Juston Graber is a US Army veteran turned actor based out of Los Angeles, California, who is active in independent films, sketch comedy, theatrical productions, improvisation, and voice acting. Recently he dabbled in and launched his first ever stand-up special called Fourth Time’s a Curse. Graber tells us a little about it and his acting experience in films.
Juston, congrats on your new venture into stand-up comedy. Tell us about the special, like how you came to dive into this endeavor.
To be honest, I’d been living in a negative headspace for a significant part of the year as a result of comparing my lack of success to others’ seemingly abundant accomplishments. Despite over a decade in pursuit of establishing an acting career, I still feel like I’ve fallen short of my own expectations. Looking back on the many short-films (Orisha, Spread, and Bounty Hunters), the tv mini-series (Heist), and comedic full-length play (Enlisted), all meant to be proofs of concept to get my close friend and production partner, Drew, and I in a pitching room, I began to see these efforts as failures as opposed to building a portfolio of quality work.
Social media wasn’t helping within the rut of comparison I’d fallen into. So, in order to break free from the negative impact of these platforms, I took a bold step and deactivated my accounts. The break lasted from December 2022 until June 2023. After spending that time soul-searching, I was still standing on a ledge trying to decide where to jump next. At the end of July, Drew came back from his self-produced stand-up Texas tour and pushed me into the sea of stand-up comedy. He said he wanted me to prepare a ten-minute set for his upcoming show that was held October 7th in Fort Worth, Texas. It pays off to have great friends who have your back. I embraced the opportunity. Sink or swim were now my only two options.
I dove into the art of structuring jokes, dedicating time to reading and studying the craft. I first focused on honing my material privately which proved to be pivotal and allowed me to build confidence. I was skeptical of performing my jokes around open mics in Los Angeles because everyone is in an analytical mindset, which makes it that much harder to gauge whether or not your jokes will actually work. However, I did manage to get a positive response from an audience of seasoned comics. Especially with the second-half of my set, which explores more dark humor, receiving genuine laughter from what I prepared reaffirmed this path and inspired me to continue this new chapter in my life and career.
How do you enjoy being a solo act on stage versus camera shoots for films?
It’s definitely different, for sure. With acting for camera or even in theater with a scene partner, there’s a comforting safety net. You’re able to bounce ideas off of each other and there’s a shared dynamic to play with. If somebody drops a line, you’ve got someone else to save the day. Being a solo act eliminates that safety net, placing the spotlight squarely on you. If you drop a joke, it’s all on you to pick it back up or pivot in another direction.
The pressure intensifies as you strive to establish a connection with an audience, fully aware that their response may differ from your expectations. There’s nothing more scary than looking out to an audience who are ready to turn into sharks and eat you alive. It’s a delicate balance of excitement and nervous anticipation. And while that feeling is strikingly similar to what an actor feels during a live audition for a casting director, the distinction lies in the courage it takes to get back on stage and try again after bombing.
Have you done comedic roles in films?
Comedy has always been my natural calling. I’ve always been told from friends I served in the military with that I have a unique ability to make anything funny. I suppose I’m best known for the comedic sketches I’ve done over the years alongside Drew Hernandez on the YouTube and Facebook channel A Combat Veteran.
We currently have a short Western comedy running the circuit in the film-festivals that was nominated for selection in the Venice Shorts Film Festival called Bounty Hunters. It ended up not being selected, but we are awaiting a few other festivals to get back to us including Sundance. However, in my experience, a lot of these festivals aren’t set up to be extremely fair and I question the validity of even the reputable ones at this point.
Bounty Hunters follows two infamous bounty hunters in their quest for redemption as they venture into the heart of Mississippi, relentlessly pursuing the state’s most notorious and wanted criminals, but must confront their own incompetencies to find the true meaning of justice. It’s a good ol’ fashioned comedy of errors, Western style that we plan to release early next year. For a sneak peek, check out the trailer here.
How much of your stage performance is scripted as against offhand delivery?
At the moment, I am predominantly scripted. While I have a deep appreciation for improv, I’m still working towards feeling completely at ease with the unpredictability of the crowd. Maintaining control is crucial for me. I do, however, inject some spontaneity into my act by scripting if/then scenarios. I do this by engaging with the audience, posing yes/no questions, which allows their responses to guide the direction of my performances.
Each and every moment on stage is a part of my ongoing learning process, and I’m excited to evolve and explore the dynamic between scripted and spontaneity as I continue to grow my stand-up journey.
In what ways were you affected by the recent strike in Hollywood?
It’s worth noting that this year’s particular pilot season was moving at a slow pace even before the strikes began, a detail that often goes overlooked. If anything, I did notice the lack of auditions compared to previous years. So, I had to find some way to stay creative, and stand-up definitely provided that means of creativity.
Obviously, the effects of the strike extended beyond the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and Screen Actors Guild (SAG) unions; as union productions were placed on hold, crew members also suffered a great deal. I did join the picket lines and made it a point to go and support the unions at least once per week. I also volunteered and helped the strike captains whenever I worked some free time into my schedule. I explored the option of becoming a captain myself, however, I could not commit to their preferred schedule.
Personally, a majority of the work I’ve done in the industry so far has been driven by creative collaborations within independent productions. These endeavors, from short films to stage plays, and now venturing into stand-up, I hope inspire other creatives to stay resilient and determined no matter what obstacles are thrown their way. At the end of the day, we have the power to do everything we want in life.
How frequently can audiences expect future stand-up performances of you?
I’m thrilled at the prospect of future shows, and will be accepting them as they come my way. My goal is to hit the stage as frequently as humanly possible. I love sharing laughter and connecting with audiences. While stand-up is a newfound passion, I’ll continue to actively pursue acting opportunities as I enjoy maintaining that dynamic balance between the creative realms of drama and comedy.
I am also dedicating time to write a book titled War Criminal. This project delves into my experiences during my second deployment overseas where I served in Samarra, Iraq with the “Rakkasans” of the 101st Airborne Division from 2005 – 2006. The book is a personal journey and opportunity to share a deeper narrative of the impact war has on a soldier’s actions.
The combination of stand-up, acting, and writing allows me to explore various dimensions of storytelling and creativity.
Do you actively use social media to interact with fans or update followers on your work?
Absolutely, I do utilize social media to keep everyone in the loop about my latest projects. While I’ll definitely be sharing updates and insights, I might not be as responsive to comments and interactions.
For those interested, you can catch glimpses of my journey on Instagram, where I go by the handle @justonrg. Additionally, my professional Facebook page is www.facebook.com/justongraber. You can explore more of my work at www.weenlisted.com, www.anthonyroyproductions.com, and, of course, www.facebook.com/acombatveteran
For a comprehensive look at my acting portfolio, you’re invited to visit my personal website: www.justongraber.com.