John Duff on the art of perseverance

Photography by Eric Pietrangolare

John Duff knows a thing or two about parody musicals. After starring as Slater in the “Saved By The Bell” skewering Bayside The Musical, he’s taking on another iconic mullet from the 90s: Uncle Jesse in Full House The Musical.

How did you wind up being an actor?

My parents would tell you that I never decided. I grew up in a family that never talked about the arts and they said I was in preschool when I came home with a piece of paper that said I wanted to be an actor. They were confused because it was never talked about, no one cared about celebrity and it wasn’t a tabloid kind of house. When I was five, I started dancing. It was a hard place to be in Maryland, other boys weren’t dancing, so I stopped rather quickly. But I started doing musical theatre around eight-years old, I was Conrad Birdie in Bye Bye Birdie and from there, I never stopped.

Going from one parody musical to another. What’s the appeal?

I love working on brand new things. I like having the paper and then bringing it to life. Actually, my friends wrote Bayside and I was cast on the subway.

Okay you’ve got to tell us how that happened.

I was completely over acting, I was done. I was riding the subway and overhearing these two people’s conversation. They asked me if I was eavesdropping, I said “Yes I’m eavesdropping. What are you talking about?” They said they just cast a new musical and I said they should see me for it. They’d already cast it but I said I didn’t care. I read for it on the train, pulled out my headshot and resume, gave it to them and got off the train. A week later, they called me and asked me to do it. That has led to everything since.JDuff6

At this point, I’m doing whatever moves me. I work hard to originate things though. I love the creative process of finding the laugh, finding the character and then, in this case, finding what John Stamos did for Uncle Jesse, what the audience loved about Uncle Jesse and what I’ve placed on Uncle Jesse. That’s why I’m doing this part.

How do you approach a character that people already have an ingrained idea of who they are?

When you play something as so iconic, John Stamos as Uncle Jesse, coming out of playing Mario Lopez as AC Slater, it’s really detail work for me – it’s speech patterns and physicality and overall point-of-view. When you’re working on something that’s as ensemble as Full House, where a lot of times we are saying things all at once or launch into song at the same time, I focus on ‘how do I maintain Uncle Jesse’s point of view.’

What’s the biggest difference between Full House and Bayside?

I wear clothes in this one. For me, musically, this is written in a better part for my voice and Jesse is written as a straight man as opposed to Bayside where Slater wasn’t played that way. It allows me to be truer to the version of Jesse on the show. It also allows me to be more relaxed on stage.

So what are you doing in terms of music beyond what we hear on stage in a show?

I like to write, I would like to write for people. I would love to create on my own time. Singing has always been my favorite thing. Acting has been something that came naturally to me, but music was always my favorite thing. I’m writing a lot and I’ve been recording. I did a feature on a friends’ song and that was a lot of fun and that got me really excited and feel viable in terms of the industry. I started writing and recording, found producers to work with and I’m working on a direction.

How do you feel about where you’re at in your career and your life right now?

I’ve spent so much time completely afraid of people would think if I started doing these things that sound audacious or insane. I genuinely don’t give a fuck. Someone will always think that my body’s not good or my singing’s not good, or whatever. I actually don’t care. I’m tripping out on how much time I’ve wasted over the past few years because I was so concerned with what people would say. I’ve been told ‘no’ so many times, over and over. I didn’t get into college the first time I auditioned. Then I decided to re-audition and I got in everywhere. I got to college, I wasn’t the favorite. I didn’t do too hot, I developed this sort of rebel personality and I didn’t get cast in shows. I left, moved into the city, found something I was good at, partying. I was drinking and I made lots of “friends” and had lots of things to do every night of the week. That got old. That show came to me and I know people say “the universe sends things to you,” but they’re right. I did everything wrong and it came back to me. That’s when I knew I just had to go for it.

John is outfitted in BodyAware sportswear.

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