Interview: Standup comedian J. Chris Newberg
Comedian J. Chris Newberg is a man of many talents. "I started off doing music," he explains. "Then I went to standup. Actually, I went from music to sketch to standup." His musical interest stretches back quite far, though. "To birth," he says. "Music has been an interest forever. I played guitar in high school and was in a band."
His early influences were Guns N' Roses, Bon Jovi, and Cinderella. "But I got out of that, and got interested in singer-songwriter stuff like Elvis Costello," he explains. You can still hear how music influences him, though, as his act frequently includes songs, choruses, and even musical lines.
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He has written serious songs as well, and his resume includes music heard on films and television, such as American Idol . His AI gig was on the episode that was Simon Cowell's final appearance as one of the three judges, and it granted Newberg the opportunity to work with his longtime friend Dane Cook.
It was back during his rock-band days though, that he came to the conclusion that comedy might be the better path. "I realized we weren't going to be Led Zepplin," he says, "so it was time to call it quits for mortality purposes. But I still wanted to play, so I did sketch for a while and then I kind of did standup for awhile, which was the culmination of the music and the sketch. And it just kind of turned into standup."
It was a gradual transition, as Newberg at first began performing as a singer-songwriter before tapping into his funny side. "It just came about because I wanted to perform and it's a lot easier carrying an acoustic guitar and a backpack than it is hauling road cages, three guitars, and 10 people in a van. And I guess I was funny, so it kind of worked out."
After helping his pal Cook write Cowell's American Idol farewell, Newberg was approached to be a contestant on America's Got Talent in the summer of 2011. There, the Detroit native famously had several verbal sparring sessions with then-judge Piers Morgan, who told Newberg he was "an idiot" and "inappropriate." Newberg got his revenge on the British journalist and TV presenter by roasting him.
"You've made a tremendous career out of being known as the 'other,'" Newberg told Morgan. "The other Simon Cowell, the other Howard Stern, the other Larry King -- the other guy your wife sleeps with." Newberg hammered away while judges Sharon Osborne and Howie Mandel laughed hysterically. Indeed, by the end of the screed, even Morgan confessed that Newberg was funny.
Newberg now headlines clubs across the country. He's a solid standup, but he feels that there's always room for improvement and growth. "I think I've found my voice, but I don't think that there's a show that goes by where I don't learn something from the set. I like to take the opportunity each time I get on stage to try and learn and get better. We all grow; if we don't we're not artists."
For fans of his musical abilities, Newberg still fires off a few songs here and there and offstage continues to write for various other projects, including a new game show on Game Show Network2 called Idiot Test. "I think as long as I'm in a situation where I'm allowed to be creative and funny -- that's a gift."
IF YOU GO:
J. Chris Newberg
Rick Bronson's House of Comedy
Mall of America, 408 E. Broadway, Bloomington; 952-858-8558
18+; 21+ later shows.
7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Friday; 9:45 p.m. Friday; 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; 9:30 p.m. Saturday
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