GIGGLE CITY: J. Chris Newberg comes out from behind his guitar
A guitar may be a prop, too, or a crutch. Either way, comedian J. Chris Newberg has been relying on his six-string less and less over the years. The America’s Got Talent finalist has evolved his act from an all-guitar musical-comedy revue to a mostly spoken word routine that offers a refreshing take on the stupidities of humanity. He’s at the Comic Strip through Sunday.
Q: If you could be any celebrity, who would it be and why?
A: Lady Gaga. She has an unbelievable amount of power, she’s talented, she’s fearless. I’m not even that big a fan of her music, but I recognize how brilliant she is. There isn’t anything that girl does that people don’t talk about. I think we’re at a unique time in society where a small group of entertainers are as much or more influential than the government. Lady Gaga says something and people do it. The government does not have that power. She says jump and everyone’s like, how high and how gay?
Q: Best heckler story?
A: I was playing a mental health charity event, something like the Parents of Children Who Have Committed Suicide.
Q: That was your crowd?!
A: That was my crowd. I was filling in for Dave Coulier and it was a $5,000 gig. I did a 9-11 joke: “Horrible tragedy, I would never in a million years want make light of 9-11, but I couldn’t help think the people in the advertising department of 7-Eleven were like, ‘whew, that was close.’” It wasn’t offensive, but this woman comes running up to the stage and she’s screaming, ‘THAT WAS HORRIBLE! THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO SURVIVED 9-11!” And this is a good five years afterwards. No one can hear her, but she’s screaming, “YOU’RE TERRIBLE! GET OFF! GET OFF NOW!” And I’m like, no way, I’m making $5,000, I’m not leaving this stage unless it catches fire. But she won’t stop. She keeps screaming: “YOU’RE AWFUL! GET OFF THE STAGE!” And no one can hear what she’s saying. So this went on for 10 minutes and I finally just gave up and got off, and people are like ‘what are you doing? Get back up there!’ So I go back up and this time the woman comes back with her mother: “LOOK WHAT YOU’RE DOING! YOU’RE GIVING MY MOTHER AN ULCER!” I ended up getting pulled off and put back on three times. It was brilliant. I couldn’t do anything. I got paid, but I couldn’t insult her. She got me.
Q: How would you have handled it differently?
A: I would’ve given her the microphone.
Q: Do you think you have to be pessimistic about humanity to be an effective comedian?
A: Here’s an example: As a single male comic, I can’t like children. It’s way funnier and way more acceptable to tell the audience how kids suck. I don’t have a problem with kids. I have nieces and nephews and I love them, I think they’re awesome, but I can’t say that on stage or I’m a creep. So I have to walk out and say, ‘kids are bullshit!’ And everyone’s like ‘yeah,’ and they laugh. When I was on America’s Got Talent, I had a children’s church choir singing along with me. It was all above board. NBC arranged it and supervised it, I only communicated with the kids through their handlers, and they had the time of their lives. I got e-mail from people saying ‘you’re a pedophile!’ or ‘how dare you expose children to this?!’ and I go, what are you talking about? I got these kids at a fucking church choir. People are idiots.
Q: What do you do when someone tells you some horrible, racist joke and says, ‘You can use this in your act’?
A: I always smile and say thank you. I’m not offended by comedy in any way whatsoever. Comedy’s supposed to make you think. Some racist jokes are funny. It doesn’t mean that I’m racist because I think that. If you only put in that ‘some racist jokes are funny’ and don’t add ‘it doesn’t mean that I’m racist because I think that,’ I’ll be bummed out because people will think I’m a racist.
Q: What about that part you just said there?
A: … I used to write black jokes for a black comic. I would write as a white kid doing black jokes. I’m talking about jokes like: “Rosa Parks was probably really good at musical chairs when she was a kid.” A proper liberal white guy might think, that is offensive! But is it? None of my jokes about race are actually about race. Like if Jesus came back, the Jews probably wouldn’t believe him, but they would manage it.” That’s probably true. So I don’t find any joke offensive. If a joke is funny, it’s funny.