Sacramento comedians Junior Bruce and Leo Zuniga’s podcast explores what it means to make people laugh
Before they decided to jump into the fray themselves, Junior Bruce and Leo Zuniga would watch comedians performing finely tuned 15-minute sets.
Both wondered the same thing: How did those performers take something notoriously hard and make it look so easy? That’s not the sort of information typically revealed during a comedian’s interview on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, after all.
Many stand-up comics, of course, spend years developing their craft, oftentimes utilizing very specific techniques—something Bruce and Zuniga explore in detail on their comedy podcast, The Junior & Leo Show.
The podcast launched in 2012, intended as a means to demystify the creative process a bit—not just because the pair finds it interesting, but because they believe it can serve as an educational tool for listeners.
“What we do is let people know how things work, so they feel like they can go out and do it themselves,” Bruce said. “We’re trying to help them by exposing the processes. We’re in love with the process—I’m a process junkie.”
Bruce, 33, and Zuniga, 47, both got their start as comedians only a couple years ago and first met in 2011 at a Sacramento Comedy Spot open-mic. Now, nearly 100 episodes later—it’ll hit that milestone in July—the podcast represents something of a full-circle journey, at least for Zuniga, who finally decided to give comedy a try after listening to a podcast in which a successful stand-up talked about the difficulties of launching a career.
“[He] did [his] first five minutes, and it was just awful. That just made it seem more doable to me,” Zuniga said. “We find a lot of people in everyday lives that have some creative juices in them but are scared.”
Zuniga knew from an early age that he wanted to do comedy, but lacked the discipline.
“I went through a number of years through my 20s, just running amok through Sacramento. Then, I got clean. I met my wife, had kids and at 45 years old, all [of a] sudden, I realize that those things were still untapped from all those years ago,” he said.
Bruce’s path to comedy started with the life-changing moment when his daughter was born—an event that succeeded in finally pushing him over a hump that had stopped him many times before.
“I took a long, hard look in the mirror, and I realized that I want her to be somebody that doesn’t suffer from a lack of self-confidence like I do. She inspired me to be a better person,” Bruce said.
The podcast now airs twice weekly and usually features an in-depth interview with at least one guest. And since its launch, it has evolved. In the beginning, rather than interview guests, the two friends sat around and talked about their wives, families and other and random everyday happenings.
In other words, it was pretty boring.
“We realized about five episodes in that that was a show format that not even we wanted to listen to,” Bruce said.
The pair quickly decided to not only bring in guests, but to also keep the podcast focused. Instead of sporting a “let’s drink beers and BS about whatever pops into our heads” vibe, each episode now focuses on the creative process.
Bruce does most of the interviewing, while Zuniga handles the technical side of things. And, because both are involved in the local comedy scene, most of their guests, naturally, are comedians. But there are also other creative types featured, including musicians, artists, filmmakers and writers. Regardless of the craft, the goal remains the same: Get to the root of how and why they create their art.
“We’re finding different things that are similar with [all] creators,” Bruce said. “Comedians tend to do a lot of similar things to create their act [just like] singer-songwriters tend to do a lot of similar things to create theirs. Our hope with the show is to motivate people to do more.”
And, if the conversation allows it, Bruce and Zuniga dig deep into their guests’ private lives.
“We try and expose the real life that happens to our guest that I think people could possibly relate to,” Bruce said. “We [once] had a local comedian talking about how he was in the midst of going through a separation with his wife. I went through that. My wife and I separated twice.”
Which is not to say that the show is serious—far from it. Bruce and Zuniga are comedians, after all.
Once, for example, they played host to two wrestlers, Jacc Movez and Christian Black. Bruce thought it would be funny if he “picked a fight” with Movez on-air, who would then repay Bruce by demonstrating some of his wrestling chops. Instead, Movez and his “rival” Black took turns seeing who could chop the hardest moves against Bruce.
The result, Bruce said, was intensely painful.
“There was a 24-hour period where it felt like my whole body had been in a car accident. I’m a fat dude, so I got breasts. My breasts were just black,” he says. “Even the nipple had turned black. I will never do that again, [but] it’s all captured on the podcast, so it’s a good story now.”
Currently, most of the show’s guests are local, but Bruce and Zuniga hope to expand their roster to include more national artists. One of their first big gets was Bobby Slayton—well, sort of.
They met Slayton at the Punch Line Comedy Club in Sacramento to tape an interview—only once they started talking, Zuniga forgot to press the record button on the machine.
Disaster? Perhaps, but sticking to their policy of showing their listeners exactly how the creative process works, Bruce and Zuniga instead recorded a new episode in which they tried to recount the interview—and how they’d missed out on capturing it.
“[During the interview] Bobby [asked], ’Is this going to sound good, guys?’” Bruce said. “I happen to say, ’Yeah, as long as he remembered to hit record, it’ll sound great.’ We completely own the mistakes that we make.”
These days, the pair ends each episode with Bruce asking Zuniga if he’s actually recording.
Zuniga, of course, now always remembers to hit the button.