As the new host of a weekly sci-fi clip show, comedian is David Huntsberger is already expecting criticism.
It’s inevitable in science fiction fandom, where the stakes are high and even the slightest slip up of a character’s name can result in a prolonged internet backlash. But if there’s a man for the job it’s Huntsberger, whose brainy sense of humor and easy-going charm could disarm even the most fanatical Comic Book Guy.
Huntsberger, an LA-based comic and co-host of the popular Professor Blastoff podcast on the Earwolf network, takes on his new role as host of Reactor, which airs Thursdays on SyFy. The weekly show takes a look at the latest happenings in science fiction culture and will include interviews with creators and producers, as well as feature shorts, sketches, and the comedy stylings of Huntsberger, who recently completed a first-of-its-kind animated standup special.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Huntsberger about his new show, career validation, fanboys, and why engineers are so funny.
Congrats on Reactor. That’s very cool.
Thanks man. It’s been a great experience. I hate to use the term surreal but it’s been odd watching it happen and thinking, “Wow, this is really going to happen.”
What was the process like? How long has it been in the works?
It’s been a little less than a year. Last August was the first interaction I had with them.
So SyFy had the show and brought it to you?
Yeah, well I was one of several people they were looking at. You know, standard LA procedure. When I met with the producers we really hit it off. They were really funny dudes. It just fell into place that way. It’s weird. You don’t really have that on your radar and then all of the sudden you’re like, “Well, I guess I’m hosting a TV show.” It wasn’t something I expected or anything like that.
Did you have much of a role in shaping the show?
Yeah, I am a writer and producer on it but the skeleton of it was mostly already established.
Does having a TV show serve as any sort of validation for you? You’ve been doing comedy for a while and though you don’t seem like the kind of person who got into comedy for the fame and fortune, it’s got to be nice to have a steady paycheck. When you signed the contract did you feel like, “Ok, I’m there. I’ve done it?”
You know I’ve wondered about those things a lot with standup. You get into any industry and there are certain stepping stones ahead of you. Some people just start climbing the ladder. If you’re into the arts or entertainment, you like to think that you look at the way you go about it differently. And yet so often people are submitting tapes relentlessly and going out on auditions and showcasing. And so often you’ll hear comics especially say “I got this,” as if it was given you to. I’ve always enjoyed artists, whether it’s musicians or whoever who say, “Look at what I made. I made this and I didn’t even have the means to do it.” If you’ve made something, I don’t know if you feel like you need someone to validate you. For me, I’ve always felt like comedy was going fine in spite of not being on any late night shows or whatever you know. I’m maybe not at a level where I would like to be or something like that, but overall the validation is something I don’t think is healthy. I just don’t think that’s the best method. But I will say doing a TV show, there’s something there. I know what you’re asking. It makes you feel more legitimate.
That’s really insightful. Just because someone else think you might have made it doesn’t mean that you should think you’ve made it now. It’s what’s inside you. I feel like TV credits serve as a barometer for people who aren’t as in tune with comedy to see where a performer stacks up. It’s tricky. I see both sides.
Yeah, everyone’s been there. I feel like art validates itself years afterward. There have been a lot of artists who weren’t successful while they were alive and then years later people found their work. You look at bands like the Replacements and the Pixies, their fanbases eventually caught up to them and they got validated way after the fact. When you’re in a public setting and someone introduces you as their friend who does comedy people will ask “oh, what have I seen you on?” If you don’t have an answer they look at you like “Oh, that’s cute that you have a little goal.”
If you have a TV show they assume you’re great, but you still might be horseshit. That’s not very fair to standup.
Right. There’s nothing more frustrating than when a person who has TV credits who doesn’t even do standup can sell out clubs or theaters. Hate to pile on, but there’s no better example than Screech.
Oh yeah. I used to work at a comedy club and I used to see exactly what you’re talking about. When I first went on the road, I thought that’s it, I’m in the system. I’m like a virus, I’m in there now. I’ll do well and I’ll just keep getting work. Slowly, you realize you need those TV credits. It doesn’t matter how well you do. Every person out there on the road has that moment when they look at Screech and say, “This is ridiculous. I am good. And just because I haven’t been on blah blah blah…” And every club owner would say, “Ugh, he’s not even a nice person, but people come out.”
That’s on us. That’s our fault as consumers.
When you’re working the road now, do you still do the clubs? It seems like a lot of comedians are doing independent venues now like rock clubs, etc. That seems to be a preferable alternative.
There are pros and cons to it. When I first moved to LA I was living on the road for a couple years and I was just starting to headline regularly and do colleges. I moved to LA and that became more difficult. It was harder to justify headlining for limited money. And then I would middle for my friends who were established. I enjoyed that but I felt like if I could isolate some of that crowd that really enjoyed me it would be great to do shows in independent theaters. Even if it’s 25 people they are there to see you and that’s what it’s all about. When you do your own shows though you have to put a poster together, get the word out. It’s way more intensive as far as planning.
Let’s talk about Reactor. It’s going to be about sci-fi culture and what’s out there in terms of the latest and greatest movies, TV shows, etc. But there’s going to be sketches and other comedy pieces as well?
Yeah, it’s for people who are into any show that’s not traditional fiction. It would be where they can go once a week to catch up on that. It’s a clip show for all intents and purposes. We’ll show clips and comment on them, but we’ll also be doing our own take-offs, shorts and sketches. We’ll also sit down with people from that world and talk about different projects they have coming up.
It’s a weekly show. Have you shot any episodes already?
No, it’s going to be a topical show so we’ll be shooting new episodes every week to stay current. We went to Comic Con recently so hopefully we’ll have some footage from that, and then Ant-Man comes out so we’ll be talking about that. Each week will feature everything that’s happened in the world of sci-fi. We’ll be talking about Game of Thrones when it returns, The Walking Dead, the new X-Files, Minority Report when it comes out.
Duh, I should have realized that. So will you be shooting the same day the show airs?
We shoot the day before. Luckily a lot of these shows are on Sundays so we’ll have time to get material together for that.
With that schedule this show will be taking up a lot of your time I imagine.
The way my schedule has been set up with it has been nice in that I’ll have weekends off so I can still tour. It’ll just be doing it in a different way than I have before
Are you ready to host and carry a show? That’s a big jump. How do you prepare for that?
You know through comedy you pick up things. The first thing they tell you is you host the show like you’re hosting a party. You get used to that. Through standup I liked it being about what I was making more than anything. It had nothing to do with me. It was a voice in your ear and material. With my podcast it was sort of the same thing. It’s just a voice and you can attach who you want to it. And so for this thing to be the complete opposite where it’s my face front and center it’s definitely a different experience. So far I’ve enjoyed it. When we did the test episode there was no part of it where I was like what am I doing? What am I getting into? I mean maybe when we do the show it’s going to be a way bigger jump than I expected but I think overall it’s been pretty comfortable so far. I’ve really enjoyed it.
Did you have to bone up on a lot of these shows? Are you into the nerd culture?
My plan is to not fake anything. I’m expecting I’ll be judged harshly for things I don’t know about. “You don’t know about that?” I’ve never been like, “Wow that person was really shitty to me I better go watch every episode.” I’m a fan of Game of Thrones and am excited for Minority Report. There are aspects I’m way more into than others. I’m sure there will be certain parts where people will think I don’t know anything. I was hired to be a host and add some comedic element. I look at it that anything beyond that is a bonus.
We all know how level-headed comic book nerds are.
I was talking to my friend Seth who considers himself a fanboy and is on all the forums and the blogosphere and all that and he said honestly, people are gonna be rough, but that’s how they are. They don’t like being insulted or lied to. I don’t have any plans to do that. I’m assuming that if they’re frustrated or if I upset them they’ll go the internet and complain and get over it.
Will this hinder your ability to do Professor Blastoff at all? Will you still make that a priority?
The plan is to keep it going. It seems like it’s so stressful doing the show, but really they can’t work you 20 hours a day. They wouldn’t want to. It’s more time-intensive than being a comic when you can do whatever you want, but there’s still enough free time to do the podcast, and my monthly show and things like that. The plan is to keep Blastoff going.
Do you guys record multiple episodes in one day.
Yeah, when Tig was getting ready for her tour for her HBO special we were jamming 6 months’ worth of episodes into a week of two. It was nuts. We were doing 3 or 4 a day several times per week, with varying results. [Laughs.]
[Laughs.] That’s a lot of talking.
Your background is in engineering right?
Kind of. I have my degree in that. I used it to become a substitute teacher, which was not the brightest idea. I could theoretically operate as an engineer if it came to that, which would be horrible. For society, not for me.
It seems the comedians who come from engineering are very funny. What accounts for that? Do you have a better sense of diagramming joke structure? Maybe I’m just imagining this.
You always hear that creativity is just connecting things. For me, engineering was just pure left-brain, linear thinking, connecting things. But I would do things like take notes left-handed or exercise the right hemisphere of my brain to be silly and imaginative and be kind of weird. I’ve always been interested with connecting silly things with a linear line through them. When I was in school they always would say this doesn’t teach you how to be an engineer it taches you how to think like an engineer… It’s like solving a math problem. It’s so weird to look at a math problem. You might as well be trying to climb Mt Everest. You don’t see how it could happen. And then slowly you chip away and eventually you figure it out and math is so great because it’s so clear what the answer is. Sometimes when jokes work out it’s so great because you feel like that’s exactly how that joke should go.
So tell me about your new animated special. I know you got it funded. What’s next?
We shot it. The brief synopsis is that it’s half-standup, half-animation. A bunch of volunteers who all listen to our podcast chipped in to help out. I spent about a year doing quite a bit of road work and every time I would do a set I would chop it up in segments and send it to them and they would animate to it. My girlfriend would be in the back of the room running it on DJ software like a video mixer basically so I can do a regular standup act and then each three-minute bit is broken up into its own animation. So you can speed it up or slow it down to catch up to me. That’s essentially what we filmed along with some other art elements like people in masks and all these crazy costume things. But yeah we raised the money on Kickstarter and it’s ready to go. My manager wanted to wait until the show was going to release it but hopefully it will be soon.
Was this all shot at one location?
It was shot at one location and the animation plays on a projection screen next to me. The idea behind it was to give a visual element to a stand up show. It allows people to drift off and get into these weird visuals but also be at a stand-up show listening to jokes. That was the gist of trying to get it together. I think we pulled it off pretty well. It’s cool to look at.
Do you have any idea how you’ll release it?
I don’t know. I like how it came together and it was such an art project. If you’re familiar with the New Movement Theater in Austin where it was filmed I don’t know if you’d recognize it. We had a set design team of volunteers that rebuilt the whole back of the stage with a cardboard look. It was really strange and I just liked how it came together and how people volunteered to be a part of it. If we can give it some visibility I would love that but if it ends up being a hassle I would make it available in a simplistic way in the same vein as how the project came together.
Reactor airs Thursdays at 11:30 EST on SYFY.
Phil Davidson writes about, produces and performs comedy.