The House That Laughter Built

by Christina Eichelkraut

Aaron and Melody Gardy believe a funny T-shirt can do much more than just make people smile. They believe a good T-shirt can change the world.

 "We want to make the world a better place with funny shirts," Aaron said.

At the very least, House of HaHa's shirts are helping to make the planet geekier.

Whether its "Have a Reasonable Day," which features a laconic, straight-mouthed version of the classic yellow smiley face or an R2D2-based D20 die, the Gardys have a way of tweaking the nose of pop culture and geek lore.

But you don't need to be a geek or a hipster to appreciate the "Fashion for your Funny Bone," as the company's logo put it.

Some shirts feature good old-fashioned T-shirt snark, like one that has shocked Vikings exclaiming "Illegal immigrants?!" to a couple of decidedly un-amused Native Americans.

It all started when Melody gave the right answer to "Do you like Kevin Smith?" when the couple began chatting on an online dating service in October 2003.

“On our first date, he stole a car, picked me up and we went to his house to watch An Evening with Kevin Smith. I probably shouldn't get into the details, but things got pretty smooth,” Melody laughed.

“I returned the car,” Aaron protested, with huge grin.

After a couple weeks of getting each other’s geek-laden jokes, both knew they’d met their match.

“I told her in the first conversation, you’re someone I want to hang out with forever,” Aaron said. “She can quote Star Wars better than anyone I’ve ever met, but she doesn’t do the obvious quotes.”

Before House of HaHa, Aaron was using his 12 years of experience as an EMT in a career working in behavioral health in Arizona, specializing in the treatment and detox of chemical addiction.

Aaron became an EMT "because I read a lot of comics as a kid," he said.

"All the lessons of right and wrong, and one man can make a difference and team work and all those kinds of things," he said. "I knew I wanted to do something that made a difference."

Although he left his EMT career feeling satisfied that he had helped people, he didn't find the same happiness in behavioral health.

In fact, he was miserable.

Melody and Aaron had discussed starting their own business.

They had dabbled in selling shirts online in the past. Those shirts featured comics Aaron wrote and drew based on his first job at a comic shop, Harlequin Hobbies in Yuba City, Calif., his hometown.

The line expanded to include a series of “Geek Speak” designs with quirky sayings incorporating geek culture, like "Feel Like Making Wookie" and "The Geek Shall Inherit the Earth."

"We knew we wanted to start our business," Aaron said. "And we wanted it to be something we made that was based on our creativity."

"And not being evil," Melody added.

Aaron knew he had to find something else to do with his life.

"I was at the point where I had to quit because I was going to leave, or just quit because I was burnt out," Aaron said.

Melody supported the decision.

"I don't believe in infinite bitching," Melody joked.

"For about four or five years, every decision I made was a fear-based decision," Aaron said. "And you can only do that for so long."

He wasn't drawing or creating anything, he had taken pay cuts and though Melody worked they were upside down on their house.

Some would say that's a terrible time to quit.

The Gardys thought the timing couldn’t be better.

"It was the best thing I ever did for myself," Aaron said.

The second Aaron got home from resigning, on Oct. 14, 2010, he and Melody set to work creating House of HaHa.

"It was Melody who suggested House of HaHa," Aaron said, referring to the company name.

There was a bit of debate about how many "Ha"s were needed, but ultimately they decided on two.

"We wanted to show enthusiasm but we didn't want to get hysterical," Aaron joked.

They designed the logo, developed the "Fashion for Your Funny Bone" tag-line and started selling some of the T-shirts based on some designs they already had working.

"Once I start doing an idea, I can't help but develop it for the future," Melody said.

And that included House of HaHa, so there were already a lot of pieces in place when the business started.

House of HaHa made a major debut at the 2011 Phoenix ComiCon, where they received a lot of positive feedback from attendees.

"It was that really cool moment where you realized, 'All right, this has an audience. They're getting the jokes,'" said Aaron.

Another memorable moment includes when the "Have a Reasonable Day" shirt went viral.

What makes House of HaHa more than just a clever T-shirt company, however, is Aaron and Melody's relationship.

It works because they're polar opposites.

"We have completely opposite styles and tastes and differences in humor and differences in perspective yet, at some point, it works out where there's those things mesh together enough," Aaron said.

When they first met, Aaron told Melody he would never want to work with her.

Fast forward 10 years later and he had this to say:

"I don't ever want to work without Melody," Aaron said. "At the end of the day, it doesn't matter how funny my jokes are or how great my drawings are because I don't know how to orchestrate it."

Put another way, Melody makes things happen.

"I like to think of Aaron as the artist and me as the designer," Melody said. , “but he is also the heart of the company.”

In the end, they both share a passion that's about more than making T-shirts, and certainly more than making money (though they're not opposed to that).

"I focus on the part where you're bringing happiness to people, and even though it's in a subtle way, how can it help but be improving things?"

But they're still looking for ways to make the world laugh.

It makes perfect sense, then, that the pair's next adventure involves creating a stand-up comedy show to benefit autistic children.

Just like a funny T-shirt, it's a another way to make the world a better place through laughter, and that what House of HaHa is all about.