Justin Rupple hopes to make good impression at Penn State New Kensington
The No. 1 question he is asked these days, says Justin Rupple, is, “Is it hard to do comedy right now in America?”
The Los Angeles-based nationally touring entertainer, originally from Seattle, has a quick answer: “No harder or easier than it has ever been. Truly connecting with people is never easy. It cannot be faked.”
“Genuine” has a scent to it, explains Rupple, who headlines a free lunchtime (12:15 p.m.) show Jan. 14 at Penn State New Kensington, open to all ages. “Audiences can smell that.”
The comedian, actor and voice actor was seen on the USA Network show “First Impressions” with Dana Carvey, winning his episode and $10,000. “It was perhaps the biggest thrill of my career,” the Seattle native says.
He was in the film “Spider-Man: Homecoming” and in the foreign movie “Operation Chromite” alongside Liam Neeson. His TV work also included “Scorpion” on CBS.
Rupple believes we are living in a time and place when it’s very easy to be fake. It’s easy to craft an image that isn’t necessarily true, he adds. “Because of that, it is harder to discern truth from fiction. There are fewer truths that are universally accepted. But that doesn’t mean it’s any harder or easier,” he says. “Lenny Bruce was arrested for simply saying words. People have not been allowed to perform in buildings because of racial tension. Our time is different but in many ways the same. I’m honored and lucky to be one of the people considered a comedian in a truly beautiful time to be alive.”
Meet his audience
He sees his audience as anyone who wants to escape for an hour. “A good audience is a group of people who came with the intent to laugh, simple as that,” he says. “I’m 35 so I’m technically a millennial, but old enough to remember analog days. I’m young enough to know new music and old enough to say things like, ‘That’s not the way they used to do it back in the good old days.’ ”
While daytime shows such as the one at Penn State, opening a four-month college tour, can be more difficult, it’s only because we are still blinded by the light of day, he suggests. “Many of us are ready to relax and let ourselves go the way we are at night,” he assures.
Afternoon shows are usually more energetic, he adds, as he needs to connect with an audience that is still moving throughout their day. “Different energy, different challenge, same fun,” he says.
He performs at Penn State Greater Allegheny, McKeesport, Jan. 15; Pitt Johnstown, Jan. 25; California University of Pennsylvania, April 5; and Pitt Altoona, April 18.
Assessing his abilities as a performer, he offers: “Everyone has their own tools in their comedy belt. My best tool is the ability to feel part of a group. Many comics view the audience as separate from them. I like to view them as people I’ve known. I feel that makes us friends and allows a more comfortable environment.
“I am a good mimic. The people I meet on my journey imprint themselves on me very quickly. I am able, I hope, to turn interactions into illustrations. Or, I just might be a silly goofball with big eyebrows. The eyebrows help.”
Throughout his life, Rupple adds, he has always found it extremely intriguing that no matter where he goes, many of our behaviors and experiences are identical.
“How we behave in the shower, how we act in line at the store, these may be small interactions but they speak volumes about the truth of human existence,” he explains. “My favorite reaction from an audience is a laugh followed by a person saying ‘That’s so true.’ When I experienced something multiple times I feel a desperate need to ask others if I am alone in this or not. Oftentimes, I find nothing is terribly unique about my experience; we all walk this path together.”
An easy target
Rupple says he is his own best target for jokes. “I don’t make fun of others much, if ever. I have just begun mining my subconscious for flaws. I won’t focus too much on others when there is gold in MY hills,” he says.
“We need to laugh. It’s written into our genetic code,” he says. “It is the biggest honor of my life to be one of the people who help people find laughter. It’s the hardest job I’ve ever had. Not because of the labor, but because those who do it well take decades to simply become adequate.”
It’s a humbling feeling to know, he says. “Somehow I get to be the lucky one who brings them that release,” Rupple says. “It’s a form of connection I can’t describe and can’t find anywhere else in life.”
Rex Rutkoski is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.