Those in the Reno/Lake Tahoe area might know Justin Rupple. The performer frequently visits the area, acknowledging that the wide backgrounds of the crowds at comedy shows here provide a bit more of a challenge than the clubs in Los Angeles.
“Reno is one of those cities where you get all the different corners of American culture meeting in one small place. There’s a conservative culture, there’s a liberal culture; there’s a world culture, there’s a metro culture; there’s outdoorsy types, there’s strictly tech types; there are people who really only listen to country music and then there are people where it’s jazz and hip-hop. I can’t really put a finger on exactly what the city’s about. But it’s a great place to do standup because America is confusing and if you can make Reno laugh, you can make the rest of the country laugh.”
“Here is what was mind blowing to me,” says Justin Rupple, the Los Angeles-based comedian and voice actor whose range of work includes voicing the Tuffnut character in “How To Train Your Dragon,” winning his season as a contestant on Dana Carvey’s “First Impressions” competition reality series, and performing at comedy clubs across the country. “Somebody said this to me awhile back and it changed the game for me – and this is 15 years into my career! They said if your subject is decided by what you think the audience wants to hear, you’re destined to fail.”
Rupple expands on the idea, “At some point in your life, you go, ‘I’m not going to give people what they want, I’m going to give people what I want to give them.’ And they either like it or not like it. But those are the innovators. Those are the people that they say, ‘Oh my God, there’s nobody like them.’ ”
Speaking with Justin Rupple, it’s clear that comedy isn’t just a field of interest, or a career he stumbled into. He describes other comics with an uncontained sense of passion. He looks at the spectrum of those who take the stage to make others laugh both appreciatively and with a steady gaze toward what it is that fuels them.
“I’m a wind-up doll when it comes to comedy. Some people get into comedy because they really need attention, they were the middle child. Or the people that are so quick off the wit, you say something and boom, they got an answer for you. Those are the natural born people, and then others it just takes practice. I think both are really fun to watch. I think it’s fun to watch the practitioner of a spot or an art, as well as somebody who just wakes up out of bed that’s naturally gifted.”
Since first performing stand up in his home state of Washington, Rupple’s ability for impressions has formed the basis of much of his stand-up act. The genesis of which, he’ll admit came about only because as an awkward pre-pubescent grade schooler, Rupple’s voice was sometimes mistakenly close sounding to that of his mom, a “spritely, positive, bubbly” woman, in his words. He played around with deepening his voice, with scratching the sound or playing with accents to try to differentiate his voice from hers.
Years later, while touring as a comic, he admits that the obvious path of a skilled voice actor and impressionist – pranking people with celebrity impersonations – resulted in possibly the equally obvious outcome…
“When I didn’t have CD’s to sell on the road, I’d say, ‘Hey, after the show if you pay me $20, I’ll prank call people.’ Most times they would be taken aback but then laugh. Everybody’s on speaker phone, everybody’s having a good time. But as I started to get larger gigs and end up in casinos, I won’t say what casino, one of the casino crew paid me $200 to prank call the head of security and say I was Vince Vaughn and that I was at the shrimp restaurant and I was not being taken care of properly. And this guy believed it. He believed it so well he showed up 18 minutes later from his kid’s birthday party to find out where Vince Vaughn was.”
The ordeal is recalled with a laugh in hindsight.
“Let’s put it this way, until that guy left, I was not allowed back at that particular venue.”
While Justin Rupple has used his voice work and impressions to make a name for himself in the comedy world, and to have the chance to work with major film studios and embark on tours and performances with big name headliners, I asked Rupple if he ever received less than stellar feedback from any of the celebrities who he impersonated.
“If I do an impression of a comedian, that’s me saying I love you, you know what I mean? Norm Macdonald and I got along swimmingly, we got along very well. I performed with him two weekends, and the last night on the last show, after I did my act, somebody said, ‘Do Norm!’
So I did my impression. I walked backstage afterward, and I’m like ‘Norm, did you hear my impression?’. He goes ‘All week I was telling you ‘good voices’, and then I have you open, and then let’s put it this way, have you ever opened for yourself?’
“He was so nice he gave me a recommendation to get into another club after that. But he genuinely hated the impression of him.”
As someone who sees himself not as one of the naturally funny comedians, but someone who has had to work to develop his abilities, Rupple also used his time with Norm Macdonald to gain perspective on the craft.
“He was one of the people I looked up to the most. I have a question I ask every major comedian. I asked him is what we do art, or is what we do, and he goes, ‘Nope! What we do is a magic trick at best. It’s this plus this equals this.’ And I go, what is it? And he says, ‘thing you know plus thing you know plus thing you didn’t see coming equals laughter. And once you figure out how to do A plus B, you know how to make C happen every single time with nothing more than that. There’s no magic to it.’
And Rupple, now over 15 years into his comedy career, a field he entered as a self-described “fanboy” who is outspoken in his appreciation for the different backgrounds and methods with which other comics use to hone their routines, explaines his response to Macdonald’s feeling that there’s no magic to comedy…
“I disagreed with him 100 percent. One hundred percent.”
- Justin Rupple will be perform Thursday, Feb. 10 at Napa Sonoma South, 7671 S. Virginia St., Reno
Louie Centanni is the host; guest comics are Steve Dente, Luke Demus, Pete Fena and Mike Shinn
- And at The Arch in downtown Reno. 111 N. Virginia St., at 9 p.m. Friday and at 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. Saturday
Louie Centanni is the host; guest comics are Mike Shinn, Blake Hoffmann, Sara Rooker and David Hoffman
Visit RenoTahoeComedy.com for complete information