Augie T. is a comedian who has been named the Aloha State’s funniest comic by The Honolulu Star-Bulletin. Before taking part in a Smithsonian/Zócalo “What It Means to Be American” panel discussion in Honolulu, supported by the Daniel K. Inouye Institute, entitled “Does Hawaii Have America’s Strongest Sense of Identity?” he chatted in the green room about Ricky Martin’s biography, long plane flights, and sexy names.
Q: How’d you get your name?
A: My real name is Augusto. My grandpa is Filipino, from my dad’s side. My grandpa from my mom’s side is Irish, from Georgia. They called me Augie in school, and now the Filipino ladies get mad because they want me to use my real name. I got to tell them I can’t, because Augusto is too sexy.
Q: Where do you go when you want to chill out and be alone?
A: The most fun time for me is when I’m on the road. I have a full-time job here in Hawaii, but I’ve been doing comedy now for 26 years and there are so many Hawaii people that live on the mainland. So whenever I have an opportunity, I love the long flights, I love sitting there and reading, I love sleeping, and I love being in a hotel room by myself. Because I have a very dysfunctional family. So people see me as this crazy, loud guy on stage, but when I’m at home, I’m the sane person, because everybody around me is just crazy and nuts.
Q: And you like being in new cities?
A: I love watching people, I love wondering what they’re doing. Because everywhere I go, everybody’s like, “Hey, I gotta tell you a joke! Augie, oh my god, you’re funny!” I’ll see a guy walking around with a guitar and think, “I wonder if he’s a big star here in this state?” And I love listening to people talk, because I grew up extremely poor, in public housing in Honolulu, so just seeing the world, even now at 49, is so fascinating for me. And I wouldn’t have got there if it wasn’t for comedy.
Q: Who was the first comedian who really influenced you?
A: Eddie Murphy. I just felt like he was somebody I could definitely relate to. Everybody loves Richard Pryor. The very first comic that I ever saw, who inspired me to be a comic, was another Hawaii comic. He was my springboard to go, “What is this thing of standup comedy?” I was in the fourth grade, my auntie took me to an Yvonne Elliman concert, and I was like, “Why am I here?” I wanted to see the guy that opened for her, a comic who lives here in Hawaii, Andy Bumatai. He was making 3,000 people laugh and I thought, “That’s what I want to be.”
Q: Were you the class clown?
A: Yeah, I disrupted everybody. I have ADHDA, I have dyslexia. But the gift of gab got me where I am.
Q: What kind of music gets you out on the dance floor?
A: I just turned 49, so I’m more into talk radio. When I’m driving I see kids out there bobbing their heads, and I’ve got to roll up my window and go, “PBS!” I’m a news junkie.
Q: What are you reading right now?
A: I love reading biographies. As a fun gift somebody gave me the Ricky Martin biography. I was so engaged, I read that book in two days. Now I’m reading Thomas Jefferson’s biography. At 49, I feel like I’m back in high school.
Q: What’s the best thing about being from Hawaii?
A: I always felt like what I had to offer as far as bringing humor to the world was special. I have a very unique family—very loving, dysfunctional, creates stories that people can relate to. Early on, I was always told that I couldn’t get to the next level speaking Pidgin Hawaiian, doing the kind of comedy that I did. But I always believed that if I brought something to the world that’s different, then that’s marketable. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that telling funny stories about a culture that’s rich, funny, personable, maybe damaging at times, was going to be relatable and bring comfort to people. I think that Hawaii, because we have so much diversity, so many fun stories, things to share—it’s not black or white, it’s … colorful.