Stand Up and Deliver: The Instincts of Hilarity
Photo by Magee Miller
When I sat down with comic Gabe Bravo last month, and with Brian Zeolla the month prior, I asked each to give me several names to consider interviewing. Both funny guys in their own way, they have different approaches to comedy, and more so, stand-up comedy. The one name they both offered up was legendary Houston comic, Andy Huggins. Huggins has been doing stand-up for longer than some of Houston’s comedians have been alive. He was one of the original Texas Outlaw Comics, he was a close friend to Bill Hicks, and at 64 years old, he’s as strong as he’s ever been when he’s on stage with a microphone.
FPH: I know that you aren’t from Houston, where are you from? How long have you lived here?
AH: Well, we moved a lot, we lived all over, but I’m from Virginia. I still have family there. I’ve lived in Houston for 32 years.
FPH: You’ve been at this for what, about 30-plus-years? What’s your secret to keeping your act so fresh?
AH: I’ve been doing stand-up 35 years. I tell people, that I should’ve turned 60 years ago. I was pretty good for those first 25, 30 years, but recently I found my voice. I’m doing exactly what I should be doing at 64 years old.
FPH: You’ve written jokes for Jay Leno and Billy Crystal, but there’s no Andy Huggins album. Was there one, or is there one in the works?
AH: No, there isn’t one yet. I’ve written jokes for Jay Leno, for Bill [Hicks], Dennis Miller, and Billy Crystal for the Academy Awards show. There will be a comedy album soon. It’s so easy nowadays to do one, but I need to figure out where I will do it at. I’d also like to have another five minutes that I’m happy with as well.
FPH: I think most people today would find it strange for a comedian to open for a music act, but it was rather common back in the day. I noticed that you had once opened for Ray Charles. Is it hard opening for a musician?
AH: We used to do it all the time at Rockafeller’s. Bill, Jimmy [Pineapple] and Ron [Shock], we all did it. Rockefeller’s used to have a booking guy, Jimmy Haslet. He did such a great job at pairing the comedians with the crowd for the bands. If you were paired well with an act, it was great. There’s something about that room too that made it great. You’d only do about 10 minutes worth of material.
FPH: What’s your definition of a successful comedy career?
AH: Being able to make a living at it. To do the best that you can, if I left it knowing I was the best comedian I could be. If I get home and I’ve done 10 minutes at an open mic, I didn’t get paid, but I feel good about what I did, then it was a success.
FPH: Recently, I read somewhere that Jay Leno had said that comedy doesn’t change. That something 50 years ago, would still be funny today. Do you agree with that?
AH: In a general sense, yes. There are ways you can express yourself today that you couldn’t do in 1963. Bob Newhart, Jonathan Winters, those guys were always and will always be funny. Some of the comics that were on Sullivan, might seem odd today, because they preyed on obnoxious stereotypes. Those guys wouldn’t be funny today.
FPH: Who are your favorite comedians of the past and the present?
AH: Richard Pryor was the best stand-up ever. Presently, I really like Bill Burr. He just makes me laugh. I don’t laugh out loud much, but with him I just cut off my comedian brain and laugh out loud. That aggressive East coast comedy attitude just kills me.
FPH: You have the ability to play both the traditional comedy clubs, and the alternative rooms. Do you prefer one over the other?
AH: I like both, they are different; but once you’re on stage with a mic in front of an audience, it’s the same. I’m not really sure what constitutes an alternative room anymore. First-class places like the Improv have the ability to make you feel like you’re in show business. If I had to wear a tux on stage nightly, that would be great. I do well in the alternative rooms too. They’re definitely more comfortable.
FPH: When I wrote the original piece back in November, I was standing back with some of the other comedians. I noticed that you were continuously going over your routine, and it was one of the most beautiful and inspiring things I’ve ever seen. To see a guy who’s at the top of his game still go through everything. Is it like that every night?
AH: I almost always have a couple of new jokes each night. Sometimes it’s coming from listening to the audience and figuring where the jokes will go in, order wise. At an open mic, you have to balance trying out new material while still entertaining the audience. I always tell younger comics to trust your instincts and listen to the audience. You might have your political satire that you think is funny, but if the audience isn’t with you on it, stop doing it.
FPH: Many of your contemporaries, guys like Ron Shock and Bill Hicks are no longer with us. How did you make it out alive?
AH: Being lucky. Alcoholism, I could’ve been killed driving drunk, I could have been killed riding with drunks; I’m lucky. Or, as Ron Shock would tell me, I’m blessed. You know, you feel an obligation, when you survive and your friends don’t, to keep it going. And, it’s not lost on me how blessed I am to have survived.
You can catch Andy Huggins at almost any one of the various comedy open mics around Houston, blessing the audience with laughs and the comedians with wise words. He’ll be appearing at the Red Cat Cafe on April 10th, as well as The Gig in Beaumont on the 12th.