fun.”
He has gained a following through his podcast “Heroin has a Great Publicist,” and has been received as authentic.
One of his topics now is dating a girl over 20 years his junior. With relatable humor and an ability to capture an audience in several different ways, there is no reason to think his role in the Pasadena show should be less than terrific.
“If you’re always talking about what’s real and what’s honest about yourself, and make it funny, you’re going to connect with people. That’s what matters,” Newberg said.
J. Chris Newberg performs at 10 p.m. Friday, September 27, at the Ice House Comedy Club, 24 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena. Call (626) 577-1894 or visit icehousecomedy.com for more information.