JR De Guzman, comedian

De Guzman’s Netflix gig expands his audience beyond a sea of empty chairs

PHOTO courtesy of JR De Guzman

Check out JR De Guzman on The Comedy Lineup: Part Two, now streaming on Netflix.

Valentine’s Day is about showing love, so one year, comedian JR De Guzman decided to show his love for comedy. He performed for the very first time to an intimate audience at an open-mic at the Sacramento Comedy Spot; intimate meaning it was comprised of a few people and a sea of empty chairs. As the small crowd broke into laughter during his five-minute set, however, Guzman realized he’d found his calling. “It went well in my mind, and that’s all I needed,” he said. A few months later, Guzman grabbed a guitar—another one of his loves—and added music to his set. Now, seven years later, he is making more people laugh in the Netflix original series The Comedy Lineup: Part Two, during which up-and-coming comedians perform 15-minute sets. Guzman took time from the jokes to chat with SN&R about how his family feels about being included in his material and the magical comedy of, well, farts.

How did you get into comedy?

When I was in high school, I would come home after school and watch Comedy Central. There were a few shows I watched like Premium Blend, that showed different comedians all in one 30-minute show … like Dave Chappelle and Zach Galifianakis, who are my two big favorites.

What makes you laugh?

In general, I like really embarrassing, surprising, but humanizing things, so the perfect package that has all of that are farts. Some farts are funnier than any joke I could ever write. I am like, “Damn, I was spending all this time owning this joke and you just farted and made me laugh so much harder.” It’s the same when somebody is slipping or falling in public, and things you aren’t supposed to laugh at. It makes me laugh harder.

Any subjects you won’t joke about?

There is nothing that I wouldn’t joke about if it was a good joke. I will probably joke about anything. There are things that are harder for me to joke about, like it probably would be harder for me to make a racist joke funny. But for me, nothing is off limits if you can make it funny or find the right angle.

How did music end up a part of your set?

I wanted to be a musician since forever, like when I was kid all the way to college, but the first time I brought my guitar into my act was [at] this comedy class in UC Davis [that] had all forms of comedy like improv, stand-up and musical comedy. When I did the musical comedy it made me realize, “Wow, I’m actually good at this.”

Your family is part of your stand-up routine—how do they feel about you making jokes about them?

It depends on the person in my family. My dad loves being in my stand-up, but my mom doesn’t want to be in it at all. It all depends who I am talking about, but I always get permission. I won’t put anyone in my stand-up if I feel like they couldn’t handle it.

How did you end up on The Comedy Lineup?

Netflix reaches out to managers or agents who they know who have good comedians to submit a tape, so my manager was like, “Hey, Netflix is looking for comics to do a 15-minute special. Do you have a tape you want to submit?” The funny thing is that I submitted to Comedy Central for their half-hour special for two years in a row and I didn’t get in—which is OK, because it’s really hard to get into these things—then the first time I submitted to Netflix they said yes, and it has been amazing onward.

Have streaming services like Netflix and Hulu made it easier to break into the comedy world?

It helps audiences find comedians. For example, if I was a great comedian in Idaho, somebody in [Los Angeles] or New York wouldn’t have heard of me, but if Netflix, Hulu or Amazon showcase me on there, then I have a bigger platform.

What was it like on the show?

It’s one of my favorite experiences in my entire stand-up history, besides performing in the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium. The experience leading up to it, I prepped by doing a bunch of warm-up spots in Atlanta, like 20-plus shows. Me and a few other comics like Jak Knight, who is on The Comedy Lineup: Part One, ran our sets throughout Atlanta. Taping itself, we did two shows and the first show was electric even though I was nervous at first, then the second show was like the second chance, but I didn’t feel any pressure, just comfortable.

What’s next?

I would like to be like Donald Glover and do a little of everything. In the near future, I would like to produce a TV show, which is in the works. I would love to reach a global crowd with my stand-up and tour around the world. I also want to release a music EP because I also do music regularly. Overall, if I could just connect with people and make them feel understood in some way, that would be really cool.