Comedy is rooted in pain, they say, so little wonder Howard Hughes does it for a living. During one particularly trying stretch of his pre-showbiz life, the Stand Up Scottsdale! owner and performer got divorced, suffered a stroke, and buried his beloved dog. More recently, Spike TV and Bar Rescue paid a visit, resulting in a nationally televised sparring match in which host Jon Taffer accused Hughes, in essence, of being a bummer onstage.
Hughes has used each of the setbacks described above as fodder for his comedy routine, which he first unveiled at Hollywood’s Haha Café in 2005. Six years later, Valley native Hughes – a former Marine who served in Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm – took over the old Anderson’s Fifth Estate building, showcasing up-and-coming comedy talent as a foil to the A-list-oriented Stand Up Live in Downtown Phoenix.
Through it all, Hughes continues to make light of misfortune. He’s funny like that.
You perform at Stand Up Scottsdale! several times a week. Did Taffer’s critique get under your skin?
You know what he told me? “Let’s get some old-timey Catskills comedians in here.” Are you kidding me? Goofy, dopey, happy comedy doesn’t happen here. We take people through the full range of emotion, then finish with the laughter. When I do the joke about putting down my dog, yeah, it’s brutal. But if you stick around, there’s a payoff.
So the comedy you program is edgier than the norm?
I would say edgier. It’s people being funny from their own perspective, not doing the standard hack road routine. We have comics with TV credits, Comedy Central specials. If they’re here, they’re funny and irreverent... There’s nothing corporate about this. It’s a down and dirty club.
Was doing Bar Rescue an overall positive experience?
Sure. We got some nice exposure from it. But a lot of it was a waste of time. The outdoor sign they gave us is illegal. That needs to come down. The colors outside need to be repainted. Those are illegal in Scottsdale. And they gave us a horrible menu. It was like: “Chicken strips!” So now we’re going to a gourmet hot dog menu, which I think people will dig.
That’s a pretty distinctive name you have there. Seems like a urine-in-a-bottle joke waiting to happen.
I know, right? Back in comedy class, somebody told me, “Your name is amazing. You could do 10 minutes [of comedy] on it.” But that’s a sign of a hack. If a comic is fat, the last thing they should do is fat jokes. If you’re in a wheelchair, the best thing you could do is not tell a single wheelchair joke. Until the end, maybe, when nobody is expecting it.
So you’ve never done a Howard Hughes joke?
No, I have (laughs). But not in a long time. When the Scorsese movie – The Aviator, right? – [after] that came out, I did one. It went something like “I know you were expecting Leonardo DiCaprio tonight.” Ugh. It makes me cringe.
Is anything off-limits, comedy-wise?
Absolutely. I would never joke about something I couldn’t write a good joke about.