If you missed David Huntsberger’s recent show at Humbrews in Arcata, CA, you missed out. He’s funny, but he’s not just trying to make you laugh. He’s also trying to make you think about the big picture and blow your mind while doing it. Big ideas have been the through line of Huntsberger’s career, which has included the popular science podcast Professor Blastoff with Tig Notaro and Kyle Dunnigan, his current podcast Space Cave, multimedia live shows, and four albums including Explosion Land and Hello Robot. David called from the road for a very lengthy chat about what he’s trying to accomplish with comedy, exploring heady themes in his work, and his upcoming trip overseas to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Our conversation was crazy long and wildly tangential and since you, dear reader, likely have a short attention span, I broke it down to the highlights.
On the Humboldt County comedy scene – “It was cool to see such a tiny, weird, little area building such a comedy scene. It was kind of a trip seeing how many people come through there. It’s really helpful for going up north because there’s not a whole lot between San Francisco and Eugene.”
On his monthly LA variety show The Junk Show – “People try to mix it up by doing theme shows. ‘Oh, what if we had comedians doing other things?’ But I don’t want to see people do stuff that they’re not good at, so I’ll have three or four comics and three or four of something else – magicians, storytellers, sword swallowers – just too kind of break it up.”
On the current state of comedy – “Nowadays all comedy seems to just be, ‘Here’s a story. Here’s what’s kind of fucked up about me. Here’s my perspective on it.’ It’s like, yeah that’s great, but there are also 15 other people doing the same thing. It starts to wear on you after a while. My whole goal all along was to be at least remotely original. I feel like that is more worthwhile than being the absolute funniest. Everyone’s champing for that, but I feel like Richard Pryor did it and kind of solidified that spot. So many successful comedians when being interviewed about what’s next are like, ‘I’m just going to try to get more vulnerable and share more.’ I don’t know why that’s the only route to take. There’s a lot of different avenues you can go down.”
On his current Nothingness Tour – “It’s some of the most spacey of the things I’ve done so far. The last thing I had done – this animated project – was more psychological. It had to do with the differences between our minds and brains, the material since versus the part of you that feels like you are you. ‘I’m not my brain. I’m these thoughts.’ This one is a little hippyish, but also kind of sciencey. The whole show takes place up in space in a sort of dark matter, exploring how we get down and physically inhabit a body on Earth. It sounds so stupid to say it out loud, but I like the concept of it. It explores the variety of worlds and dimensions and how we might move in and out of all of them and how this might be just kind of a temporary thing. Carl Sagan had that thing about how we are the universe’s way of experiencing itself. I like to picture the universe as this thing floating on its back through emptiness and being like, ‘I wonder what I look like? I wonder what I feel like? I wonder what’s at the core of me?'”
On drugs – “I’m not really a drug guy. The first time I took mushrooms I said I would do them every five years as a sort of mental check-in with myself. I haven’t done them in like 10 years. I never really got into pot. I’d still like to try peyote and maybe some MDMA. I don’t know if I trust myself to pursue a bunch of different drugs. I don’t know if I would get to a place where I would understand things any better. I would probably get less connected if anything.”
On figuring out what to believe – “In this current world that we live in with Trump and stuff I find myself a lot of times going, ‘Alright, let me just pretend for a day – not even a day, just 10 minutes – that I’m one of these people. So, I think this and feel that. I’ll research this. I’m going to ask around. Let me see what it feels like. Maybe I’m the crazy one. Maybe the media has been infiltrated and it’s all been a shell game.’ But I always come back to a centralized place.”
On his upcoming trip to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival – “It’s pretty daunting in terms of the logistics. To go live in another country for a month is a big undertaking. I should have done it with this act where I could just show up at a comedy club and perform stand-up and then head on home. But I felt like with it being an arts festival…the last big project I did I worked with all of these animators and I just really liked it. They infused a new level of creativity. I want to try that again this time, so I’m putting new animation together to play behind me. This one will be a little more abstract, kind of like at rock concerts where they have abstract visuals. It’ll be a bit of that with tie-ins to the material as well. I want it to draw you in and play to the abstract parts of your mind. Hopefully it’ll feel a little like a drug trip.