At Hollywood’s iconic venue, The Comedy Store, an inscription reads, “Not to be funny, but for three minutes to be yourself.” Comedian Duncan Trussell has never forgotten it. “It’s the purest articulation I’ve ever heard of what stand-up comedy is,” he says. “If you try to be funny, you’re diverging from what you already are, which is, in some way, absurdly hilarious.”
Trussell grew up in Hendersonville and graduated from Warren Wilson College before he relocated to Los Angeles. He currently stars on SyFy Channel’s Joe Rogan Questions Everything. He has appeared on Curb Your Enthusiasm, Nick Swardson’s Pretend Time, Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time, and Funny or Die’s Drunk History.
But Trussell didn’t head to L.A. with plans to be a comedian. He just thought he’d see what it was like to live there. “I’d gotten the full-on Warren Wilson ‘live a full life’ message,” Trussell says. “That’s the most important thing, not having some ridiculous career aspiration. They inject you with an intense love of freedom and a sense of adventure.”
His adventure landed him at The Comedy Store where he got a job working the phones and was eventually promoted to “runner,” which meant running errands with club owner Mitzi Shore. “While you were hanging out with her, she was teaching you how to be a comedian,” Trussell recalls. “You would just think you were being tortured by the cruelest person on earth.”
Trussell remembers a life-changing moment when he was driving the late comedian Freddy Soto and stopped to pump gas. “I still hadn’t decided I wanted to be a comic and I remember Freddy saying, ‘Can you imagine being paid to make people laugh?’” Soto told him it would take about 12 years to learn the craft, and compared it to earning a doctorate degree. But what meant the most to Trussell was that Soto thought he was funny. “When an older comedian thinks you’re funny it gives you all this weird confidence,” Trussell says, “I remember thinking 12 years, ‘Yeah I can do that.’”
Trussell says he’s been at it about 15 years now. He regularly tours the country as a stand-up comedian, performing at the likes of the Just for Laughs Festival in Montreal and the Moontower Comedy Festival in Austin. But what he’s most excited about now is his podcast, The Duncan Trussell Family Hour. “Podcasting has done for comedy what jazz did for music,” Trussell says. “It creates this ability to do this amazing free form thing that inevitably becomes funny but without the intention of being funny. It really is a new form of comedic expression.”
Trussell is inspired by the creative freedom a podcast allows. Over the years he’s witnessed comedians being forced to tone down or edit their material to satisfy television executives and advertisers. “You were essentially auditioning to be a fishing lure for a car company,” Trussell says. “Now, because of the Internet, I think comedians are recognizing that there are so many other ways to get in front of a large audience that don’t involve mutating your set, or not trusting your instincts, or relinquishing your instincts to the instincts of some corporation.” A recent episode of The Duncan Trussell Family Hour kicked off with a game show, “Guess The Satanist,” hosted by the Teacup Pig, then segued into Trussell’s hilarious rant about being stoned and eating junk food (an ad for podcast sponsor Nature Box), followed by a thoughtful, in-depth discussion with Lucien Greaves of The Satanic Temple.
Trussell promises an exceptional show at the Millroom. “I’ve actually had a guy who does special effects for movies working on this for a couple months,” he says. “But I can’t say anything else.”
With writing, producing, directing and acting credits under his belt, and now master of his own podcast, Trussell’s ultimate goal may surprise you. “Not to sound completely cheesy,” he says, “but I’d like to be a more loving person and to be more open to the world.”
WHO: Duncan Trussell
WHERE: The Millroom
WHEN: Friday, Aug. 29, 8 p.m. $12 advance/$15 door