Howard Hughes, Arizona native and owner of Stand-Up Scottsdale!, sat down with us and talked about how he got into the comedy business, who his inspirations are and what Stand-Up, Scottsdale! is really all about. Hughes was refreshingly honest, referring to his club as a “B” club for its capacity (which seemed cozy) and the headliners they receive (a majority of the Chelsea Lately panel and Comedy Central Presents comedians).
How does it feel sharing a name with the former richest man in the world?
It was tough as a kid because all throughout school all the teachers would be taking role, and they’d always laugh when they came to my name. All the teachers would be in the same room, with no walls, so they’d always come to my name, look at the other teachers and say, “Who? Which one of you is Howard Hughes?” I never knew why they laughed, but now that I’m older, nobody even knows who he is. Everyone thought he was a weatherman until Aviator came out, and it all came back.
Who would you want to play you in a biopic if you had one?
Daniel Radcliffe because he has to be younger — a lot younger.
Who are your biggest comedic inspirations?
Bill Cosby when I was a little kid. When I was in talent shows, I’d reenact his albums. I love Ron White, Lewis Black and Louis C.K. I don’t like the “silliness” comedy where they’re just saying dumb things. I like for people to be engaged and listening. A lot of people think that laughter is the only response to comedy, but it’s not. You can have a whole range of emotions. I was 35 when I ended up in Hollywood and comedy was always something I wanted to do, so I took a class.
So this started late in your life?
Yeah, super late. The classes are all about teaching you how to be funny. There is a way to write a joke if you want to do that, but you can’t teach somebody how to be a great comedian. It’s so individual to you that nobody can teach you how to do that, so if you start speaking or writing the way you’ve developed in some class, people immediately know when it’s fake and that doesn’t sell.
Tell me your best joke.
There’s a specific time, place and opportunity where people are really ready for a joke and that’s the great thing about a comedy club. It’s got to be tight, it’s got to be dark, it’s got to be cold; it’s got to be a little unsafe where people are just sitting next to strangers because then they’re uneasy, and they’re open to anything that’s comforting. I do a lot of comedy about being older but not having anything that people my age generally have. I’m still acting like the 22-year-old kid that didn’t have any responsibilities.
So you’re a bachelor?
Yeah, I’m a bachelor. It’s a lot about things like that — getting married, getting divorced, and drugs and things that everybody’s been through on one level or another but no one ever talks about. If someone in the audience can come up with your punch line, then that’s not comedy worth paying for.
Do you feel like you have a steady crowd that comes here?
Yeah, without a doubt. We haven’t done a whole lot of advertising, but it’s really word of mouth that’s been building us. We just got a new investment group, so we have a large group that is bought in; that will happen this week. The marketing is going to look a lot different, a lot more aggressive.
Do you perform weekly here, too?
Yes, every single week.
What advice would you have for people trying to get into stand up comedy?
Just to go out and do it. You’re never going to be ready, and no matter how much time you put into preparing yourself, everything you do in your first year you’re probably not going to be doing in your second. It’s one of those things where there’s a lot of ego involved.
When a joke bombs, how do you deal with it?
It depends on where you’re at in comedy. A lot of guys who have been doing it for 10 years don’t even acknowledge it because they know the joke works, it just didn’t work right now so — boom – on to the next one.
That’s a good attitude!
It’s a hard attitude; it’s like being a hot chick and having someone not think you’re pretty. At the stage where I’m at, five years in, if something bombs, I generally call it out. It’s a technique in comedy where you don’t pretend like something didn’t happen. Everyone heard the plate break, so it’s a split decision to just roll through it or bring it in to your act.
Do you feel like you do a lot of improv on stage?
Yeah, that’s kind of the stage I’m at now. The problem with improv is to make it fresh, original and relevant every time you do it. A lot of people do improv, and it’s the same “improv” every time they do it. That’s where the integrity in what kind of comedian you are comes in because you instantly have to tell your brain, “Don’t say that again!” Comedy is a lot like being a clown, and I don’t like that, and I don’t let that come here. You have to be a super original clown to be like, “Man, I’m really glad I saw that clown.”
So like a Cirque Du Soleil clown?
A good comedian is more like a matador though, it looks like somebody is just stabbing a bull but that’s not just what’s happening – that’s the least of what’s happening. There’s a whole lot of artistry and tradition that goes in there and until you train your eye to really see it and recognize it you don’t know it, you just perceive it on an under your skin level.