J Chris Newberg is no stranger to the stage.
Since 2000, the suburban Detroit native has entertained comedy club audiences with his quick-witted humor and comical songs.
Before pursuing comedy full time, Newberg played guitar for the rock band Vudu Hippies. After 15 years with the group, Newberg found a way to combine his love for music and jokes.
“I started out in comedy by taking a class and felt confident to do an open mic,” the comedian says. “My experience with the band was almost like practice being on stage—I was comfortable interacting with the audience.”
Though Newberg says he always had a knack for telling jokes, little did he know that taking a workshop would open big doors for him in the comedy world.
Newberg’s unique sets led to worldwide tours with acts like Dane Cook and TV performances on “America’s Got Talent,” “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and Comedy Central.
Newberg, who calls his fans the Chris Army, compares the act of performing to trying to diffuse a ticking bomb.
“When you take away all the filters, it’s just you, your microphone and the crowd,” Newberg says. “You’re racing against the clock, with just 45 minutes to make people who are easily offended, like you—it’s really fun.”
Newberg, who now resides in Los Angeles, says that while the majority of his sets go without hecklers, that doesn’t mean his live shows always stick to the script.
“After a long time away from the stage, I got up to do a set. Five minutes into it, I forgot all my lines,” Newberg laughs. “I even had note cards, and it was like my brain couldn’t comprehend what was written down.”
In cases where performers “blank out,” Newberg says the only real way to save yourself is to improvise as best and as fast as you can.
He also works behind the curtain, contributing segments and sketches to “Saturday Night Live” and “The Conan O’Brien Show” and producing several TV shows for Hulu, NBC, E! and Fox.
“I would say my love for performing and writing are equal,” Newberg says. “I love being in front of the audience because of the adrenaline rush you get, but I also like to challenge and experiment with my creativity behind the scenes.”
In 2018, Newberg released his newest comedy album, titled “Live and Let Dye.” Recorded in his home state of Michigan, the album jokes about personal experiences and stories that generated a large cult following.
The comedian describes his comedic voice as witty and very much based on observations and current happenings.
“You really can find inspiration for laughs in anything,” Newberg says. “It may sound silly and maybe childish, but it’s true. You just have to be open to the possibilities.”
However, the COVID-19 pandemic is no laughing matter.
Social distancing orders have left comedians taking their sets online and across multiple social media platforms—including Newberg.
“With social media, it is entirely different from an in-person audience,” Newberg says. “When you finish your story or joke, instead of laughter on the other side, you are getting ‘likes’ and laughing emojis.”
Newberg’s podcast, “Heroin Has a Great Publicist,” has helped garner a following during these unprecedented times. The show features Newberg discussing and joking about current events and personal stories.
Newberg claims that while nothing compares to a live audience, he is always happy to still perform for those who are willing to listen.
The musical comic will return to the Valley from Thursday, August 6, to Sunday, August 9, at Rick Bronson’s House of Comedy on High Street in Phoenix.
“I think now more than ever, people need comedy,” he says. “You go to shows to escape and for a couple of hours; you leave behind reality and just enjoy yourself. Now is the perfect moment for humor.”
“Arizona is one of the few places where stand-ups can actually play right now. And long as you are putting out a genuine act and quality performance, I think people will come on out for a good time.”
J Chris Newberg, Rick Bronson’s House of Comedy, 5350 E. High Street, Suite 105, Phoenix, 480.420.3553, az.houseofcomedy.net, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, August 6; 7:30 p.m. and 9:45 p.m. Friday, August 7; 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Saturday, August 8; and 7 p.m. Sunday, August 9, $23 (general admission) to $58.40 (dinner and show).