It’s hard to stand out in the comedy scene while on the westside.
A lion’s share of comedy can be found in Hollywood where mainstream acts perform at famous venues such as the Comedy Store and just a few miles east in Silverlake is a comedy style that skews to the more bizarre, the hipster alt-scene.
Santa Monica’s comedy scene is still growing its own identity and one man is attempting to race to the top with a pair of crutches.
Josh Sundquist is a local comedian with a weekly show, “We Should Hang Out Sometime,” located at the Santa Monica Playhouse. Sundquist’s show is deeply personal, poking fun at himself and largely, his unsuccessful dating history.
“Basically, it’s about my dating disasters,” Sundquist said in a phone call with the Daily Press. “In my mid-20s, I never had a girlfriend so I investigated and talked to every girl I ever tried to date to fix myself. It was a weird social choice… but great comedy material.”
Sundquist has been making audiences laugh for years now, with his comedy at the Santa Monica Playhouse (a venue he frequents after seeing their regular magic shows), as a motivational speaker or his Instagram-famous Halloween photos.
Before the stand-up comedy, however, before the costumes, before the motivational speaking, a young Sundquist was fighting for his life.
At just 9-years-old, Sundquist was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer, Ewing’s Sarcoma. Ewing’s only affects about 300 people per year, ages 10-20, primarily in long bones. For Sundquist, it was his left leg.
To combat the cancer and save his life, Sundquist underwent a brutal, year-long cycle of chemotherapy.
“It’s a physical rollercoaster,” Sundquist said. “I had 18 chemo cycles and would go into the hospital about five days at a time. I’d feel horrible, gradually feel better at home for a couple of weeks, then head to my next chemotherapy treatment and do it all over again.”
At one point, doctors gave Sundquist and his family an option — keep fighting cancer, with a 50% chance of survival or cut off his left leg and greatly increase his chances.
Despite losing his leg at such a young age, Sundquist remains relatively upbeat about the amputation, cracking jokes and letting you know he’s more than fine talking about it.
“I did my grieving the days before the operation,” he said. “I would lie in bed and cry myself to sleep every night. Afterward, I didn’t look back too much.”
Sundquist began his new one-legged life with aplomb. He learned how to get around via crutches and prosthetics and how to be active as he was before the amputation, becoming a Paralympic athlete in ski racing and soccer.
While he checked boxes of things he wanted to do, there was one that remained: comedy. Sundquist grew up in a conservative household and was forbidden from watching anything not rated G, which severely limited his TV viewing options.
“I still remember being like, ‘Whoa, there’s people that do this?’ I remember hearing about Comedy Central existing and thinking, ‘There’s a TV channel where all they do is show comedy?’ I couldn’t believe it was a real thing.”
Flash forward years later, after his — spoiler alert! — marriage and after his tours as a motivational speaker, his wife purchased him a MasterClass course by Steve Martin.
“I thought it was so cool, I was very inspired and felt like, this is awesome and adjacent to what I’m doing anyway — talking on stage to a ton of people — I wanna try this.”
As he workshopped his material, his comedy and show’s story took shape once Sundquist grew enamored with comedian Mike Birbiglia.
“He’s very much a direct influence in my idea for doing this show,” Sundquist said. “He kind of pioneered that path, weaving jokes into a long, cohesive, narrative story. They’re these 90-minute specials that veer into stand up and veer back into narrative and I use the same kind of structure.”
With a year under his belt at the Playhouse now, Sundquist works on perfecting his craft, adding stage design such as music cues and projections and even wordsmiths sentences to get everything just right.
Sundquist says he enjoys getting laughs out of locals and tourists and Guy Who Randomly Stumbled Ins alike, but what he finds most rewarding is being part of the Santa Monica community.
“Me and my wife feel connected to the community on a whole new level here in Santa Monica,” he said. “We live within walking distance of the Playhouse and some people that come see the show are literally our neighbors. Very often I’ll pass by people on the sidewalk that will tell me they saw my show and loved it. It helps me feel like we’re part of the Santa Monica fabric of the community. We used to feel like spectators — we watched shows, attended events — but now we produce an event and offer our own show. It feels good to contribute.”
For more information on Josh and his comedy, visit JoshSundquist.com