|Photo Credit||An Indoor Lady|
Some of the funniest moments are born from times of awkward silence. For Hunter Duncan, those moments originated around the family table on board game nights, filling pregnant pauses gently ribbing his mother. Or maybe not so gently, he admits, because “you roast the ones you love”.
In that setting, Duncan learned a lesson that sticks with him today, about the marriage of discomfort and humor. “You’re kind of upset, but you’re having fun”, as he describes it. At the time, it was notable but certainly not yet a key part of his character.
For a majority of his life, the native Austinite has been the opposite of “off the cuff” spontaneity.
“I was planning 10 years in advance where and what I’d be doing every couple of years where I should land and milestones”, Duncan says, “and then I realized at one point that was not a fun way to live.” After graduating from Texas Christian University, a very unplanned event landed him in real estate finance in New York. Working hundred-plus hour weeks, he eked out free time time to see marquee comedians doing small room sets, like Chris Rock (who actually bombed the night Duncan saw him at The Comedy Cellar). It tickled the creative side in him, even suppressed as it was by the literal by-the-numbers work week grind.
Duncan still wasn’t ready to make the move, until some wise words from a friend hit home with him. You can’t plan everything, pondering every outcome, stuck in analysis paralysis. He paraphrases it as: “With life…you’ve just gotta close your eyes and jump with both feet. You may crash, but you just gotta do it.” It was what he needed to hear to take the giant step to getting out of New York and getting back to the Austin scene to try his hand at being funny for a living. (Unchecked NYC rents played their role also, as they so often do.)
Projecting an air of confidence as Duncan does, it’s a bit surprising to hear the inner timidity that plagued him as he started to participate in the improv and sketch scene, taking classes and feeling out the stage, waiting at least a year before trying stand-up. Almost everyone’s first attempt at stand-up is rough, but he decided to try with a trifecta of challenges: filled with anxiety, hung over, and somehow fortuitously aided by popping a little pill that definitely wasn’t the Tylenol he intended to down before the show. It turned out to be Ambien, and thus the memories of that night are sadly lost to a bit of haze; the upside is that even if it wasn’t the best set, he may never know.
So he kept at it, not planning the minutiae, but certainly plotting a forward course, minus the Ambien we’re told. Duncan recalls his first booked show, the long running Stoned vs Drunk vs Sober, and he and his partner won with their sober sets. Days working improv, and nights behind the mic, became his norm. He started branching out into running his own show, like the long form Double Barrel with co-hosts Jared McCorkle and Andrew Wagner, giving opportunities for other comedians to get much deserved exposure.
With performing and hosting gigs–including for the famous Sklar Brothers– Duncan’s hard work is paying off. Recalling the experience, his admiration of the pair is on full display, sharing stories with Valerie Lopez of how they’re representative of his ideal role model: incessantly driven, wildly successful, but never sparing a moment to engage and show kindness to those even passingly in their sphere.
Entering Funniest Person in Austin for the first time, he had another revelation: don’t bring your anxieties on stage. “If you are stressed…it’s gonna come off on stage. I told myself…just go out and be stupid,” he recalls thinking. In his second outing, the recent 2018 competition, he made it to the finals.
Duncan’s next adventure, the independent film Ultimate World is due out in 2019. It’s his first big screen role, and the straight man startup founder character plays perfectly to the unassuming look that has helped him disarm an audience more than once. With the project still months away from release, he can’t help but consider his next moves, with the siren calls of New York and Los Angeles ringing in his ears. So catch him while you can before he jets off. Or maybe he won’t; that’s The Future, and he’s definitely not going to waste time planning it out.
Catch Hunter Duncan at these upcoming shows, and keep an eye on more upcoming dates at do512.com/hunterduncan/artists.
- Sat (8/11) @ 8 PM Listening Room @ Genuine Joe’s Coffee
- Fri (8/17) @ 8 PM Cider House Rulz @ Austin Eastciders Collaboratory
- Every Tuesday night at Mystery Box Open Mic at Cherrywood which Duncan co-hosts with Harrison Hammonds