Two professional comedians share their experiences living with HIV

A long-term survivor and a dandelion walk into a room. Actually, the dandelion is also a long-term survivor. Andy Feds is the stage name of “the first-ever HIV-positive-born comedian,” as he bills himself. His standup act and social media focus on HIV education, empowerment and entertainment. Daniel G. Garza had already progressed to what was classified as AIDS at the time when he was diagnosed in 2000. He lives in southern California but spends much of his time on the road doing comedy and advocacy work. The two comedians traded reflections and jokes about life with HIV.

This conversation has been excerpted and edited.

Daniel: May I ask how old you are?

Andy: I’m 31.

Daniel: So you’ve actually lived with HIV longer than… I’ve been living with it for 23 years. It’ll be 24 years this September. I’m 53 years old, and very proud of my 53 years, but that just blew my mind thinking that there was no before for you; there has always been this.

Andy: Yeah. I’m always on TikTok Live, teaching people about HIV. A lot of them think that life is done after being diagnosed with HIV. What was it like after your diagnosis?

Daniel: Back in 2000, when I was diagnosed, a lot of Latinos got their information from talk shows. There was a Latina TV talk show host, Christina [Saralegui], who was like the Latina Oprah. She had on her show people who were dying of AIDS. So my family thought, Well, you have AIDS, you’re gonna die and now you’re taking all of us with you. And I was like [sarcastically], Wonderful. We’re Mexicans; we’re fatalistic. I’m dying, so you’re dying with me. But now, 23 years later, a lot of my family members are like, Oh, you’re alive? You look healthy and you’re living a life and you have a partner? You have a boyfriend? And I’m like, Well, yeah, I have needs.

Andy: Oh, I definitely want to talk about relationships and HIV. Oh, man. As you saw on my TikTok, I made a video of me and my girlfriend, talking about couples. And when I tell you the dumbassery—I don’t know if they’re going to put that word in the magazine—but the dumbassery that I had to deal with…

‘There’s this concept of if there’s not a seat at the table for me, I’m gonna make my own damn table.’ —Daniel G. Garza

Daniel: We’re gonna make that word official here. Dumbassery. So, what is the dumbest thing somebody’s ever asked you?

Andy: I think the dumbest thing that somebody ever asked me was, How are you still alive? I’m like, You’re talking to me right now, what do you mean? I always have to tell people, Yeah, I was born with this thing. But I’ve been taking my meds, I’ve been going to the doctor. I’ve been actively taking care of myself, just like everybody else except the only difference between me and somebody who’s HIV-negative is that I have to take medicine for this. That’s it.

Daniel: I think the dumbest thing I’ve ever been asked was after a presentation, I had shared my life story, having been diagnosed in 2000 not just with HIV, but with AIDS. Somebody came up and asked, How dare you be out in the world? And I was like, What do you mean? He said, Well, you have AIDS, anybody can get it. And I thought, did you not just sit through my presentation? Did we not just talk about the hows and how-nots? So I said [sarcastically] I’m gonna go home and pray and hope God forgives me. He said, Good, and then walked away.

That HIV is somehow some kind of punishment is another silly thought.

Andy: I get a lot of those comments, too, on social media—Oh, God can heal you. All you gotta do is just ask for forgiveness. I was born this way!

Daniel: How has sharing your story on TikTok changed you?

Andy: I actually started on Facebook. I had been doing standup comedy about five years, and I was like, Hey, I’m gonna switch up my standup, folks, and teach y’all about my life with HIV. I was shocked by all the support that I got. Then when it came time for me to come up with new material and going out on stage, the first thing I said was, Hey, my name is Andy Feds. I’m the first-ever openly HIV-positive-born comedian. And the whole room was like deers in headlights. They couldn’t believe that I said HIV and comedy in the same sentence. And immediately, nobody was listening. They were like, Nope, we’re not listening to this. And so I had to constantly retouch and refine my material to have people understand that yes, I’m a comedian. And just like every other comedian who gets to talk about their issues, I’m a comedian talking about mine, too. Since then, I’ve just been retooling and retouching, and my following has been growing.

Daniel: It’s like somehow, sharing or disclosing your status completely erases everything that you’ve ever done in your life. It happens with cancer, too—I’m also an anal cancer survivor. But somehow, everything that you’ve done in your life, the moment that you disclose an illness, a diagnosis, whatever condition, people are like, Oh, that is all you are now. They make you a walking poster child.

'If I’m gonna share dessert with you, I need you to know what’s going on with me.'

Andy: So let me ask you a question then. Do you think there’s a difference between how society sees you as somebody who acquired HIV through sex versus somebody who might have had it since birth?

Daniel: I think from my experience as a Latino man, there’s a shock—What do you mean? HIV is a White man’s thing. Especially Latino people, they think HIV is something that happens to White gay men. But then I add that I’m gay, and they’re like, Of course you would have it.

Andy: It’s funny that you say that because I’m a heterosexual man. And because I’m a Black heterosexual man, when I tell people that, yes, I am a straight Black man living with HIV, a lot of people are like, He must be DL [on the down low]. No, I just told you I’m a heterosexual man. What are you talking about?

I’m like, Where is my representation? And I say that very humbly, saying ‘my representation,’ meaning other straight Black men who were born HIV-positive. Where’s our representation? I’ve seen so many magazines, so many social media posts, and it’s never us. There’s never any straight man. I didn’t speak about my HIV until I was 24 years old, seven years ago. That was because I didn’t see anybody that looked like me. And finally, I was like, Alright, well, I guess I gotta be the damn voice because we’re not being seen.

Daniel: There’s this concept of if there’s not a seat at the table for me, I’m gonna make my own damn table. We do get invited to conversations sometimes, but sometimes I’m the token Latino. I’m in a sea of white and I’m the only person of any color. And anything that has to do with Spanish, everybody looks to me and asks, Okay, how do we reach out? And then I’m like, Oh, this is why you need me here, because, I’m the diversity.

Six years ago, I was part of an HIV awareness campaign that kind of pushed me to the forefront. They said, We want you to be this representation. It was like being in a boy band—this is your part, this is what you’re gonna say. And you learn your lines, you learn them well, you do your best, but then you come out of that and go, Wait a minute, I know other stuff. I know how to do other things. So I started to create my own spaces. I’m proud of you for doing that, too. I’m not gonna say I’m a fan, because then it’s gonna go to your head.

Andy: I already got a big head. This hat is XXL, by the way.

Daniel: What would you like young people to learn from you?

Andy: That you can get HIV in more ways than just sex. Nobody says HIV anymore. A lot of people think that it can’t happen to them, or they’re like, I’m in a monogamous relationship. And it’s like, No, you should still be getting tested, you should still know your status. And let’s have conversations. Let’s create dialogues with our partners, with our doctors, with our friends, our family, our kids, so that we can protect each other.

Daniel: How does the conversation come up for you when you’re seeing someone?

Andy: A lot of people will be like, Oh, I wait until we get really close or, I’ll wait a few months. If I think that I’m gonna see a future with you, before I enter the bedroom or whatever, I want to tell you some stuff about me so that we can have a conversation as adults to protect each other.

Daniel: I’m so glad you said that. Because these are adult conversations. I always thought that if there’s something physical, mental or spiritual going on with me, I want to tell you about it. And you need to know it right before we order dessert, because I don’t like to share dessert with just anyone. If I’m gonna share dessert with you, I need you to know what’s going on with me.

Andy: I always do tell people that when it comes to dating and disclosing, I’m not gonna let someone make me love myself less just because they don’t want to deal with my HIV. Girl, there’s the door. Because if you can’t deal with my HIV, that means you don’t care for me, because that’s just a small part that I already have under control.

My girlfriend and I met on a Christian dating site, Christian Mingle. We were talking for a minute and then I passed off my number and next thing you know, we were on FaceTime. It was the second FaceTime conversation that I told her I was positive. She was shocked. But then she was like, Alright, well, it’s just a part of you and you’re taking your medicine. She works in the medical field, too, so she knows a little bit about HIV, especially what it means to be undetectable. So it has never been an issue.

Daniel: I’m gonna ask this question because it happens for me sometimes—does it ever, in the back of your head, become an issue for you?

Andy: No. Simply because we do have conversations. We do talk about it a lot. She knows about PrEP and PEP. We use condoms, too, when we want to. We always know how to protect ourselves.

I’m still relatively new to advocacy. Like I said, I’ve only been doing this for seven years. I’ve always known about HIV because I’ve been taking medication since birth. My doctors and nurses taught me about it. When I tell people that I’m living with HIV and the first thing they say is, I’m sorry, I think, What are you sorry about? Because I don’t have a life of sorrow. I live a normal, happy life, you know? I got things that will make me cry—my bills, the cost of living—but HIV isn’t one of them. It’s one thing that I’ve had under control for years, or decades now.

Daniel: I don’t think I can add anything to that. I have my own mental health issues to deal with. I suffer from anxiety, the lower side of agoraphobia, and I suffer from seasonal depression. There are other things that I can get sad and depressed about. Every once in a while at midnight, which is when I take my meds, the alarm will go off to remind me and I’m like, Shit. It’s like a Cinderella moment.

Andy: I’ve heard people talk about that. And that is not to downplay anything, I’ve never felt that pill fatigue. To me, it’s just always been normal.

I tell people that HIV is a mental battle as well as physical, because a lot of people do face these challenges of realizing that they are HIV-positive—how will my family and friends think of me? What will society think of me? These challenges play in people’s heads, and I fully 100% get that because we all need to give and get support from other people who are also going through the same things.

Daniel: I’ve learned that if I want to show up to a place as just me, I have the right to that choice. I have shown up to places where I’m like, Hi, I’m Daniel G. Garza and I’m Latino and I’m gay and I’m HIV-positive…

Andy: And in Spanish, too, like in those TV commercials.

Daniel: ¡Soy Daniel! ¡Soy de VIH! Para más información… I’ve learned that there’s the personal and there’s a professional persona. Yes, the line is so blurred because I’m advocating for something that’s me. Sometimes people can’t separate the two and I need to do it for them.

Andy: Yeah. Sometimes I want to stay away from Andy Feds because sometimes I just want to talk about what’s going on in life.

Daniel: I’m very conscious of the fact that once I started using the word advocate or community leader or whatever, that that carries some responsibility. It’s like being on a ship. If it starts to sink and they know that you can save lives, you are going to be asked to help save lives.

I’m a life coach too. And I teach this to my clients—you’re not the only one on a path. There’s somebody somewhere else that is doing something similar. My timeline will not be the same as someone else’s, but we all have goals to reach. And I wholeheartedly believe that you are hitting those marks beautifully. I don’t know what your ultimate goal is, but from my standpoint I’m going, Wow, look at this dude kickin’ ass. I’m not gonna lie. I was envious for a little while. But what I’ve learned about myself, when I have that reaction towards someone, it’s because there’s a mirror in front of me. And I need to take a look at it—what is it that you’re being jealous about and what can you learn from it?

Andy: I tell people I’m just a normal person from Chicago. That’s it. I’m just sharing my story.

Daniel: You’re more than that. You are a voice, and as somebody slightly older than—shut up, I’m barely older than you, we could’ve been born twins—you’re a voice for the table that you sit at. And if we’re going to build these tables you need to have a message to go with that voice.

Andy: I look at it the same way. I got two friends, Masonia Traylor and Ci Ci Covin, who are both in a documentary on Netflix right now, with [producer] Sheryl Lee Ralph. It’s called Unexpected. It just got nominated for two Daytime Emmy Awards [best daytime special and best song]. I’m so freakin’ proud of them. And the late Hydeia Broadbent, who unfortunately passed away. We’re all doing the same work by telling our stories. Gina Brown is a prime example. Everybody knows Gina. Our stories start to make people realize that HIV and AIDS is still a thing that we still need to talk about and that we still need to prevent.

Daniel: There’s Charles Sanchez, who’s one of my good friends. He is a voice in the community. He’s a fellow actor and comedian. He produced his one-man show and talks about his life story. I always tell him, I’m so immensely proud of dropping your name in a conversation.

Is there one thing that you’ve never been asked that you wish somebody would ask you?

Andy: Oh, that’s a great question. I guess it is, How can we make your representation matter? It goes back to the beginning of our conversation. I feel like being a straight Black man living with HIV, our voices aren’t heard at all. I want us to matter to people. How about you?

Daniel: One thing that I wish somebody would ask me is, What do you want people to learn from your life? We need to be more open about sex and have conversations about sex.

'I tell people I’m just a normal person from Chicago. That’s it. I’m just sharing my story.'

Andy: Let’s continue to have conversations about prevention and awareness. I think that’s the real cure, because that’s how we stop the next person from getting diagnosed. There’s a lot of us living with it, but if we can just stop new diagnoses, we’ll end HIV.

Daniel: Let’s find a way to break the barrier created by culture, religion and social norms. Because I believe that over that wall is where the answers are.

I’m so happy that we got to do this together.

Andy: Likewise, likewise.