Interview: Jon Huck (2011)
"I was 24. I was like an idiot."
Stand-up comics are truly amazing human specimens. It’s hard enough to stand on an empty stage and tell jokes, but it takes a rare kind of personality to do it night after night, facing endless travel, loudmouthed hecklers and sometimes even louder silence. Jon Huck is one of these rare breeds who are willing to put up with the rigors of stand-up comedy all for the simple joy of hearing people laugh – and a paycheck. Working Author caught up with Huck to learn about how he got into the business and talk about his latest comedy album.
“We wanted to be rock stars,” Jon Huck says of stand-up comics. “We wanted to be guitar players and in rock bands, but that didn’t work out.” So they chose the next best thing: they found a stage to tell jokes from. “We can perform without having to learn guitar with just a microphone? Sure. I don’t need a band because no one likes me? Awesome.” Huck is probably talking more about himself than anyone else with that last bit, but those familiar with his act will know that the self-deprecating humor is classic behavior for the comedian.
“At an early age it was an easy way for me to get laughs,” Huck explains. “You know, make fun of myself before somebody else could do it.” His father was a big influence in this regard, often making himself the butt of jokes and stories. For Huck, who stands tall and beefy – he’s so intimidating that he was cast as a killer in a Capital One commercial that was banned for being too scary – cracking jokes about himself is very disarming.
Growing up, it was also Huck’s father who introduced him to some of the funniest acts of all time, like Laurel and Hardy, and the Three Stooges. Huck and his brother spent their days experiencing the Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields, George Carlin and Bill Cosby to name a few talented funny men. “To this day, it’s still timeless and it’s still funny,” Huck says.
Despite being immersed in comedy at an early age, it wasn’t Huck’s original career path when he moved to California from Illinois. “I was living out here and kind of working as a temp at an insurance company downtown,” he begins, “just really doing nothing, like drinking 18 beers a day and having this crappy job and making a little more than minimum wage and living in a shitty apartment.” Unfortunately, he wasn’t doing much before in Illinois, either. Huck says that it was his mother who reminded him that he moved to California to do something and whimsically suggested that he get on a stage and tell jokes. After considering the idea – and mocking it – Huck hunted down an open mike to give it a shot.
Unlike most comics who typically have non-spectacular, but overall positive first-time experiences, Huck’s initial experiences didn’t go very well. He got himself some stage time and began preparing for his first set. “I started immediately thinking of jokes. And they were like ‘pooping at work’…’poop’…you know, everything was about pooping and, like pee. I was 24. I was like an idiot.” He was so nervous that he ended up getting drunk and heckling the other comics while he was waiting to go up, forcing one stand-up comedienne to shut him down. “I was that guy,” Huck admits with chagrin.
It wasn’t until years later that Huck started taking his career more seriously. “I like to drink,” he says with a small laugh. “In 2005 or 2006, I started to experiment with not getting drunk before telling jokes; like actually wanting the audience to have as good of a time as I was having.” Doing so improved his performance by 1000 times. He recounts a fantastic set with a responsive crowd where he paused halfway through to inwardly reflect on how much better the experience was. “Yeah, it’d be fun to watch me stumble around like an asshole, but then you wouldn’t get any of the jokes.”
Huck currently has a comedy album out called Fantasticular Hilaritation that’s available on iTunes and Amazon. “The title is basically the words ‘fantastic’ and ‘testicular’ combined and then ‘hilarious’ and ‘irritation’ combined,” he explains. “I like to say that it’s really great in the beginning and then I talk about my testicles. Then it’s really hilarious. Then by the end you’re probably annoyed.” The reality is that the album lives up to most of its title – that last bit is really just more of Huck’s self-deprecating humor coming through. In fact, Fantasticular Hilaritation manages to deliver something novel for stand-up comedy enthusiasts. The majority of the tracks are surprisingly short bits that will remind – and are contemporary takes on – the one-line zingers of comics from days gone by. The bits slowly get longer as the album progresses and audiences can tell the show is building to a finale, but Huck exceeds expectations by telling a 20-minute story that will inspire both derision and sympathy. It’s a wild ride and an excellent ending to a unique comedy album that will make a great addition to any collection.
Not surprisingly, despite a steady career and a solid act, Huck remains grounded by a healthy amount of self-doubt. “I think about [giving up comedy] a lot…. What would happen if I did? Do I have any other skills?” He considers focusing solely on producing television, but admits that doing so wouldn’t be rewarding. “Acting is really fun and it’s very rewarding at times and commercials are simple and easy. Usually the people involved are very cool so there are good times. You know, one day and you’re done, but stand-up is the most rewarding thing for me. At the end of the day, even if I had to get a real job and focus on a career I would still do stand-up somehow.”
If you’re ever feeling down, catch Jon Huck’s act if he’s local or give his album a listen and he’ll pick you right up. You’ll be glad your life is better than his. More importantly and more accurately, you’ll be grateful that his life is worse than yours and that he’s willing to share it with you in truly hilarious fashion.
Learn more about Jon Huck on his Web site.
Own Fantasticular Hilaritation today!