On name alone, you might not know who Johnny Pemberton is. Yet whether you know it or not, you’re surely familiar with his face and his voice from virtually every recent film and television show. Okay, that might be a slight exaggeration, but the actor and comedian has appeared on the silver screen in 21 Jump Street (a role reprised in 22 Jump Street), This Is 40, and The Watch; on shows like New Girl, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, Kroll Show, and Family Tools; and has voiced animated characters on Adventure Time and Bob’s Burgers. He also hosts the “Twisting The Wind” podcast.
Still, Pemberton is a stand-up comic at heart. Between roles, he and another accomplished young character actor/comic Josh Fadem are hitting the road for the “Summer Boys Do It!!” comedy tour. Before the duo stops by Milwaukee this weekend, Milwaukee Record talked to Pemberton about acting, his stand-up style, and the Midwest.
Milwaukee Record: Roughly a year ago, you and Matt Braunger did a show in Milwaukee. What was your experience like here?
Johnny Pemberton: Oh, it was great. I was having a hard time not drinking beer, but I really enjoyed the venue. [Turner Hall] was really cool. It was one of the nicest places we played that whole tour. We didn’t get to see a whole lot of the city.
MR: You’re originally from Minnesota, right? Is there anything you look forward to when you’re back in the Midwest?
JP: I really like New Glarus beer. That’s the only place you can get it is in Wisconsin, right? I also like German food a lot.
MR: Are there any ways that you’d say Midwestern audiences are different from other places you perform?
JP: Every place is different, but also every show and every night is different. But Midwestern people are more on board to have fun more readily. The people don’t take themselves too seriously and like seeing comedy. There’s a reason a lot of people from the Midwest are stand-up comedians.
MR: Into the acting world, I’ve noticed you in a bunch of things: The Watch, both Jump Street movies, New Girl, and things like that. As a person who’s often on set, I guess, why is it important that you remain on the road and doing stand-up?
JP: It’s the best. It’s something you’re doing that’s always fun, and you’re in control of it. It’s fun doing movies and TV—it’s great—but in stand-up, you’re really in control of that situation. It’s in the moment as kind of a one-off thing, you know? It exists for a limited period of time. It’s a very primitive thing.
MR: I wanted to ask you about the jaunt you’re on right now with Josh Fadem. How did it happen? Why did you want to go on the road with him?
JP: Because Josh and I are good friends, and Josh is one of my favorite comedians of all time. He’s super, super funny. We did some shows together in San Francisco about six months ago—maybe a little more—and it was really, really fun. We compliment each other’s stand-up well, and we decided we should book a tour together because we can. We’re both pretty alternative as far as comedy goes. That word gets thrown around a lot, but Josh and I are actually too weird for TV sometimes.
MR: I recently re-listened to the You Made It Weird episode that you were on, and you mentioned that you were inspired by The Upright Citizen Brigade stuff. What amount of your set is influenced by improv?
JP: A lot of it. Even with jokes I’ve done a lot, there’s always something I fiddle with. I like to do it, and I’m not the sort of person who sticks with a script, as far as stand-up goes. I’d say improv influences everything, but it just depends on what I’m talking about it. Usually you can kind of tell. Whenever I’m really smiling, it’s probably improv.
MR: I don’t want to be insulting by saying this, but another parallel between you and Josh is that you both look very young. You look way younger than you are. Are you finding that you’re limited in the roles that you’re able to have? And as you get older, are you looking for different roles that put you out of the high schooler or young-guy mold?
JP: Everything is limiting no matter what. If something is limited in one aspect, it’s freeing in another aspect. Like, if I was a 50-year-old black woman, I obviously couldn’t go out for the same parts that I am now, but she can go out for parts that I can’t go out for now. As far as looking for roles, I pretty much already am. I’m not really playing high school roles any more, and I don’t think Josh is either. I look for different things all the time. The best thing is writing for yourself. Basically, you always need something that you’re working on or putting together because otherwise you’re just waiting for the phone to ring, and that sucks.
MR: One of the different roles that’s outside the mold that I rudely just alleged you were in was the Adventure Time voice that you did. It’s seems like an arrival point or a benchmark in the world of stand-up. What was that experience like?
JP: It was really fun. I just love doing voiceover. I’ve done some stuff for Bob’s Burgers and other voiceover. It’s always the most fun thing to do ever. I actually have a cartoon that I’m doing for Disney that’s coming out in—well, animation takes forever—but Jon Heder and I are the two leads of it. It’s called Pickle And Peanut. That’s a really fun show that will be coming out in the next couple years. Doing animation voiceover for anything is the most fun thing to do.
Johnny Pemberton and Josh Fadem’s “Summer Boys Do It!!” comedy tour comes to the Arcade Theatre in the Underground Collaborative (in the lower level of the Grand Avenue Mall, below T.J.Maxx) Saturday, June 21. The show begins at 8 p.m. and tickets cost $10 in advance (or $12 at the door). “Summer Boys Do It!!” will also come to The Comedy Club On State in Madison on Sunday, June 22.