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James R., (Col.) Johnson

James R., (Col.) Johnson

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Jake M. Johnson did the hard grind of stand-up and improvisational comedy from Chicago to New York to Los Angeles, eventually finding a groove with one of Hollywood's edgier comedy cliques and landing on Fox's breakout sitcom, "The New Girl" (2011- ). A Chicago-area native, Johnson passed through some of live comedy's best renowned institutions, including Second City and the Upright Citizens Brigade in New York and L.A. In 2007, he landed his first regular television job with the short-form TBS comedy "Derek and Simon: The Show" (2007). He appeared in a sequence of oddball and meta-inclined comedies, developing a rep as a scene-stealer in films such as "Paper Heart" (2009), "Ceremony" (2010), "No Strings Attached" (2011) and "A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas" (2011), and taking leads in light, well-regarded movies such as "Spilt Milk" (2010) and the Sundance favorite "Safety Not Guaranteed" (2012). In 2011, Johnson landed a regular gig as one of a trio of wisecracking young men who welcome daffy new roommate Zooey Deschanel into the fold on the sitcom "New Girl," which became the new hot ticket on the Fox Network. With just a single season on this primetime TV hit, Johnson had established himself...

Jake M. Johnson did the hard grind of stand-up and improvisational comedy from Chicago to New York to Los Angeles, eventually finding a groove with one of Hollywood's edgier comedy cliques and landing on Fox's breakout sitcom, "The New Girl" (2011- ). A Chicago-area native, Johnson passed through some of live comedy's best renowned institutions, including Second City and the Upright Citizens Brigade in New York and L.A. In 2007, he landed his first regular television job with the short-form TBS comedy "Derek and Simon: The Show" (2007). He appeared in a sequence of oddball and meta-inclined comedies, developing a rep as a scene-stealer in films such as "Paper Heart" (2009), "Ceremony" (2010), "No Strings Attached" (2011) and "A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas" (2011), and taking leads in light, well-regarded movies such as "Spilt Milk" (2010) and the Sundance favorite "Safety Not Guaranteed" (2012). In 2011, Johnson landed a regular gig as one of a trio of wisecracking young men who welcome daffy new roommate Zooey Deschanel into the fold on the sitcom "New Girl," which became the new hot ticket on the Fox Network. With just a single season on this primetime TV hit, Johnson had established himself as one of Hollywood's hottest talents to watch.

Johnson was born May 20, 1979 in the Chicago, IL suburb of Evanston, and raised by a single mother. The family moved periodically throughout the metro area during his childhood as his mother ran a series of what he later referred to as "junk shops," as well as working as a stained glass artist. He grew up a stalwart fan of the Cubs, as well as another Chicago institution, the Second City Improv, which boasted talents such as John Belushi, Tina Fey and Chris Farley. Johnson graduated from New Trier High School in Winnetka and started his post-secondary education at the University of Iowa. While in Iowa City, he wrote a play, which wound up earning him admission to NYU's prestigious Tisch School of the Arts, buoyed by the 2002 John Golden Playwriting Prize and the Sloan Fellowship for Screenwriting. The New York off-Broadway group, The Ensemble Studio Theater, produced his play "Cousins." While in New York, Johnson and fellow Midwest transplants started the sketch comedy troupe The Midwesterners, modeling their material and approach after HBO's goofy sketch comedy "Mr. Show with Bob and David" (1995-98), and took their shows to comedy festivals around the U.S. Johnson also worked with the innovative guerrilla comedy company the Upright Citizens Brigade, and continued to participate in UCB's Los Angeles company after moving there, additionally performing at Second City's L.A. venue.

For a time, Johnson supported himself as a waiter and a production assistant, as well as scoring a series of bit feature and guest TV roles. In 2007, he landed a more regular gig with the quirky TBS mini-show "Derek and Simon: The Show," produced by "Mr. Show" creator-star Bob Odenkirk. In 2009, he appeared in writer-director team Nick Jasenovec and Charlene Yi's meta mockumentary comedy "Paper Heart" in which Johnson actually played a funny onscreen version of Jasenovec as he filmed Yi's investigative ruminations about coupling. He would curiously reprise Jasenovec in another inside-showbiz meta film, Kevin Hamedani's "Junk" (2011). In 2010, Johnson was noticed by Judd Apatow, who made him a loopy denizen of the Sean Combs' record label in the Jonah Hill/Russell Brand odyssey comedy "Get Him to the Greek" (2010). An impressed Hill would then bring Johnson along for his short-lived Fox animated show "Allen Gregory" (2011). Johnson next took the lead in the screwball comedy "Spilt Milk" (2010), about a late-shift grocery store clerk who finds a strange catharsis interacting with fellow hostages during a robbery.

He found himself in increasingly bigger-ticket company, adding comic punch as brother-of-the-bride to Uma Thurman in the romantic comedy "Ceremony," scripted and directed by Johnson's friend Max Winkler, and as the buddy counseling Ashton Kutcher in his "friends with benefits" relationship with Natalie Portman in the Ivan Reitman comedy "No Strings Attached." In fall 2011, he had a funny turn as Jesus, flanked by strippers, in a fantasy sequence with Neil Patrick Harris in "A Very Harold & Kumar 3-D Christmas." In 2011, Johnson landed a role in Meriwether's new sitcom project, "New Girl," a wacky-roommates affair centered on a clueless tween teacher (Zooey Deschanel) who moves into an apartment with three guys. Johnson initially played the sort of straight man of the bunch, Nick, but his character revealed a distinct weird side as the first season progressed, along the way developing a will-they-or-won't-they vibe with Deschanel. The show became Fox's best-rated new show in a decade. Johnson also made a splash at the 2012 Sundance Festival with the lead in the much-buzzed-about "Safety Not Guaranteed," playing a team of three journalists who journey to write the story about a man who placed ad for a time-traveling companion on Craigslist.

By Matthew Grimm

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