On his way to becoming the best stand-up comic he can be, JR De Guzman has suddenly found himself in Los Angeles trying to become a television star. NBC has a year to figure something out for the emerging young comedian, In the meantime De Guzman, born in the Philippines and raised in Sacramento, will headline a stand-up show here in his hometown on Friday, Feb. 24 at the Comedy Spot to celebrate the release of his first album, “Dual Citizen” (on SiriusXM’s Laugh USA, available that day on iTunes and Google Play).
Earlier this month the 26-year-old De Guzman beat out eight finalists (out of more than 600 hopefuls) for the 13th Annual StandUp NBC nationwide search for comedians of diverse backgrounds. He receives a one-year talent holding deal with NBCUniversal, which basically means NBC pays him while developing projects for him such as a television series. De Guzman can’t work for anybody else without NBC’s permission during that time.
Throughout the steady, sequential build of De Guzman’s still-burgeoning career, there have recurring themes of relentless hard work, self-confidence and the occasional leap of faith.
Watching the smartly engaging De Guzman perform in January at a midweek showcase at Laughs Unlimited, it’s easy to understand why a network would invest time and money in him. There’s a current-events modernity to De Guzman as a Filipino immigrant, but he wears it lightly, with jokes flowing easily from his observations about the two worlds he’s a part of.
“I’m not trying to be controversial, but I do have a lot of stuff that is true to me and for me really interesting,” De Guzman after his show. “I have to care about what I’m talking about onstage.”
He slips comfortably into a Filipino accent onstage while voicing his father and mother, who now live in Roseville, yet the jokes are about the universally recognizable awkwardness of an adult living with his parents. De Guzman said these jokes have played every place he’s performed.
The young comedian has logged plenty of journeyman miles since graduating from Jesuit High School and taking a comedy class while attending UC Davis. He’s not only worked across the United States but also internationally, performing for Stand-Up Tokyo and ROR Comedy in Japan, the Jokers Ball in Indonesia, the Badaboom Comedy Series in Amsterdam, and the Edmonton Comedy Festival. He “built” an Asian tour by standing out at unpaid showcases. He’s also already been seen on the small screen performing his stand-up on Hulu’s “Coming to the Stage,” Comedy Central’s “Kevin Hart Presents: Hart of the City” and MTV’s “Acting Out.”
De Guzman’s Laugh’s Unlimited set featured older material that shows up on the “Dual Citizen” album and newer bits he has just written. It’s a mix he uses for most of his stand-up gigs.
“Every show I try to throw in at least one or two new jokes to grow as a comic,” De Guzman said.
“I have a planned set list, which is good structure until I jump off and improvise.”
The improvisation comes from reading the crowd, having a sense of what it wants and how he can fulfill the expectations without going off the rails. He wants the audience to have a good time, and he wants to have one too.
“I want to have a conversation with the audience, this crowd that’s here tonight, not the one last night or three nights ago,” De Guzman said.
Though he never considered himself a class clown, his friends thought he was funny enough to recommend he consider doing stand-up for the fun of it. Watching Dave Chappelle and Zach Galinfanakis inspired him to write jokes, and the UC Davis stand-up class helped seal the deal.
“When you’re not sure, it’s like jumping in the deep end right away,” De Guzman said.
His parents didn’t panic, though he said “they definitely would have preferred me becoming a dentist.” He decided if he was going to commit to comedy, then he would do it 100 percent – no fallback plans. Everything would be in service of his craft, and he would work it as a job eight hours a day. He had menial day work but spent most of his time writing and finding bookings. At night he sought stage time at open mikes around Sacramento.
“I got really lucky there was a good scene in Sacramento, a lot of venues,” De Guzman said.
He sent out emails and raw video footage. Roughly every 30 emails yielded a gig, and he made his way through Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Nevada and back to Sacramento. On the road, he often slept in his car and ate a nutritionally questionable diet.
“I was losing money, if anything, but my parents were supportive, I was living with them, and I didn’t have to pay any rent, but I had to cover my own food and gas.
“I was doing a lot casinos, bars, cafes, sometimes a Chinese restaurant, a retirement home. These are all literal places in my mind, and I’m remembering the shows,” De Guzman said.
The road changed for De Guzman when he discovered the college circuit, and it embraced him. Suddenly producers were flying him out to their venues, providing meals and putting him up in hotels. It was revelation.
The Laughs Unlimited show was a return to De Guzman’s Sacramento roots of midweek nights with other local comics and intimate audiences. The Comedy Spot show will take De Guzman back to the stage where he performed his first open mike.
Even when the NBC contract came up, De Guzman had already decided to move to Los Angeles. He had been going back and forth from Sacramento for television auditions and project-development meetings.
“It’s all so new to me. I didn’t even know that (television) was an option as a comedian. Then you get into it at a certain point, and you realize there are lot of comedians who get into it just for that,” De Guzman said. “I’m catching up to that whole thing.”
JR De Guzman CD Release Show
When: 9 p.m. Friday, Feb. 24
Where: Comedy Spot, 1050 20th St., Suite 130, Sacramento