psychedelic comedy

Image courtesy of Duncan Trussell

Psychedelic Science 2017 is fast approaching, and in addition to lectures and workshops from some of the world’s leading experts on psychedelic research and therapy, this conference will break new ground by hosting the world’s first Psychedelic Comedy Banquet, bringing a dose of levity and hilarity to an often serious subject. Headlining this banquet will be Duncan Trussell, a rising comedian and host of the popular podcast The Duncan Trussell Family Hour. Simultaneously irreverent and full of reverence, Duncan is an outspoken supporter of psychedelics. His comedy is informed by a special blend of radical honesty, eclectic wisdom, and a psychedelic perspective on the nature of reality, technology, self-improvement, and the absurdities of our modern culture. We caught up with Duncan recently and spoke about how comedy itself can be psychedelic and the value of authenticity in a world full of illusions.

Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us, Duncan. What is the most psychedelic trait of comedy itself?

Sometimes when you’re on stage, you aren’t there anymore. Something else happens, you’re in a complete flow state, and things are coming out of your mouth, you’re hearing them, and it’s like, “Wow, where is that coming from?” It’s happened to me, and I’ve seen it happen to other comedians, too, when they are no longer a ‘self’ up there but start to embody archetypes. Some of the great comedians are known for it; like with Richard Pryor, you were witnessing someone taking on the sins of the world. Embodying these different fundamental aspects of the human condition and translating them into words and movement becomes a kind of alchemical ritual that you’re witnessing up there, and it is very powerful.

Any comedian that’s been doing comedy long enough will hit that pitch. When I’ve seen George Carlin or Joe Rogan or Eddie Griffin just crushing it at a show, it’s like watching a volcano explode; it’s incredible and very psychedelic. The energy of the room shifts in a way that I’ve experienced in different communal celebratory gatherings like Burning Man, but I don’t think a lot of people realize it happens in comedy, too. When that comes through onstage, it’s a timeless and beautiful experience to feel or watch. But with all this lofty bullshit aside, it’s comedy—so if you’re laughing, the comedian is doing their job. It’s not necessarily their job to channel Dionysus, but when they do, it’s wonderful.

In your comedy and especially on your podcast, you speak very openly about psychedelics and what you’ve learned from them, but also about your life in general—the struggles you face, the shortcomings you recognize in yourself, and the challenges you overcome. That kind of radical honesty is refreshing and, I think, very important.

One of the things I love about the podcast is that you get this great information from world class guests, and some of those things stay with you permanently. One of those things is something that Dan Harmon—a brilliant comedy writer who created “Community” and “Rick and Morty”—said to me. He said “If you’re completely honest, then you can’t lose.” So if I’m telling you my truth—exactly how I feel, whatever it may be, logical or illogical—and you hear that and don’t like me, then that’s okay. It’s the same as not liking certain flavors of gum or types of weather. It’s like not liking nature because if I’m reflecting who I am to you honestly, then that’s all I can do. When you’re not completely honest and you start inventing a false version of yourself because you want someone to like you, you’re not only doing yourself a horrible disservice because you’re undermining the deeper part of yourself, but clearly you’re doing a disservice to the person you’re sitting across from because you are cobbling together some kind of mask based on your perception of what you think they want to see. And what a terrible thing for a person to live in a world surrounded by people wearing masks. That’s a nightmare world! And so many of us live in that world.

It must be especially challenging to be that open and vulnerable in the general realm of show business where mask wearing is the name of the game.

At the school of comedy I came out of at the Comedy Store in Los Angeles, the essence is that the more you can be yourself on stage, the better you’re going to be. One of the delights in a comedian’s development is when you realize, “Oh my god, this whole time I’ve been trying to say things that people think are funny, but there’s an entire reservoir of my own experience that I haven’t been talking about.” Once you start doing that, whether people like it or not right away, you really get to experience what it is to do stand-up comedy. I think that’s what stand-up comedy is; it’s the path of taking your mask off publicly in front of a group of people and seeing what happens. Some comics don’t necessarily fall into that style, but that’s what it is for me. Once you start experimenting with truth, then you realize that every single thing you’ve been withholding from the world out of shame is a weight you’ve been carrying that you didn’t even realize. I think this is what Catholic confession was based around; they understood that if they could get people to admit what they were ashamed of, it would relieve them of this burden that comes with thinking there’s some piece of you that, when exposed to the light, will be destroyed.

So in a way, this kind of comedy has advanced the technology of confession into a public form, and that way, the levity doesn’t just apply to the comic but to everyone. As an observer when we see someone being that authentic, it instantly gives you this sense of, “Oh, other people go through this too! I can be honest, and it’s okay.” It’s this beautiful win-win magic, and it’s just the magic of what is, as opposed to the dark magic of mazes and illusion and masks.

Yes, exactly. Often when people rise up in the ranks of the community or profession they’re in, the higher you get, the more masks you’re around, until the next thing you know, when people aren’t wearing masks, they’re like ”Get ’em outta my sight, that motherfucker isn’t wearing a mask!” They are horrified! And so we have professional mask wearers, talking heads like Bill O’Reilly, Rachel Maddow, and Wolf Blitzer. I don’t know what’s under the Wolf Blitzer mask, but I guarantee that Wolf Blitzer can’t come on the news and say, “You know what guys, this shit is really getting to me. I threw water into my wife’s face this morning, and I think something inside of me is really broken right now, and I would love it if you guys could help.” Could you imagine Wolf Blitzer saying that?

So the culture of honesty for certain comedians and podcasts is wonderful, I think. For me, personally, when I listen to a podcast or see a comedian who is purely themselves onstage, for better or for worse, it might not be the traditionally funniest thing I’ve ever seen, but my god, it’s so incredibly awe inspiring when suddenly you see a person take off their mask when we’ve all been living in a world of masks. It’s easier said than done, but psychedelics can help immensely with this. They help us to go beyond our own bullshit and discover who we really are—which benefits not just us but everyone around us.

We are very grateful to Duncan for speaking with us and for applying the lessons that psychedelics reveal in his comedy and podcast. Be sure to follow Duncan on Twitter and check out his podcast The Duncan Trussell Family Hour.