Talking Comedy with Justin Porter

We sat down with Portah to talk a little bit about his life outside of Luma

Our Digital Production Managner, Justin Porter, has been performing improv and stand up for over 10 years now and has performed at festivals in the United Sates and Australia. Check out our interview and find out what Justin has to say about his first comedy show, party jokes and Cards Against Humanity.

Improv group Bear Attack official photo
Improv group Bear Attack official photo

Tell us how you started working at Luma and how you got into VFX.

It’s actually very strange. I went to film school at USC with the intention to work in some aspect of production (directing/writing/acting/editing) and right out of school was working at a very small company doing some editing work. Then the writer’s strike happened and I took a pay cut and was living on credit cards and dying inside, so I had to quit my job to find another. I was applying to all the studios in LA and not really getting bites. After two months I said, “If I don’t get a job this month, I have to move back to Texas.” A week later some random guy who said he worked for some place called Luma Pictures messaged me on AIM, saying he got my info on LinkedIn and wanted to see if I’d be interested in a job. Of course I was like “who’s this troll stalking me online” but then I looked up Luma and came in for an interview and was ecstatic. The moment I walked in the door I knew I wanted to work here – it was the coolest place I’d been to. During my interview I was trying so hard not to giggle and smile that I over-compensated and later found out they didn’t think I wanted the job. Luckily they decided to give me a chance anyway. I knew nothing about visual effects but I was tech-savvy and a quick learner so I picked it up and have been with the company ever since. That was 7 years ago.

Of course I was like ‘who’s this troll stalking me online’ but then I looked up Luma and came in for an interview and was ecstatic.

Can you tell us a little bit more about your role at Luma?

I’m the Digital Production Manager of Luma’s Melbourne office. Basically, I make sure our schedule is in line with client deliverables and help find solutions to problems as they arise….not that they ever do because VFX is always smooth ride, right? Haha!

Let’s get right into it. What’s your go to party joke? (side note- sorry, Justin!)

I don’t really have any party jokes, and this is actually a great thing to address! Comedians hate being asked to “do something funny” or tell a joke at a party. It’s like if you meet an accountant, you wouldn’t say, “oh wow, can you add and subtract these numbers?” Comedy is work. It takes effort. Not a lot of people really see it that way because from an audience perspective it’s just consumption. It doesn’t take effort on your part to be entertained. But for a comedian that is their job. Yes it’s fun and it’s a job we love, but we don’t want to do it for you on demand. No one telling jokes at a party is an actual comedian. Comedians don’t want to perform for you on a whim, we don’t want to put on a show at a party… we’re not your puppet! We want to engage with you, we want to have fun and discover new things with you, not for you. So please don’t ask us to tell you jokes. 🙂

Ok. Let's get into it. How did you first get into comedy?

At my previous job one of the things we did was edit demo reels for actors. I was working with this girl who had footage from some reality wedding prank show she was in where they made a bride think everything was going awry on her wedding day. Obviously, because it’s reality the actors would have to be able to improvise on the spot because you never know how the bride is going to react. I was asking her how she got into it and that’s when she told me she took classes at a place called I.O. West in Los Angeles. Then she said, “You should do it. You would be really good at it.” I thought “YEAH I WOULD BE GOOD AT IT!” and signed up for classes a couple weeks later. Best decision I’ve ever made. At one of my shows a guy named Gerry Katzman, who teaches stand-up classes, saw me perform and came up to me afterward. He said he thought I was excellent and I’d be really good at stand-up and encouraged me to take classes. I did and I loved it, and that’s how I got into stand-up. When I moved to Australia and knew literally no one except for the people at work, my background in comedy instantly got my foot in the door with a community of amazing people, a few of whom I’m now lucky enough to call good friends.

I would really like to do Edinburgh Fringe…. Though probably no one would come to my show and I’d have to sell peanuts on the street to make up the cost. Very My Fair Lady.

What was your first improv show like?

I don’t remember my first improv show, but I do remember one of my early ones. It was a “class show” and there was this scene that was kinda crashing and burning and I came on and was like “Cut. Blah blah blah something I can’t remember” to try and help give the scene some kind of context/purpose. Afterward one of the teachers was giving notes on the show and when he got to that scene he said something like, “Justin, normally I would HATE a scene that someone comes out and says ‘cut’ etc but you did it in a way that really worked and supported the scene.” That’s when I learned that you can really do anything in improv as long as it serves a purpose – as long as it supports what is happening and pushes it forward and makes your scene partners look good. If you’re making a move just because or to make yourself look good, that’s the worst. It’s selfish and you should just stay off stage. Maybe permanently.

Improv at the Improv Consipracy theatre in Melbourne
Improv at the Improv Consipracy theatre in Melbourne

Tell me about your improv group “Improv Against Humanity.”

Improv Against Humanity is a hour-long improv show that a friend of mine created. We play four rounds of Cards Against Humanity with the audience – we read out a black card and the first 5-8 white cards from the audience are collected. We read them out and whichever one gets the best response we keep. The first four scenes of the show are based on those cards, and then the rest of the show launches off of that. It can be pretty irreverent, but we try to keep from going crude and play smart choices from these really horrible cards. For example in one show the suggestion was “This year for Christmas instead of giving naughty kids coal, he’s giving them [blank]” and the winning card was “Suicidal Thoughts” – which is awful – and the scene based on that was Santa and Mrs. Claus. Santa’s opening line was “It’s just so sad… there’s so many fewer children this year.” and as the scene played out it turned out Mrs. Claus hated children and thought they all got what they deserved. It ended up spawning one of my favorite runs of all time.

Have you ever had a performance go terribly wrong?

Nope, I’m perfect.

What comedy festivals have you performed at and what’s the best one so far?

I’ve performed in Austin Out of Bounds, Melbourne International Comedy Festival and Melbourne Fringe Festival so far. I think MICF is my favorite – it’s specifically geared toward comedy and draws acts from all over the globe. I would really like to do Edinburgh Fringe, apparently that’s amazing. Though probably no one would come to my show and I’d have to sell peanuts on the street to make up the cost. Very My Fair Lady.

It was your first directorial debut at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival this year. How did this come about?

My friend Dan, whom I met here in Australia through improv, was writing/developing a show he wanted to do for the festival (called #1 Ninja) and asked me to direct. I had given him some feedback on previous shows he’d done and I guess he liked what I had to say so he wanted more! It was a really fun experience – we ended up writing parts of the show together and now we’re working on our two-man show that will be premiering in the Melbourne Fringe Festival later this year – ApocOlympics. Come check it out!

It’s no less/more wrong to marginalize a Ninja than it would be a woman or a gay man, blah blah blah.

What is #1 Ninja?

It’s essentially a sketch show wrapped in a “seminar” given by Ninja. At one point in the show it switches to be #1 Woman, and later #1 Gay, and you see some of the same sketches re-explored but with different marginalized groups where the Ninja used to be. The idea is to show through comedy that discriminating against one group of people is the same as any. It’s no less/more wrong to marginalize a Ninja than it would be a woman or a gay man, blah blah blah. You know that terrible ad that used to play when you loaded DVDs that was like, “You wouldn’t steal a car! You wouldn’t steal a handbag! Pirating is stealing!!” It’s like that but about women and gays and ninjas, and with better music and font choices. Speaking of which can we get some better distribution in Australia? No wonder everyone pirates stuff here.

Improv at the Improv Conspiracy Theatre in Melbourne
Improv at the Improv Conspiracy Theatre in Melbourne

How can we unleash the #1 Ninja within?

You can’t. The show is over so… you’re stuck the way you are. You’ll have to come to my next show!

Who are your top two favorite comedians? And why?

Amy Schumer and Louis C.K. I think. Amy is just… my jam. I started watching her show (Inside Amy Schumer) before she exploded and knew I was seeing something special and immediately loved her. And seeing how she’s handled her exploding stardom has been really interesting and refreshing – she hasn’t caved to what Hollywood expects and she still just tells it like it is. I can’t wait to see where she is in ten years. Hopefully working on something with me. And Louis C.K. has this dark humor that I really love and his delivery always kills me – I could watch him for days. They’re both very irreverent in their own ways and I really like that. At my core I think my style of humor is along the lines of “I’m going to show you some truth and it’s going to be ugly but you’re going to see yourself in it and so we can both laugh” and I think they both have that quality.

At my core I think my style of humor is along the lines of ‘I’m going to show you some truth and it’s going to be ugly but you’re going to see yourself in it and so we can both laugh.

What is your favorite part about performing comedy shows?

When you have a really responsive audience, the energy in the room is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. The rush of performing live and getting really positive feedback is just incredible. Beyond that, there’s something really amazing in improv about how you are making up a scene on the fly, from scratch, with another person. The way you find what the scene is about and then on top of that how it makes sense in the moment, is one of my favorite things in life.

What do you think is the most special or important thing about comedy?

I think it’s amazing how comedy can be used as a tool. You can actually use it to accomplish a goal or push an agenda. You can sway someone to your side, you can diffuse a situation, you can bend someone to your will. I’m kidding to a degree, but it’s true. You can accomplish a lot if you use comedy as a tool in your belt. Comedy breaks down walls, and I think that’s pretty incredible.

Bear Attack Improv group performs in the Austrin Out of Bounds Festival 2014
Bear Attack Improv group performs in the Austrin Out of Bounds Festival 2014

What advice would you give to someone who wants to start doing comedy?

Just do it! And stick with it. Improv (and comedy in general) is not easy – it’s terrifying at first and it’s hard. But the only thing that will hold you back is yourself. The opportunities are out there, and if you really want to do it, you can. I guess that’s true with anything… what a terrible answer! I would find a company that does long-form (as opposed to short-form) improv and start there… I think that’s the best comic foundation you can get. In America, I’m partial to I.O. (Los Angeles or Chicago) but Second City is also great, and Groundlings. In Australia, Improv Conspiracy in Melbourne is the best place to start. Take a workshop or sign up for a class and just go for it. You’ll probably meet your future best friends there, and it will open you up to the rest of the comedy world. And for stand-up I highly recommend looking up Gerry Katzman in Los Angeles – he is simply amazing.

What’s the dirtiest joke you know?

I know a dirty joke about a mirror and kegel exercises… but I’m not going to tell it here.

Who’s funnier, Australians or Americans? Be honest.

Australians… there’s something about the accent that makes everything more hilarious.