"You realise, 'Shit, I'm changed. This has changed my outlook on the world, the way I live, and it's certainly changed the way I perform on stage.'"
Duncan Trussell's journey into comedy was a trip. A naturally funny and smart lad from North Carolina, he moved to Los Angeles with some inheritance money that he "blew on raves and acid", needed a job, and thought the legendary Comedy Store on Sunset would be a cool place to work.
He never had a yearning to be a stand-up. Sure, he was into comedy — "I was into Bill Cosby, prior to everyone understanding he was a rampaging, hell-flinging rapist, before he was tainted" — but never did it occur to him he could do what those guys were doing. But one of the perks of working in this "Hogwarts for comedians" was three minutes of stage time which his colleagues urged him not to waste.
"I tried it, I got off stage, and one of the waitresses was like, 'I don't know what I just saw, but it wasn't stand-up,'" he says. "That's the environment of the Comedy Store, a university that teaches through loving rejection, and that's where I got the bug."
"Stand-up comedy is the antithesis of censorship. It rebels against people wanting to lasso it into some prison of political correctness."
He recalls the epiphany clearly: he was working as a runner for the club owner Mitzi Shore (Pauly's mother). One day he was pumping gas with senior Store comedian Freddy Soto, "who thought I was funny". Soto, who sadly died in 2005 of an overdose, had laid it out: Trussell could go back to school and spend a lot of money and get a doctorate in ten years, or he could spend ten years working on stand-up, travelling the world and making people laugh. "That's the moment something clicked inside of me," Trussell says.
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Now, the LA-based comic has found a way to reach a global audience from his own home with his The Duncan Trussell Family Hour podcast, where he indulges his interest in philosophy, spirituality and psychedelics and interviews diverse guests. He's been called an "information DJ", pulling out choice cuts of obscure facts to share with fans.
"Prior to podcasting the only avenue to let people know you exist is getting a part on a TV show or a big comedy special or a spot on a late-night show," he says. "It's amazing to me that I managed to skip that step, it's just glorious for a comedian like me. The filtration mechanism put in place by network television can really water down the comedy they're trying to put out there. Stand-up comedy is the antithesis of censorship. It rebels against people wanting to lasso it into some prison of political correctness."
Trussell's podcast metadata has also shown him where pockets of ready-made audiences exist, and he's put that to work for his debut Australian tour, starting this week. But in the process of doing 170-something episodes, he says he's transformed.
"One of the problems with LSD distribution networks is the LSD starts warping the network itself and after a while, the LSD dealer just turns into someone who gives LSD away because they don't want money anymore!" he says. "In the same way, with the podcast — you start off thinking, 'Man, I'm going to be able to have conversations with some of the smartest or funniest people I can get to talk to me' and then over the course of 170 conversations like that, you realise, 'Shit, I'm changed. This has changed my outlook on the world, the way I live, and it's certainly changed the way I perform on stage and the things I choose to talk about.' It can really have a transformative effect on the host.
"Timothy Leary said the internet was going to be this generation's LSD and I see what he meant. What's more psychedelic than being able to sit in a house with a witch or shaman, talk to them for an hour about ayahuasca ceremonies or communicating with the moon, and then pressing a button and sending that information to over 100,000 people around the world simultaneously? That's incredibly trippy."