Yes, Rob Huebel Still Listens to Van Halen
In Early Works, we talk to artists young and old about the jobs and life experiences that led them to their current moment. Today, it's actor and comedian Rob Huebel, who stars in the comedy Fun Mom Dinner, which sees release this Friday.
I grew up just outside of Alexandria, Virginia, in a little town called Annandale. It was cool. It was all suburbs—Stranger Things, Goonies movies. Everybody up in northern Virginia worked for the government. My dad was an airline pilot, so he flew a lot out of what's now Reagan National Airport—that's why we lived there.
I have an older brother and a younger brother. I had that classic middle child syndrome where I'd try to get more attention than the other guys. Both of my brothers wanted to be pilots, so I went the other way and was always trying to goof around. But it was great having brothers. We were all about the same age, which brings with it a lot of cool advantages. My older brother was into music, so he got me into 80s metal, like Rush and Van Halen. I'm still stuck in that 80s metal mode, which comes from my brother. You hear stuff through the wall and think, That's very cool. You don't realize how much they're forming your taste in music.
I definitely was trying to get laughs all the time in school. Anyone doing comedy professionally will tell you that, when you're young and you get a laugh at school—especially in front of an audience—you get hooked on that. It's like doing drugs. Once you get that first laugh, you just want to get that validation over and over. You don't realize then why you're doing it or what you're doing. For some reason, I just liked the approval of other people.
I used to deliver flowers because I thought that it would be a really good way to meet girls. I didn't really do the math—I just figured, Who orders flowers? Girls. I didn't realize, obviously, that girls are getting flowers from their boyfriends. I figured that out after a couple months.
When you work in the flower business—and this is really scary, by the way—there's some sort of special phone book that has everyone's name and home address in it. I don't know if the FBI knows about this, but florists and flower delivery guys have it.
During the Iran-Contra scandal, Oliver North had a secretary who became famous for a month—Fawn Hall, this very pretty blond woman who somehow got swept up in this scandal because she was maybe destroying documents or something like that. I decided that I wanted to meet this woman, because she was on the news and she was pretty. It turns out that she lived not that far from me, so I thought, I'm going to deliver flowers to her, so I can meet her. Not only was this illegal, but it was also really creepy. The fact that I'm not in jail for this... I don't know why I was never brought in for questioning.
So I'm a 16-year-old idiot kid who decides to deliver this lovely woman flowers. I found out where she lived and sent her roses from myself. She was so young that she was staying with her parents—probably in her 20s or something. So I go to her house, and her dad answers the door, and he's like, "Oh, that's so nice, who are these from?" I'm like, "They're from me!" Her parents call Fawn to the door, and they're like, "Fawn? This young man sent you flowers." She comes down, and she's like, "Thank you so much! That's so nice." But I'm sure she was thinking, Please don't stab me. That was my job: stalking secretaries in the middle of political scandals.
When I went to Clemson, I had a really hard time admitting to myself that what I really wanted to do was work in comedy. It's a really hard job to do, and when you're on the outside, it seems impossible. That was a really hard thing to admit to myself—and certainly to admit to my parents. It sounds like a pipe dream, you know? So I thought, I could be funny, but I'll just write funny commercials, and that'll be my creative outlet. But what I really wanted to do at the time was be funny in commercials, not just write them. So I studied marketing.
I really wanted to go to New York and work in advertising. Then I got to New York, I quickly figured out that what I really wanted to do was be on camera. I didn't let myself dream that big, though, so somewhere in there I fell into Upright Citizens Brigade, which was just coming together. I went to an see an Asssscat show at a little guerrilla-style pop-up show—this was before they had the theater—and it literally blew my mind. All I could think was, How do I get involved in this? I'd never seen improv before—I only knew about stand-up, which seemed like something I might like but also so scary to do it by yourself. In that moment, I was like, Alright, this is what I'm doing.
I always tell people looking to get into comedy the same thing: move to New York City. New York will give you the opportunity to figure out what's funny about you, and there are so many opportunities there to perform in New York. It's really hard—living in New York is expensive, it's not always comfortable, and you're cold six months out of the year—but there are so many great opportunities.
You can fail, and fail, and fail—and the reason I say that is because, for most people, it takes a long time. Certainly, there are some people who are so good at it that they get swept up right away—but that didn't happen for me. I'm an average-looking white guy with average comedic abilities, so New York gave me the opportunity to fail—to put up a show with my friends and have it suck. And I did that for years in New York—I just sucked. But it's the best thing because you learn how to be better at it.
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