Burb's Eye View: Standing up to future in stand-up comedy

The influences in young Andrew Duvall's life carried many names, each more powerful than the last.

Uhura. Sulu. McCoy. Spock. Kirk. Great-grandmother.

Starting at about age 6, Duvall would visit his great-grandmother in a town just outside Toronto, where the two would take in the latest rerun of "Star Trek." He didn't know it then, but the show would spark a lifelong love of sci-fi that would eventually lead him to Burbank and national TV.

First, he had to get through school, a slog made more arduous by a compelling lack of interest in school subjects. Comedy, however, was something he could get behind.

By high school, he moved to Georgia, where a bar would host lunchtime open-mic events. Every day, the 17-year-old kid from Canada skipped class to try out material on lunch-break locals. At 17, he didn't have a whole lot of life experience, so his set mainly consisted of other comedians' jokes and riffs on "Star Trek" episodes.

"I did it for two or three months and wasn't getting laughs," he said. "If it wasn't for my mom, I wouldn't have kept with it."

With his grades falling, Duvall was given an ultimatum by his mother: Get through high school and she'd help him pursue his comedy dream.

At first that meant living rent-free as he stockpiled cash from a job at Avis. A friend in the big city, Tallahassee, offered Duvall a similar arrangement while he crafted his set at a comedy club downtown. His original material — Seinfeld-esque musings on libraries, sci-fi and fantasy, and observations on the world — started to get a reaction.

"They weren't laughing at me so much as laughing at what I was saying," he said.

In 2011, he had saved enough to start a career in screenwriting and comedy. He moved to Van Nuys until some friends from Florida invited him to stay at their house in Burbank. He's played at several local comedy clubs, including sets at Burbank's own Flappers.

During one of his stand-up shows a producer for the Syfy network caught his act. They cast him for "Fangasm," a reality series shot earlier this summer. It follows seven ubergeek interns living in a house and working for comic book legend Stan Lee's Comikaze Expo, which will be held this weekend at the L.A. Convention Center.

The show was labeled by some critics — wrongly, in the cast's opinion — as the "real-life Big Bang Theory," a CBS show about fictional scientists who wax poetic on comic books, sci-fi, and fantasy. The harshest criticisms labeled "Fangasm" an irreverent exploitation of geek culture and a marketing platform for the convention. Duvall defends the show and says producers gave the cast things to do, but their reactions and conversations were unscripted.

Their internships had them constructing foam tentacles for conventions or pitching comic ideas to Stan the Man himself. When it came to more regular office work, Duvall found himself rallying once again against the drudgery he'd experienced in school.

"I'm not really good at being in an office. I procrastinated a lot," he said. "I took a nap under my desk because I didn't want to work anymore."

After the show wrapped, Duvall said he bought "some food and an iPod for my girlfriend" with the money he earned. When he returned to Burbank, he and his roommates were told their rent was being raised — their landlord sold the apartment to a management company that wanted to charge more. He put his earnings into finding a new place to live — this time, a cheaper place in Sherman Oaks.

"Now it's almost November and I'm broke again," Duvall said, laughing.

At Comikaze this weekend, he and his roommates (not the cast from "Fangasm") will take the stage for stand-up at 7 p.m. He's also planning on going on tour with his stand-up.

If he's looking for new material, he might return to his "Trek" roots — the show allowed him to meet Sulu himself, George Takei.

Not that there's anything wrong with the new "Trek" cast — in Duvall's eyes, they do a good job. And great-grandmother would approve.

"She would have thought they were cute," he said.


BRYAN MAHONEY writes about Burbank neighbors and the place they call home. He can be reached at 818NewGuy@gmail.com and on Twitter at @818NewGuy.


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