Andrew Horneman: Leaning into Awkwardness

February 20, 2020

Photo Credit

Carlos J Matos

Interview by

Valerie Lopez

Article by

Richard Goodwin

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If you could record the sound of my anxiety and its inner monologue, after a 12 hour IV of triple espresso, I think you’d get a pretty close approximation of the energy Andrew Horneman exudes when he hits the stage. Pop over to YouTube and check out his Funniest Person in Austin 2016 entry for a second; we’ll wait. It’s impossible not to use a cliché term like “infectious”, as that’s exactly what it can be, and his gregarious and relatable personality has led to opening for big names like Myq Kaplan, Jen Kirkman, and Natasha Leggero.

On stage, Horneman quickly turns that feverish momentum into a raucous set, immediately highlighting the contradiction between how nervous he claims to be and the confidence with which he delivers his material. There’s also a bounty of gesticulation, something he supposes has roots in his somewhat unorthodox schooling. The Arizona native found himself at one point doing a live-in residency at the Arizona School for the Deaf and the Blind (ASDB), as a result of choosing sign language as a major. “I got into sign language because I had a speech impediment, as a gay man does,” he jokes, while advising, “don’t do a practical major, it’s dumb!”.

Living in a “trailer” at the ASDB while working the residency (as a means of repaying his school bills) proved less than fulfilling, and Horneman found himself looking for engaging outlets for his time and creativity. Tucson has a fairly vibrant comedy scene, so he started trying his hand at open mics as a way to get out, and get things out.

Horneman grew up being influenced by the comedic works of George Carlin, Kathy Griffin, and Margaret Cho, though it was a Wanda Sykes special that really started to open his eyes to the breadth of the medium. “That was the first comedy special I saw that I felt connected to. Before, I felt like it was just angry old men talking about traffic.” He started connecting the dots between the joy he’d felt giving presentations, when he’d inevitably draw laughs from the audience, to taking that to the stage.

I believe you should have a connection with the audience
Andrew Horneman

That didn’t mean it was a natural fit for Horneman out of the gate. Like the FPIA set I referenced, his anxiety and stage fright aren’t an affectation. He often doesn’t prepare heavily before a set, relying on his palpable energy and spontaneity to quickly build rapport with the audience. “I believe you should have a connection with the audience,” he says, and enjoys creating it with his personality, with the material sometimes simply a failsafe: “Here are some dick jokes...to help you forget about your life.”

Since Horneman’s arrival in Austin on the eve of 2016, he’s been a fixture at open mics and shows, at one point hitting “14 open mics a week”. Despite all evidence to the contrary, he at one point swears surprise at the notion of energy being endemic to his performances. “I feel like I’m low energy!” he loudly proclaims, and has only recently consciously tried to work on elevating it (and his skillset), including taking improv classes. “I hit a wall,” he says, getting frustrated with the limited number of shows he was getting, despite performing almost constantly. A grab bag of odd jobs sustained him, including selling windows door to door, then life insurance, and the perennial gig economy choice, ride-share driving. He wanted to get back to “the fun” of comedy, his exploration spawning short-lived projects like a parody band called Muffin and Sons. (To my utter dismay, no video exists of this online.) “[I needed to] find my own thing, make my own happiness...I was way too into standup and was burning out.”

An invitation for a featuring 20-minute set in St Louis, by way of the recommendation of a friend (“they were looking for a gay comic,” jokes Horneman), found him opening for Leggero. The experience came at the right time, re-igniting his passion after the negative “space” he’d been stuck in, and Leggero’s dedication to writing set his resolve to spend more time doing the same.

I love pushing the edge...‘Comics find a line. They know where it's at. They cross it and they make the audience happy that you did’.
Andrew Horneman, on inspiration from George Carlin

Horneman feels his style today is definitely an evolution, though built on lessons from some of his early idols. “I love pushing the edge...I definitely prescribed to George Carlin when he said ‘Comics find a line. They know where it's at. They cross it and they make the audience happy that you did’.” He definitely delights in finding that “line”, and acknowledges that sometimes he leaps rather than toes it. But to do otherwise, he feels, would be both a cop-out and unfair to the audience: “If you don’t comment on the hardship of life...you get this flaccid comedy.”

Improv is still playing a huge role in his life--Horneman says “if you can afford it, take the classes”--and he finds it “therapeutic”. In 2019 he co-hosted the great, though short-lived, Comedy Sellers, with Colton Dowling. He’s booking more gigs, and finding his footing (via another “Yes, and…” lesson from improv) being more proactive about driving his career, instead of assuming that getting “good enough” will automatically open doors for new opportunities. Part of that exploration also means leaning into the “awkwardness” of his boundary-pushing style. “I think some people want a true connection,” he says, and he wants to perfect “[going] into the stuff that people don't want to talk about”, and “[doing] the jokes that people don't want to do.”

For those that can pull off this kind of tightwire act, the rewards--for both performer and audience--are plenty. For Andrew Horneman, his open and endearing demeanor, and his renewed dedication, just might be the key.

Andrew can be seen:

  • Misfits Comedy Show - February 24, 8:30pm @ Baker Street Pub & Grill
  • Stark Raven Comedy Showcase - March 5, 8:30pm @ Adelberts Brewery
  • Comedy Night at Halcyon Mueller - March 6, 8:30pm @ Halcyon Mueller


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