Andy Huggins Is Ready to Chronicle His Comedy Legacy

Andy Huggins
Andy Huggins Photo by Jesse Sendejas Jr.
Andy Huggins has been thinking about his legacy lately, so much so that the veteran Houston stand-up comedian — a member of the legendary Texas Outlaw Comics — asked fellow comics how he might film his first-ever comedy special. Huggins, 72, has had bits and pieces of his act filmed here and there, most notably the bits he performed in 2018 on America’s Got Talent, but no single, full-length comedy special showcasing his 40-plus years in the business.

“So, I posted on Facebook on a comics’ page how do I go about doing this, what’s the general opinion of how much it’ll cost, just general questions like that and my friend Slade Ham, who is also a comic and who has also participated in making films, got in touch with me and decided let’s do this thing,” Huggins said. “He’s producing it, he’s directing it, he decided Kickstarter was the way to raise money, so that’s the route we took.”

With the Andy Huggins Comedy Special Kickstarter campaign now underway, it seemed like a good time to discuss his career and his role in Houston comedy past and present. When we spoke, the campaign was eight days in and the project was one-third of the way funded. Fans can contribute through May 2 to help reach its goal.

“So, that’s what’s going on. We hope to raise the $26,000 and then we would film it this summer. We have a couple of possible venues we would use and Slade would hire the best people and of course the best venue available and we’ll get after it, we’ll get it done,” Huggins said. “After 40-plus years in the business we’ll have everything — not every joke I’ve ever written, but it will demonstrate everything I’ve learned over 40 years-plus. My legacy, which could probably sound a bit pompous, but that’s how some people put it. I’m looking forward to it. It’s a real exciting prospect. Hopefully we can get the money raised.”

The Texas Outlaw Comics were a group of Houston-based comedians who famously convened at Houston’s Comedy Workshop in the 1980s. Along with Huggins, the cadre included names like Ron Shock, Steve Epstein, Riley Barber, Jimmy Pineapple, Sam Kinison and Bill Hicks. They set their own, individual legacies but as a group they helped put Houston on the comedy map.

“Back in the mid-'80s at one time there were probably six legitimate comedy clubs in Harris County and there weren’t as many people attempting to do stand-up so there was more stage time available if you were a comic. And, for a long while, all the rooms were well-attended. It hit a drought, for whatever reason,” Huggins reflected. “Back then there was more paying work available and the shows were well-attended. In that regard, it was probably better back then. But we have good rooms here. Not as many and not as well-paying, but there is an excitement. A lot of people again attempting to do stand-up and there are a lot of people who are at the moment good stand-ups. Not attempting it, they’ve achieved it. It’s exciting.

“Back in the ‘80s it was better, you could make a living. Not a great living but the rent and the bills would be paid and you’d have some money left over for food. It was better in that sense, but it’s very exciting now,” he added. “There were no festivals in Texas, let alone Houston, let alone nearby Austin back in the '80s. And festivals bring in comics from out of town who are in maybe a higher level of stand-up than the rest of us, so that’s very exciting. We didn’t have that back in the '80s, so that’s one point for the 21st century.”

Huggins is slated for several performances during the Moontower Comedy Fest in Austin this month and will perform at the Come and Take It Comedy Fest in May at The Secret Group. He said that venue has one of his favorite rooms, an intimate space dubbed “The Box.” His favorite room and gig, he said, is Rudyard’s on Monday nights where he’s routinely stationed.

“If you like stand-up comedy, if you like it or if you’re curious about it, there are a lot of great places in Houston to attend,” he said.

Huggins arrived in Houston in 1981. He said he grew up mostly in Virginia and went to Los Angeles for a couple of years at the start of his career. He was lured here by some of the Outlaw Comics.

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The Andy Huggins Comedy Special Kickstarter campaign concludes May 2
“During the Workshop days, back in the ‘80s, just because of the strength and the personality of the Houston comedy scene, comics from out of town loved coming to Houston. And they still do. I think we set that standard, that Houston was an exciting place for comics to come to, for comics to record CDs and film specials, and that continues to this day,” he said. “Houston has a lot of diversity, so you end up, if you’re going to pursue stand up and you’re in Harris County, you’re performing in front of a lot of different kinds of audiences, which is a great teacher. It helps you grow as a comic.”

Is that the pitch he got when he was encouraged to move here from Los Angeles where he’d been giving comedy a go playing the fabled Comedy Store?

“The pitch I got — and this was from Bill and Jimmy, my great friend Jimmy Pineapple and my great friend Riley Barber — they called me up and said, you know what, there’s more stage time in Houston than you’re getting in L.A. In L.A., I was at the mercy of Mitzi Shore’s whims, which, you know, got me work a lot of weeks, and a lot of weeks I didn’t work at all,” he said. “So that was the pitch. That’s all I needed to hear — stage time.”

Those gigs allowed him to network and to open for touring acts like Ray Charles, The Mamas & The Papas and War. While the Outlaw Comics were building a following they were also building Houston’s reputation as a comedy savvy city.

“I’d like to think that we kind of set a standard for subsequent generations. I know the generation that came after us, Rob Mungle and John Wessling and Mike MacRae and that group, I think they might have taken a little bit of inspiration from us. I think maybe The Whiskey Brothers might have been a logical successor to Texas Outlaw. I think we set a standard that other generations have followed. Or, maybe not,” he vacillated. “That might be arrogant on my part. Maybe not at all. Maybe each generation sets its own standards. But, I think maybe so.”

We suggest that Huggins is seen as a mentor to today’s local talent, comics like Slade Ham or The Riot’s Brian Gendron or Kate Vance, all of whom Huggins considers favorites from the current comedy scene here.

“I have this standing offer, every once in a while somebody takes me up on it, all you have to do is buy me breakfast and I’ll talk comedy and answer any questions you have for selfish reasons because I just love talking comedy,” he said. “You know, I have theories. A lot of it is as much bullshit as it is expertise but I do have some experience, I do have a talent for it, so I love talking it. I’ll toss out an opinion, toss out advice, take it or don’t, that part doesn’t matter to me.

“I’ll tell new comics this at several points along the way — everything I say I believe and I’ll state strongly, but if the audience disagrees, listen to the audience. The audience knows more than I do. I could tell you all kinds of reasons why a joke shouldn’t work, but if you get laughs with it then to hell with me. Listen to the audience. Audiences will tell you everything you need to know. And that’s always my advice to comics. Do what you think is funny, keep what the audience thinks is funny.”

“As far as being a mentor goes, I don’t know if I qualify as one for anybody or many people but I will talk comedy and to the degree that that’s helpful, I’m helpful.”

Part of Huggins’ act hits on his recovery from alcoholism. He doesn’t shy away from it in his set because, like many other subjects in comedy, the harsh truths about things can also be the funniest. April is his anniversary month. He said he got sober in 1988, with the help of his friend Bill Hicks, who also was in recovery at the time and attended AA meetings with him.

“Alcoholics Anonymous has so many clichés it’s almost funny, but they’re clichés for a reason and to say ‘one day at a time’ that’s the first bit of advice I would give anybody. Get through the day, just get through the day. Don’t take a drink or do any drugs today. And then when tomorrow comes, you can worry about that day.

“Sober is just better,” he said. “Being a drunk is selfish and getting sober is selfish, too. And I realized if I’m going to be the stand-up comic that I’m capable of being I have to be sober. And sober is just so much better for all the obvious reasons. Being a drunk, being a good time Charlie, that’s fun for awhile and it was fun in my life. You know, the Outlaw Comics, we had a lot of drinking, a lot of drugs. Quite a few of those guys have gotten sober also today. At some point it’s not fun anymore. At some point it’s like punching a time clock.

“I remember one time at the Houston House where I was living, I was going down the elevator to catch a cab to go drinking and I’m thinking, ‘I don’t want to drink. But I’m going to because that’s what I do.’ It just became like a tiresome job that I hated but I didn’t think that I could get out of, that I was stuck for the rest of my life.

“One day at a time. I know people roll their eyes maybe in hearing that cliché but it’s absolutely true. And, if you’re an artist, you’re gonna be better. The whole bullshit romantic notion that artists are crazy and artists have to be drunk or high or stoned in order to fulfil their artistic ambitions, that’s just nonsense. It’s an appealing notion, but it’s just nonsense. It gets to be fun, too. It’s a different kind of fun than being drunk but it’s the kind of fun you remember the next morning.

“I have a lot of material about drinking, about my drinking days. So, you know it’s always in my mind. I’ll never forget. If nothing else those jokes, they’re as much history as comedy writing,” he said.

What’s the biggest message that might get delivered in a comedy special more than 40 years in the making?

“At the risk of sounding new age-y or melodramatic, I honestly believe, absolutely, no doubt about it, doing stand-up comedy is why I was put on this earth. So, I almost feel like an obligation to do it. Plus, I enjoy it so much,” he said. “It’s just energizing, it’s important to me, it’s why I’m supposed to be doing it. The fact that I haven’t achieved — I started to say great fame — fame at all, you know and I’m not rich, I’m getting by, that’s irrelevant. I’d do it for free. If it weren’t for the money, I’d play small rooms like Rudyard’s for the rest of my life. I enjoy it that much. I’m delighted of course that it pleases audiences, that’s the point. And I’m grateful to be able to help other comics, other people trying to be comics. But basically it’s all about me. You know, I do it for me.

“It’s an ego thing in a way. You spend your entire adult life doing one thing. The film or taping is like my way of saying, okay, folks, here it is. This is what I’ve been doing all these years, you know? Like it or not, this is me. Everybody wants to be recognized in one sense. You don’t have to be applauded or be inducted into the hall of fame, but you do wanna say, this is it, this is what I’ve been doing all these years. What do you think?”
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Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.