Free therapy: Joel Marshall on hosting his show ‘Lunch Therapy’
Joel Marshall is an actor & comedian whose talents have taken him to just about every medium that show business has to offer. From stand-up on the stage to on camera roles like William of Huxley in The New Adventures of Robin Hood, Marshall has continuously proven himself to be an astounding performer. Now his interests haven taken him into a new space: the internet.
He currently hosts the popular web show Joel Marshall’s Lunch Therapy, which creates space for conversations with all kinds of performers. We were thrilled to speak with Marshall and hear him open up about life as a stand-up comedian, the process of developing a web series, and some exciting moments he’s already had during Lunch Therapy’s exciting run.
When did you first know that you wanted to become an actor?
When I was three years old, my friend Paul Barbano asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I said I wanted to be an actor. I grew up in Edmonds Washington, just north of Seattle — we didn’t know any actors. But that didn’t stop me and it has never changed.
What were some of your favorite films while you were growing up?
My absolute favorite film is Amadeus. It feels like a perfect film; acting, directing, cinematography, costumes and the music, of course, is Mozart. It’s funny and dramatic and it’s a film that everyone can relate to on some level. When I was very young I loved the Pink Panther movies with Peter Sellers as Inspector Clousseau. I also loved the movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles with Steve Martin and John Candy.
How did you actually get your start in the industry?
After college I went around to the theaters in Seattle looking for work. They told me I was too young. Ha! Never heard that again! I decided to go to Chicago to work at Steppenwolf Theatre, because that was where the great acting was happening at the time.
Who do you consider to be some of your major acting influences?
John Malkovich has always been my favorite actor. Jeff Bridges a close second. Other favorites include Jack Nicholson, Christopher Walken, Debra Winger, Don Cheadle and Ed Harris. I am also heavily influenced by Jerry Lewis, Peter Sellers, Lily Tomlin and Steve Martin. The clown/actor Bill Irwin is another favorite. He’s why I went to CalArts for grad school.
When did comedy enter the mix for you?
When I was a child, I listened to Steve Martin’s albums over and over again. He was my Spongebob. I used to recite his routines verbatim. Still do it to this day – no matter how my wife responds. I took acting a little too seriously when I first came to LA, so I stayed away from comedy and improv. It wasn’t until my friend Kevin Sherman invited me to an open mic at the Comedy Store, that I got into stand-up comedy. I lived just off the Sunset Strip, so I could sign up for their “Pot Luck” where they would draw names out of a hat and make a set list. I would see where I was in the line-up, then go home and watch tv until my five-minute set. Sometimes we’d get bumped because Jerry Seinfeld or some huge comedy star would walk in and do like an hour.
How do your acting and your comedy influence each other?
Stand-up is great because you can perform any night – every night! — and you are not dependent on other people’s schedules; you don’t really need anyone’s permission; and you don’t have fit into anyone else’s box. It offers you unlimited opportunities to perform, challenges your creativity and burns away a lot of nervous energy. If you can get up alone, in front of a microphone and entertain a crowd of strangers, that can help you gain the confidence you need for other performing endeavors. Stand-up helps you find your comedic timing and that translates into any straight acting you do. Because all acting has a rhythm to it. Being a good actor is a great leg up for a stand-up career as well, because you can perform your routine as if you are just coming up with it on the spot. Good actors don’t sound rehearsed, even if they are.
Do you find yourself leaning more towards stage performance or being in front of the camera?
I love both live stage performance and being in front of the camera. Stand-up works much better live because of the energetic exchange that occurs between me and the audience in the moment. So, I definitely prefer that. But on my internet show I’ve found that there is another dynamic that happens, especially with the addition of the chat room. People get a chance to really get involved through their keyboards, and it can make for much spontaneous fun plus build a sense of community. I love stage acting as well. Performing Shakespeare is like nothing else. As far as traditional film and television acting, I love that the performance is forever preserved and can take place in a situation that is almost as real as life itself.
You’re now the host of Lunch Therapy. Where did you get the idea for the show?
The best ideas often come out of necessity. I had been doing stand-up consistently for years, and had built a kind of momentum that I really didn’t want to stop. Then came the pandemic, where we were suddenly told that gathering together in public spaces could make people deathly ill. I had to cancel one live show, and bail out of another. It was Friday night March 13th and I was just at a loss as to what to do. I decided to go to my YouTube Channel and begin live streaming my stand-up straight from my garage. The next day I did it again. It became a regular thing I did, every day at noon, so I called it Lunch Therapy.
What was your biggest challenge in getting the show off the ground?
I had done a pioneering podcast called FatFreeFilm, starting in 2005, back before people really knew what podcasts were. I also did other online video projects like Speechless Without Writers, a short digital series for the Writers Guild and Digital Ringmaster, a filmmaking collective in Los Angeles, so I was pretty schooled in digital media creation and workflow. At first, I was streaming Lunch Therapy every day, so the challenge was coming up with new material daily. As a comedian, trying to write and perform something new every day is very difficult and leads to very mixed results. When you do the clubs, you have the luxury of playing to different people every night, so you can do the same material over and over. I couldn’t do this on Lunch Therapy. I had to come up with new ways. The other challenge was that although there was an audience, they were silent – or at least had no way to make noise – just comments. It also didn’t help that my internet was dropping in and out because suddenly everyone in the world was working from home.
Who have been some of your most exciting guests on the show so far?
Every Friday is Interview Friday on Lunch Therapy. I have been very lucky to speak with many wonderful guests. Some of my favorites have been the impersonators; some of the best impersonators out there have been on the show, like John DiDomenico and Jim Meskimen. They did live impersonations on the show, even taking prompts on the fly from the chat room. The great dialect coach Jordan Yanco came on and not only did amazing impressions but gave the audience a tutorial on how actors learn dialects. Iconic actor Judd Nelson told stories from the set of the classic film The Breakfast Club and many other movies and shows. James Foley, director of At Close Range, House of Cards, Glengarry Glenn Ross among other great films, spoke on directing and working with actors. Martina Wing, of Manta Ray Advocates joined from Hawaii to talk Manta Rays; and the inventor of the personal jet pack, Nelson Tyler, graced our show with tales of his dramatic airborne feats.
What’s something you’ve learned from working on Lunch Therapy?
I have learned so much doing this show. One thing that I’ve learned is that we human beings are wells of creativity and sometimes all we have to do is just put our own feet to the fire. Having a show that airs live at noon on Tuesdays and Fridays, no matter what else is happening forces me to be constantly creative. It has also forced me to let go, trust my process and see what happens. It is a constant challenge to not become too attached to outcome and expectations; to not to be so precious about my ideas and jokes. Often, we may sit on our ideas because we are so afraid they may be stolen or misrepresented. But I’ve learned if you allow your ideas to be expressed freely, it makes room for many more creative thoughts to come rushing in.
Do you hope your audience takes away anything in particular from the show?
My hope is that people have fun and forget about some of the crap that may be going on in their lives. I hope they find a sense of community with others who enjoy the show. I hope that people are inspired to do whatever creative thing they want to do regardless of their own fears of what others may think. I hope I’ve shared my view that love is the actual enlightenment we seek.
How long do you see Lunch Therapy continuing into the future?
Right now, I just focus on making each show 1% better than the last one. I think as my acting and stand-up careers progress, so will the profile of the show. I’m hoping the various aspects of my artistic career will feed each other organically and this may take a few more years to achieve.
I do have a vision that in the future, Lunch Therapy will be filmed live on a sound stage with an in-person studio audience; a live chat room; and a massive interactive screen behind us where people can beam in remotely from all over the world. I’d like to bring on dynamic performers who might not have the publicity machine they need to be more mainstream.
What are some of your other goals in the years ahead?
Consistent acting work is always my primary goal and in the years ahead, I’m aiming to act on a good TV series. Although I’ve been an actor my entire adult life, I only now feel like I understand myself and know clearly what I have to offer a production.
I’m really just getting started; there are so many great opportunities available to actors today and the writing on television has never been better. As always, I continue to hone my skills and broaden my abilities. Recently, I’ve been participating in the great acting teacher Ivana Chubbuck’s Masterclass, which keeps my love for the work itself alive and my chops sharpened for any acting work that presents itself.
Do you have a five year plan?
My five-year plan is to see my variety show on a major network or streaming service, and to find a regular role in a popular meaningful series that I can play for several years. I plan to continue my live stand-up shows and broaden my reach into theaters across the country. I anticipate performing my one-man show in Edinburgh, Scotland at the Fringe Festival, which had been planned prior to the pandemic. I have also written a TV pilot, Supperclub, and a movie, Nanotechnopolis, that both take place in the Pacific Northwest. I would love to see these come to fruition.
What advice would you give to a young actor or comedian just getting their start in the business?
My advice to a young actor is to start making your own content immediately. Find a way to perform as often as possible. Write your own material. Writing is power. As a comedian, if there is no venue for you, then make one. You need a space to play and create in front of other people. As comedians, we have to perform for an actual audience, otherwise you will have no idea what connects with the audience and what doesn’t. Don’t be afraid to get out there, it’s the only way to learn what’s funny. Don’t allow yourself to indulge in guilt or shame. Overcome any negative self-talk as quickly as possible. If you fall on your face, lick your wounds, but then get back up and get out there. Keep uncovering all the creativity that is inside of you. Everyone gets nervous, everyone gets scared. Your idols and heroes do too, but they go out there and do it anyway. You can too.
If you had to pick a favorite comedian, who would it be?
Of the current comedians, the one I like the best is Jim Gaffigan. He can make everyone laugh by drawing on his own very personal experience but still keep it clean. Even if your life is completely different from his, you still relate. He spent a long time developing his craft and his persona. I also appreciate the professional partnership that he has with his wife.
Where can people find Lunch Therapy?
The best place to find Lunch Therapy is on my YouTube Channel https://youtube.com/c/joelmarshall
All the episodes are there, and I encourage you to, subscribe and hit the notification bell so you can join us live on Tuesdays and Fridays at noon Pacific time. The live chat room is a very interactive part of the show. It’s also where you can find some of the funniest jokes.