Interview With Comedian Orny Adams
Orny Adams may best be remembered for his costarring role alongside Jerry Seinfeld in the 2002 documentary, Comedian. A behind the scenes look at Jerry Seinfeld’s comeback in to the world of stand-up comedy, the documentary also featured Adams depicting the less glamorous side of comedy as a young up-and-coming comic trying to establish himself in show business. The film helped catapult Adams into the public eye, and he’s since performed on various TV shows like the Tonight Show with Jay Leno and The Late Show with David Letterman. Last year saw the release of Orny Adams Takes The Third, his first one-hour special for Comedy Central (currently available on iTunes) and this weekend he’ll bring his comedic flurry to the Comedy Club at Pechanga Casino. Adams sat down for a chat with SanDiego.com to discuss his origins as a comedian and his new TV show Teen Wolf.
Where did you start doing stand-up?
Orny Adams: Boston, Atlanta, New York City and Los Angeles.
So that’s the chronological order.
What year did you start?
Right at the height of the grunge era.
That was me. I started in Boston, was going to school there; then I went to school in Atlanta and did stand-up out there and then back to Boston. Then Disney saw me and flew me out to L.A. for meetings, then New York wanted to see me and I was in New York every weekend so I moved to New York, and then a development deal and all that sort of stuff.
Can you recall the very first set you ever did?
Funny Bone in Atlanta, Georgia; probably did 5 minutes. I auditioned on a stage in the afternoon for an empty club and a lady in the back in a booth.
That had to be unnerving.
You know, I have nerves of steel when it comes to stand-up. I actually feel more comfortable onstage then I do in the rest of my life. It just feels natural up there and I have a sense of control. I really enjoy it; it’s the time off stage that drives me nuts.
So you weren’t nervous?
I was too stupid to be nervous. I didn’t know better, I still don’t know better! There’s this sense inside you that it’s where you’re supposed to be. It just felt natural to me. It’s like breathing. It’s like this is what I’m supposed to be doing, why would I be nervous? You have nothing to lose.
Do you remember any of the jokes you did the first time up?
First of all, I know but I’m not going to tell you. Because I don’t want it printed and then people go ‘I’m not going to go see this guy.’ I’ve made that mistake before. I’m too smart! You should’ve had me 10 years ago! You should’ve had me when Seinfeld had me! Do you see what he did to me? I always try to attack topics that other people weren’t discussing, so I probably was talking about test tube babies. So I think I merged test tubes and Freud and stuff like that.
So do you not curse in your act?
I did in my special twice.
What do you attribute that to?
I don’t like gratuitous swearing, I never have. I felt like instead of doing the work it was an easy way out. You just keep writing and writing where you feel comfortable enough that you don’t need to do that. In my act, the two times I do swear, it's times in life that you’re going to swear. And if you don’t swear it seems unnatural and untrue to the circumstance, and you sort of lose credibility.
You’re not a raunchy guy off stage?
Raunchy humor drives me nuts. I can’t stand it.
Would you consider films like Meatballs and Porky’s raunchy?
Mild by today’s comparisons! I’m not a prude, we’re all vulgar in our personal lives and in our heads and in conversations. I feel like the whole audience should feel comfortable when they’re at a comedy show. If you saw my special, if you saw the end when I talk about outsourcing, isn’t it rude that we’re calling these third world countries with our problems? You know, ‘I think my high-speed is running a little slow, do you think you can get out of your mud hut and fix it for me? Hold on a second, I don’t think my fridge is working, I’ve got $300 worth of truffles in there, can you swat the flies off your face and help me?’ No wonder they hate us all over the world, we’re disgusting! I think it conjures vulgar images that could be put together in a slideshow -- insensitive, but I’m making a statement.
What are you up to this week?
I’m working on a television show, Teen Wolf. I’m supposed to be shooting in Atlanta, Georgia so I couldn’t book myself out. I fly in and out, like last week I shot a day then I went to Virginia and did my shows. I’ve got a new agent and he’s got to slow down. I said, ‘Take it easy. I don’t need to work this much.’ I don’t know how much comedy you’ve seen, and I don’t know what the process is for other comedians, but the amount of energy I spend during my show and with the preparation... every show’s different. I stay right there with the audience the whole time and switch things up and go places that I had no preconceived notion of. It’s really about the moment, not to sound too stereotypical L.A. artsy right now, but it is about that. When I finished taping my special, my legs were weak for three weeks, I was that tired.
Would you consider yourself a prolific writer?
I write a lot. I would never call myself prolific.
Do you still catalog all of your jokes?
Well I’ve got hard drives and hard drives filled. The computer is amazing. What you saw it’s all been cataloged and basically Google your hard drive with an Apple computer. So if I’m doing bits on aliens now I can just type in aliens and I can see any reference I’ve ever made to it since 1994 or something.
Do you have great memory recall to remember all those jokes on stage?
No, not even close. In fact if I could I would never get off stage. Because I have a horrible memory, and that’s part of my process, is sitting down for hours before writing one word down that will remind me of a 5 minute hunk over and over and over, and the objective of what I’m trying to get across.
When would you say that you found your voice as a comedian?
I’m not there yet. I’m not even close to the potential, and it’s frustrating because it’s not something you can force. It’s something that you either have or you don’t. I was looking at clips of Leonard Cohen who’s now 80. And you just look at this guy and go, ‘Woah.’ To me I’m not quite there yet, and that’s what keeps me going, because I know I can do better.
That’s a very humble response.
Yeah I think I respect what I do, I’m grateful and I’m fully aware of my flaws. So if somebody in the audience isn’t laughing that doesn’t bother me. It’s okay for people not to think I’m funny, it’s okay for not everyone to get everything I say or enjoy everything I say. I’m totally cool with that, I’m not totally cool with everyone going on the internet and bashing everybody. I think that’s kind of disgusting and usually comes from an ugly place within that person. That’s something I sort of had to grapple with through the years.
The internet is a cowardly place.
That’s a great way to put it.
If you’ve lived in L.A. since 2001 how come this is only the second time you’ll be performing in San Diego?
When I go into a town it creates zero excitement. I encourage you to go on iTunes and just pay $3.99, I’ll be happy to send you the check, and just download my special. Watch that hour and nine minutes and you’ll get what I’m about. The truth is, I never caught that stride, I haven’t had the one thing that made me visible or makes people want to come out. I mean, I sell tickets, but I’m not selling out massive amounts that I should be playing in theatres.
Would you describe your lifestyle as healthy?
Yeah, I exercise a lot. I play basketball twice a week.
Who do you play with?
A lot of famous people, I play one of the most famous games with comedians every week. We’re not allowed to discuss it. There’s a reason I’m in Funny People playing basketball with Sandler.
Do you toss a few back before going onstage?
I can’t have a drink before a show, I can’t have a drink after a show or it’ll affect my shows the next night. You’re there to do a job.
Would you describe yourself as straight edge?
No. I would say no. I like having a good time. I just know when it's work, it's work. I want those people to see the best show possible.
Do you ever incorporate crowd work into your act?
I do it only to engage and keep them interested. Like with classical music, those guys used to write symphonies and they knew when people were nodding off and they’d just go, ‘Boom! Boom! Boom!’ and pound them! Sometimes you have to do that. Sometimes you have to do a little crowd work to get the people involved.
Does Orny Adams have a message for the children?
Stop eating, pick up your backpacks and do yourself a favor and don’t have dreams or hope. Those are dangerous things to have, dreams and hope.
Orny Adams performs at The Comedy Club at Pechanga February 23-26.