By David Gavri
The oldest member of the Texas Outlaw Comics, Andy Huggins is a veteran comic who came up during a time when Houston’s greatest included: Riley Barber, Steve Epstein, John Farneti, Jimmy Pineapple, Ron Shock, and Bill Hicks. A Houston favorite, Huggins was a graduate of both The Comedy Store in Los Angeles and Houston’s legendary, The Comedy Workshop. Throughout his career, he’s opened for Ray Charles, he’s written for Billy Crystal and The Academy Awards, and he’s developed superstars like Bill Hicks and Jay Leno. He has seen it all, he’s done it all, and he’s here to share with us his wisdom.
First things first, Mr. Huggins. Tell us your age.
I am sixty-two years old.
And how long have you been doing comedy?
I’ve been doing comedy ever since I was twenty-eight. But I took about six years off to try acting, and so I did very little comedy during that period. After that, I realized that comedy was the best thing for me. It felt like it was something that I really needed to do. So, I went back to the stage.
Out of all the professions, why comedy?
I’ve always been fascinated with comedy, ever since I was a kid. And one time back when I was in the seventh grade—this was in the sixties [laughs]—I was invited to a party by a girl in my neighborhood. Her name was Christy Shackelford. She was a BIG deal, it was a HUGE party. And one of her friends told me that the reason I was invited was because I made everybody laugh. [smiles proudly] At that moment, I remember specifically thinkin’, “Well, if I want to get invited to more parties, I need to keep making people laugh!” [chuckles]
So comedy’s been a beautiful set of circumstances for me, where something that I was fascinated with, also happened to be something that I was good at. I mean, I’m absolutely fascinated with baseball. I love it…NOT GOOD AT IT. [laughs]
For as long as you’ve been doing comedy, why you still do it?
I do comedy because it gives me an enormous amount of satisfaction. And it gives people an enormous amount of satisfaction. So if it makes me happy and if it makes other people happy, then it’s something I should be doing. It’s a joyous experience. I’m very lucky. And anybody else who has that circumstance going for them is very lucky.
Plus, I don’t know what else I could do that would bring both myself and other people happiness. Other things might bring me happiness, but it would piss alotta people off! [laughs]
Would you say that there’s still room for learning and improvement?
Oh absolutley. I’m still gettin’ better. Still progressing—ALWAYS progressing. The writing gets better. The writing’s more focused. This is a really exciting time for me, creatively. I’m real lucky. REAL LUCKY. And the good news is that I’m aware of how lucky I am. [smiles proudly]
In a past interview with Rob Mungle, he joked about how you’ve always been the “old man”. Care to elaborate?
[laughs] For some reason, I’ve ALWAYS been the “old man”! [laughs] I’ve had people tell me I’ve always been sixty. So now my chronological years have finally caught up to me. [laughs]
Even when I was out in Los Angeles, my roommate used to call me “Old Fella”, even though I was just thirty years old. I never felt like I was the old guy, but evidently, that’s not how other people perceived me. [chuckles]
Tell us more about L.A. and what that experience was like for you.
I went to L.A. back in 1978. I became a regular at The Comedy Store. I’d get alotta work, and then I wouldn’t get any work. And it would go back and forth—it was very frustrating. But while I was out there, that’s when I met Bill (Hicks), Jimmy (Pineapple), and Riley (Barber). They were all out there. And after some time, one by one, we all moved back to Houston. In fact, in ’81, Jimmy called me in L.A. from Houston and told me how I needed to get back here—there was more stage time. And there was. It was the best thing I ever did. It’s all about the stage time—stage time is EVERYTHING. And here in Houston, we were always on stage.
You’ve had the opportunity work with some of comedy’s all-time greats. What’s your most memorable gig?
The most memorable gig that I did was with Bill (Hicks) and Jimmy (Pineapple) out in Raleigh, North Carolina, at a place called Charlie Goodnights. Bill mentioned it in one of his biographies. It was a great show—I opened, Jimmy middled, and Bill closed. Strong show. It was a great room. We were all on top of our game. It was great fun.
Let’s talk about the young comics and the veteran comics. How would you describe the attitude of the veterans toward the young’ns?
Well, the way was in my generation, the veteran comics keep the young comics at arms length until they prove themselves. And that’s just how it’s always been. The older comics aren’t usually friendly to the younger comics—in the beginning. But over the course of time, after you prove that you’re serious and GOOD, then the veterans become more friendly.
But there are a lot of comics that have this attitude of, “Hey, I wanna be a comic, and you wanna be a comic—so we’re automatically buddies.” And it doesn’t work like that. And that’s when their feelings get hurt—because you don’t treat ‘em like an equal. But I’m sorry to say it—someone who just started doing comedy is not equal to someone who’s been doing it for a number of years. But if you hang in there, if you work at it, and you’re persistent, and you demonstrate that you’re serious, you’ll earn respect.
As a veteran, if you could nag on the younger comics, what would it be for?
Well, ya know, these kids today—ahh darn it—I was gunna say that sooner or later! [laughs] Oh well, but these kids today, [laughs] it seems like they don’t acknowledge the history of their field—it just doesn’t seem to interest them. They just don’t know about it. And I’m not just talking about comedy.
Back in 1997, baseball celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of Jackie Robinson. And there were baseball players who didn’t know who Jackie Robinson was! As a BASEBALL PLAYER, how can you not know who Jackie Robinson is?! Even a WELDER—at age thirteen—still knows who Jackie Robinson is!
So for comedy, I guarantee if you ask most comics who the funniest comedian is of all time, ninety-five percent of them will answer you with a comedian from their own lifetime. And they might be able to argue that. But the point being, they wouldn’t even consider Groucho Marx, or Charlie Chappelin, or W.C. Fields—who I happen to think is the funniest man who ever lived.
And I don’t know what it is about people and history. They just don’t seem to know much about it. It’s puzzling to me. I don’t understand this lack of interest in your own field. If you’re a comic, I don’t understand why you wouldn’t just devour ANYTHING comedically. As a comic, there is no reason to not watch comedy! I don’t know why you wouldn’t. It’s how you learn and get better. It’s how you get inspired.
And that’s what I admired about Bill (Hicks). Bill was a first class comic—he was a great writer, an excellent craftsman, and a fierce student of comedy. He truly put in the work to study and master the craft. Hell, even Mike Tyson was a student of boxing. He had old films of other fighters—even the ones way back from the thirties and fourties.
I guarantee there will come a time where comedians will not know who Richard Pryor was. In fact, I guarantee there’s a comic out there now, who will have a blank look on their face if you ask ‘em about Richard Pryor. And he’s the best there ever was at stand up comedy.
People don’t know what a great comic Bob Hope was at one time—I’m talking about back in the fourties, before he became an institution. He was a big influence on Woody Allen. How many comics have seen Woody Allen’s stand up? [laughs] And Woody Allen was THE biggest influence on Bill Hicks. So why wouldn’t you check these people out? Doesn’t mean you have to applaud, but at least check it out. Heaven forbid, you might actually learn something. [laughs]
What words of wisdom do you care to share with us?
Don’t compare yourself to other comics. It’ll make you crazy. You can’t think of this as a competition, even though it’s hard not to. It’s difficult to avoid. But your main focus should be on you and your act, nothing else.
Trust your instincts. Trust the audience. Write the BEST jokes that you can, first. THEN edit. Not the other way around.
Don’t let other people bring you down. When I told my dad that I wanted to be a stand up comic, he said, “Beware. Alotta people—including your own friends—are gunna try and bring you down, because you’re doing something that’s unique. Don’t ever let them. And don’t ever quit.”
Quite inspiring. Before we go, as you know, Houston wants to build a statue of Bill Hicks. Your thoughts.
I think it’s great—not just for recognizing Bill, but for recognizing Houston itself. As a city, we ought to take pride in what we produced. It will be interesting to see WHERE they will put it. In a perfect world, they would set it right there off the corner of Shepherd. In fact, where The Comedy Workshop used to be, they’re now building a Spec’s Liquor Store. So I think they oughtta put the statue right there by the liquor store, with a Jack Daniels in one hand, and a cigarette in the other. [laughs]
Interviewed & Written By: David Gavri