Pete Lee, a ‘Tonight Show’ favorite with local ties, to perform at JFCS’ 33rd Annual Benefit

Though he has lived in New York and/or Los Angeles for many years, as many comedians do, Pete Lee has plenty of ties to the upper Midwest, and even Minneapolis.

Pete, the featured performer at JFCS’ 33rd Annual Benefit, grew up in Janesville, Wisconsin, and actually went to the University of Minnesota, living in Minneapolis for about a decade. He got his start in standup at the city’s Acme Comedy Club, which remains one of his favorite places to perform.

His career has flourished ever since those early days. He was the first standup comedian to get a standing ovation on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” and it resulted in him appearing on the show three times in one year. He has also been seen on NBC’s “Last Comic Standing,” his own Comedy Central Half Hour Special, and CBS’ “The Late Show with David Letterman,” amongst many other appearances.

Pete said his grandmother helped spur his interest in comedy when he was young. She was a former lounge singer in Las Vegas and noticed Pete loving the comedians on TV. She told him she did comedy as part of her lounge act – she needed to tell jokes in between songs.

“She said, ‘I’m going to teach you how to write a joke,’” Pete said. “One day when I was around age 12, she wouldn’t let me eat dinner until I wrote a joke. I finally made her laugh and that was the start of all of this.”

As a kid, Pete loved Billy Crystal, Paul Reiser, Jerry Seinfeld, Ellen DeGeneres, Richard Pryor and Robin Williams. “The interesting thing is, in my adult life, I’ve been able to meet a lot of these people,” he said. “That’s one of the most special things of being a comedian – you get to meet your comedy heroes and be peers with them.”

Pete performed around the Midwest often from 2003-05, working as an opening act for a lot of headliners, which was a great learning experience for him. “The crowd is not there to see you at all, so it made me have to be better,” he said. “Any adversity makes you up your game.”

In 2005, he flew to New York and performed on the Comedy Central show, “Premium Blend,” and also auditioned for a primary role on the CBS sitcom “How I Met Your Mother.” Though he didn’t end up getting the role, executives at CBS told him he had a bright future in comedy and that he needed to move to New York, so he did.

In addition to becoming a regular on “The Tonight Show” and many other standup appearances, Pete has been a writer/cast member on “This Week at the Comedy Cellaron Comedy Central and has a podcast called “Snugglestorm.” Jimmy Fallon is such a fan that he is executive producing a sitcom for NBC starring Pete – however, the production was put on hold at the start of the pandemic and remains on hiatus for now.

One of Pete’s most memorable sets on “The Tonight Show” was when he performed on the show remotely from the stage of Acme Comedy Club. Pete said it was thrilling to hear Fallon announce the club’s name. “It meant a lot to me since that was where I started,” Pete said. “It was actually 23 years to the day of my first set at Acme.”

He is excited to perform for local audiences again at the JFCS Annual Benefit. “I’m so excited to interact with some Minnesotans,” he said. “I’m so happy to do the event and the fact that we can raise money for a good cause and create some much needed laughs feels really great to me.”

Don’t miss Pete when he performs at the event on Saturday, Dec. 4! Get your tickets here or by calling 952-542-4878.