Looking at his tour schedules the past year (and shows lined up already for 2023), his growing social media following, and the good press he’s been getting, 32-year old JR De Guzman seems on a steady rise to the big time. Some are even saying he’s the next Jo Koy.
We’ve been seeing snippets of JR’s shows in our feeds quite a lot lately so we wanted to know more about the guy. If you haven’t come across one of his clips, we suggest you check out “Cousin Lovin”, “Step Kids”, “Statutory Marriage” and “Filipino Accent” which feature funny improv songs he created from stories shared by his audiences during his shows. His LSS-inducing “Asian Guys Can Smash,” “Interracial Baby,” and “Irish Folk Song” have been playing on endless loop in our heads. (The last two songs are part of his 2017 album titled “Dual Citizen,” which you can also find on Spotify.)
Choir to comedy
JR, who was born in Pangasinan, was still a baby when his family migrated to the United States. He once shared on Harry Connick Jr.’s talk show that his family lived in a storage unit for two weeks when they first arrived at Eagle Rock, in Los Angeles, California. “I feel like that would have been the most awesome episode of [the reality series] Storage Wars,” he told the singer-host. “Like they opened up [the storage] and there's a Filipino family inside.”
That was partly a joke it turns out. He clarified in an interview with Over a Glass or Two (OAGOT) that it wasn’t literally a storage container they lived in as others would have pictured in their heads.
It was a garage transformed into a bedroom. “We lived in a few garages early on until we finally got our own place,” shared JR. He spent most of his growing up years in Sacramento, California.
Before comedy, singing came into his life first. He learned to sing and play music at an early age because of his grandmother. “She would take me to church twice a day,” he told Connick Jr. “I felt like even Jesus needed his [personal] space.” JR was also a church choir member since third grade but like many kids from Filipino families, he’s had a lot of practice singing in karaoke sessions growing up.
He picked up the drums at age 13 for a talent show to get the girls’ attention, and eventually learned to play the guitar to impress a girlfriend. “Basically, most skills I’ve picked up in my life have been to impress some girl I was interested in,” he said.
But comedy is something the guy has always been a fan of. He only got the hang of it in college, however, introduced into that world via theatre work, then improv. “My friends told me to take a stand-up class because they thought I was funny. I took the class and just fell in love with it,” he told OAGOT.
Combining songs and comedy into an act seemed like a natural progression; he discovered he had a knack for both. “I think I was just trying to pick up chicks when I was in college,” he said. “I started standup comedy on Valentine's Day, I was newly single then. And I was focused on trying to maybe start a music career. And then I was doing a little bit of improv and I just kind of put them together.”
But before his standup career really started to take off, he first taught music—guitar, voice, and drums—and tried other odd jobs as well. He spent a good part of 2014 touring Asia and Europe. He did disaster relief in the Philippines after the Bohol earthquake in 2013, and taught English in Amsterdam to fund his backpacking adventures. “That’s one of the periods I look back at fondly as a comic because I was grinding at comedy while trying to see the world,” he told Positively Filipino.
He started to really get into the US comedy scene after winning a quartet of recognitions during the latter part of the previous decade. He won the Stand-up NBC search in 2016, was named the “New Face” at Just for Laughs 2017, and earned a stint on Comedy Central's “Kevin Hart Presents: Hart of the City” the same year—before appearing on Netflix’s “The Comedy Lineup” in 2018.
But it was during the pandemic, when everyone was at home and hooked on their monitors, that people really took notice of the guy’s talent, of how funny he is—when Comedy Central spliced his videos into bite-size servings and posted them online, which then spread like wildfire. “That was a big help for me,” he said.
The De Guzmans
It’s for sure JR’s wit that endears him to fans, and that bedroom voice that effectively sets up a sexy joke. He’s easy on the eyes, too, and tall, with a confident posture. He’s like a favorite Kuya. Or someone you wouldn’t mind bringing home to mom.
But we think it’s also the fact that he proudly identifies himself as a Filipino that adds to his appeal. “I just try to tell my personal story. I believe the power of honesty and vulnerability is what allows people to connect with your art,” he said. “I talk about immigrating here, I make fun of stereotypes, both by breaking them down, but also acknowledging when they’re true.”
He gets a lot of inspiration for his comedy from his family, particularly his father who is a big fan of Ivana Alawi. “My family is a pretty hilarious group,” he said. “Growing up, there was a lot of laughter in my household, and my dad definitely is his own character.”
In the OAGOT interview, he said: “[My dad] is really funny. And he doesn't even know when he's being funny sometimes. Like he gives me advice for shows, or when I put out videos. My dad was saying like, ‘You know JR, you just need to get a girl with bigger boobs, bigger butt, and then you’ll be famous.’”
JR is the lone member of the family who’s into performing. Many are dentists—his mother, his two brothers and their wives. “I’m the black sheep for sure,” he told, Connick laughing. His dad works as an office manager.
He was never the class clown growing up, however. “It was more like the four desks next to me, I would whisper a joke, and then we would laugh and get in trouble. But it was never like I'm gonna go in front of the class and you know, do some crazy thing.” It was standup and music that helped him find his confidence.
Where did he learn to be funny? JR grew up loving Dave Chappelle and Zach Galifianakis. In one interview, he also mentioned Jo Koy, who is “one of my favorite examples of how to do a late night set.” Among his musical comedy influences include Stephen Lynch, Flight of the Conchords, Bo Burnham, Reggie Watts, Nick Thune, Demetri Martin, and Tim Minchin.
Music and madness
JR’s songs may sound silly, but he says they also speak of something he deeply believes in. “Asian Guys Can Smash,” for instance, as much as it’s a dirty, funny song, speaks of the lack of Asian male representation on TV. “Asian men were always desexualized on TV—like they're always the nerd or martial artists. They were never the romantic male lead until ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ had Henry Golding. So henceforth, I made Asian Guys Can Smash.”
He also wrote the said song at a time when he just started to do more auditions and casting calls. So this composition, he said, also served as an inspiration to, well, smash.
Asian guys can smash
We’re not just good at math
If we were back in class
I’d re-educate your ass
Asian guys can smash
Not just bricks in karate class
I’m not a karate kid
Yeah I’m a karate man.
Racism and the intermingling of cultures are also popular themes in his songs, as can be picked up from the song “Interracial Baby.”
And you’re so beige
Khaki colored baby
Like a little legal notepad page
You’re afraid to have a mixed baby
Because of your mama
Tell her mixed babies can be president
Just ask President Obama
Has he ever been a victim of racism in America? The answer is yes. He’s been called a Chinaman, for example. “It’s always been like that for Asians. It’s easier to make Asians the butt of the jokes. So in my standup, I try to educate people on who we are and that there’s more to us than the nerdy guy that they see on a TV show or movie,” he said.
JR says his music comedy shows present an opportunity not only to entertain and make people laugh but teach his audience about Asian culture. “Ignorance plus fear equals racism. They don't know about your culture and they're afraid. And so they act out of that fear which turns into hate. But I think if you can find that place of understanding, there's a place to find a common ground.”