Comedian Doug Lussenhop Mixes Veganism With Humor

The editor, writer, musician and co-host of “Office Hours with Tim Heidecker” on creativity and making vegan messaging fun

by julie gueraseva
illlustration by mek frinchaboy
Wednesday, March 3, 2021

There is a scientific link between comedy and compassion. When we laugh, we release oxytocin, which is also known as the “empathy hormone.” Like laughter, acts of kindness and altruism stimulate the production of the feel-good chemical dopamine. Vegan comedian Doug Lussenhop understands this connection well. 

When the Los Angeles-based writer, editor, and musician was approached in the summer of 2019 by Louisville Vegan Jerky to create a commercial for their Toppins’ line, he intuitively tapped into a magic formula. “I just wanted to make a fun video, and it happens to be about vegan jerky,” Doug explains. In the 2-minute spot that he wrote, directed and edited, an infectious melody plays (“We were inspired by the [90s pop] group Len,” he says), as a group of friends are having the time of their lives snacking on vegan jerky. But listen closely to the rap delivered by Doug, whose moniker is DJ Douggpound, and you’ll hear a clear animal rights message: …And the bacon bits are made without a pig.

“I think that’s even a better way of almost being ‘preachy,’ because anyone could like this video,” says Doug. “And then maybe people will start making non-meat choices more often. If they could at least buy a bag of [vegan] jerky and realize, ‘Oh, this stuff’s actually pretty good,’ the next time they’re at the store they’ll see the other meat-free options and go from there.” Based on the YouTube comments (the clip has over 30 thousand views on social media), the approach worked. “This is the right attitude. Being vegan is fun” wrote one viewer. “Coppin these toppins” added another. And on Instagram: “So good. Am I vegan now?!?”

While there is nothing funny about animal exploitation, or any form of injustice, could humor be an effective advocacy tool? There is certainly a case for this. A 2016 study out of Korea showed that “endorphins secreted by laughter can help when people are uncomfortable.” Comedy is a disarming mechanism that helps with understanding complex issues and retaining information. We’ve seen numerous examples of this—in comedic greats like Richard Pryor, who raised awareness about racist police profiling through uproarious jokes; to contemporaries like The Daily Show contributor Ronny Chieng, who skillfully integrated humor into a serious segment on the uptick in hate crimes towards Asian-Americans during the pandemic. 

Veganism feels primed for this style of messaging as well. Doug is well-versed in utilizing his many talents for comedic effect and has a long career of capturing the cultural zeitgeist with his work. As a writer and editor on the mid-aughts Adult Swim cult series Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, he became known for his absurdist editing style. He had his own show, Pound House, on the digital comedy studio Jash. And among his other television editing and writing credits are the comedy hits Portlandia and The Eric Andre Show.

It was Tim and Eric star Tim Heidecker, in fact, who first prompted Doug to pursue veganism. While ordering lunch together during rehearsals for the Tim & Eric 10 Year Anniversary Awesome Tour in 2017, on which Doug was the opening act, Heidecker shared that he was going vegan. “I think he saw the documentary What The Health,” Doug recalls. “I was like, ‘If Tim’s doing it, I can do it. I’m vegan now.’ Instantly. It just took one person in my friend group to inspire me.” And although Heidecker ultimately returned to an omnivorous diet, Doug stayed the course. “Once I started reading How Not to Die and [watched] Forks Over Knives, I started to think that not only is it unethical to raise animals, it’s bad for the environment. I didn’t realize it was also very much perfectly healthy to not eat meat at all.”

Tim and Doug have been collaborating for over 15 years. “He’s the best. He’s super fun and he’s a good guy,” Doug says of his friend. He currently co-hosts Heidecker’s popular weekly live stream and podcast Office Hours Live, alongside fellow editor and musician Vic Berger IV. Throughout the show, Doug works in tandem with Vic to deliver what are known as “drops” — hilariously surreal found sounds and original loops.  The unique sonic experience culminated in a hypnotic 40-minute Drop Concert late last year.

Whenever possible, Doug promotes veganism to Office Hours’ devoted audience. It was his idea to bring on vegan nutrition expert, and How Not To Die author, Dr. Michael Greger as a recent guest (who, naturally, conducted the interview while walking on a treadmill). “When the subject [of veganism] comes up, I do champion the cause. All I can do is just try to be a likable character, and then make it known that [veganism] is my choice,” Doug says of his lead-by-example philosophy. “That it’s a good choice to make, especially in this day and age. Veganism now more than ever, it just makes the most sense.”

Serious about vegan nutrition. Doug proudly wear a Dr. Greger shirt, at home in Los Angeles. (Courtesy of Doug Lussenhop)
Dropping beats. Doug (left) performs during Drop Concert, with Tim Heidecker. (Still from "Drop Concert: The Motion Picture"; Camera by Tom Mendosa)

In addition to Office Hours, Doug hosts his own podcast, The Poundcast, with comic Brent Weinbach. There, too, he finds ways to meld veganism with laughs. Thanks to an ongoing sponsorship from Louisville Vegan Jerky, episodes typically open with a funny brand promo. Last October, Doug incorporated an anti-fishing sentiment (“I’m in this beautiful swimming hole in Malibu, and there’s these fools over on the side with their fishing poles”) into a bit about a fisherman who abandons his hobby after tasting vegan jerky. While bringing up the subject on air was unplanned, “the fishing thing has been on my mind a while,” says Doug. He describes being deeply affected during a camping trip when he witnessed a person pull out a large turtle with a fishing pole and throw it back in the water. “I loudly criticized [the fishermen]. They just kept fishing.”

When Denmark was culling 17 million minks at more than 200 fur farms due to Covid outbreaks last November, Doug shared a PETA video to his Instagram stories. Six other countries including the US have reported mink-related coronavirus mutation in humans. It is a known fact that COV-19 is a zoonotic disease, one that is transmitted between wild animals, farmed animal species, and humans. Other zoonotic viruses to emerge in recent decades have included SARS and H1N1, or the “swine flu.” Habitat destruction accelerates disease transfer from animals to humans, with livestock farming being the biggest driver of habitat loss.

“I’m a root cause kind of thinker,” says Doug. “If the root cause is animal agriculture, just don’t [participate in] that! It seems so obvious. What you can control [is] making better choices in your own life. It’s a good way to empower yourself.” During the pandemic, Doug focused on his health by cooking more and eating whole foods (“anything purple,” he says of his favorite veggies.) Check out his Doug’s Salad recipe at the end of the story.

“Veganism now, more than ever, it just makes the most sense.”

In a time of isolation, Doug’s comedy projects provide a range of health benefits (laughter boosts your immune system and relieves stress) — in his own life, as well as the lives of others. Viewers regularly comment about how much Office Hours helps them. “We want to spread positivity, laughter. We like to have fun, and we like to laugh. That’s what we want to share,” Doug says of the show’s mission.

A popular segment on Office Hours are ads for fake products, read out loud by Tim and punctuated by Doug and Vic’s perfectly-timed sound drops. It’s delightful to watch Tim crack up as he reads the script. “The goal is to make Tim laugh, so I try to make the drops unexpected,” Doug explains. The three collaborators have a group text thread in which they exchange funny observations and ideas throughout the day, and a Google doc for writing the fake ads. “We’ll all kind of go in there whenever we get a chance, and add to it, and embellish it, and make it more absurd,” Doug says of their process. The trio typically work in television, and with production all but shut down, he says “it’s been a huge blessing that I’ve been involved in Office Hours, especially now during the pandemic.”

Prior to the lockdown, Doug was developing a “comedy show disguised as a nature show” for a TV network based on his short video series Doug’s Bougs. And although it’s on hold, there is now unlimited potential for content creation online. “Podcasting is amazing because you can do it yourself. I think maybe that’s more of the future of a lot of entertainment,” says Doug. “You don’t have to rely on these gatekeepers who control all the content.”

The creative freedom and immediacy of online platforms benefits vegan advocacy as well; and the delivery matters greatly. “The messaging is a big part [of] making veganism more accessible. This is not some ‘special’ thing. This is a great choice for everybody,” Doug says. And then, humorously, as though he’s a salesman: “It’s a great choice that everyone should check out. Check [veganism] out! It’s cool. And fun!” He favors “rational, inclusive” messaging, versus anything that sounds condescending, which makes “people fight more and dig into their beliefs more.”

“With a humorous message, maybe that’ll be a step in the right direction,” says Doug. “The way I kind of creeped into veganism was with a lot of Impossible Burgers, Beyond Burgers. As time goes on, I just want to eat whole foods and salads. But it [wasn’t] an overnight change.” He offers the analogy of steering a ship. “You’re never going to [suddenly] do a big U-turn. Turn the ship a little bit. And then, it’ll make a big circle. And that’s the idea.”

Doug says he’d love to make more content for vegan brands. Vegan products often make their way into his Instagram videos, whether it’s a bottle of Bragg’s liquid aminos, nutritional yeast, or a package of Mori-Nu extra firm tofu.

It can be tricky for a lighthearted comedian to use their voice for serious topics like animal rights, Doug admits. In our interview, however, he doesn’t mince words. “Come on, let’s get with the program here. We’ve got to stop with the factory farming. Folks, it’s time to boycott the animal agriculture industry. Do something positive. Eat vegan. Eat less animals. Be more kind to people.”

He goes on, “We’re just surrounded by these gravitational pulls that are pulling us into things that are bad for us. Crappy food is designed for you to want to eat it. But that’s capitalism. That’s where the money is. It takes a little bit of strength to resist all of that. If you could win a little battle here and there, you start to feel better. We’re surrounded by traps [because] it’s more lucrative for evil corporations that don’t think like humans. They think like a black hole. They just want to suck as much out of our pockets as they can. So, resist that.” And in true comedic form, he concludes, “And also, laugh a little bit.”


DOUG’S SALAD

“Over the last few years, I’ve been refining my own custom salad that I eat a lot. I don’t measure anything out, I just eyeball it. And it can be tweaked with different ingredients. There’s no rules. It definitely has red cabbage, spinach, red onion, radish, carrots, sometimes date bits and always roasted nuts, usually cashews or pistachios. I pile that stuff high, then add some warm rice and a protein. I used to use Boca chicken patties, sometimes a Beyond Burger patty. But lately, I use this amazing stuff called “tempha” which is different than tempeh. I get it from Dave’s Gourmet Korean at my local farmer’s market. I also just use plain old raw tofu, not even cooked or anything. The important thing is that all the ingredients are chopped up. For the dressing—I love sesame oil (it completes the salad) and rice vinegar, a splash of each. And I put ground flaxseed in it, as Dr. Greger recommends. I like to eat it in a big bowl so each bite can be scooped up like you’re eating cereal. For desert, I’ll have a bowl of granola with blackberries or blueberries and Blöde Kuh yogurt – another amazing product from my local farmers market.”