James Adomian Does Stand-Up For Fun
Photo by Luke Fontana
James Adomian is openly gay, according to his Wikipedia page. It must be an important detail, considering that it’s exactly half of the information contained in the Personal life section. He’s also the grandson of Armenian-American mathematician George Adomian. End of story.
Of course, there’s far more to James than that lengthy bio has captured. The actor and comedian is a veteran of The Groundlings Theatre, Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, and Comedy Bang Bang. He’s provided his voice talents for Major Lazer and Axe Cop, and even appeared as George W. Bush in Harold and Kumar do the second thing.
James has most recently become known for his stand-up, having been a finalist in 2010 on Last Comic Standing, and, of course, his many, many impressions. My favorite is his Jesse Ventura. I’ve never met Governor Ventura, but I’m pretty sure James does a better Jesse than Jesse does.
“I love Jesse Ventura,” admits James, laughing. “I was a big wrestling fan when I was a kid, and I love Jesse Ventura. He’s a very interesting, progressive guy. He’s kind of like out there, and his voice is crazy. And he’s got this wild crazy career where he’s done everything. He’s really hyper-masculine, but he’s also progressive in a lot of ways that I find interesting. Jesse Ventura is a good vehicle to be able to talk about lots of different things. I did a video on Funny or Die that’s Jesse Ventura wondering if he’s gonna run for president. It’s like a campaign announcement, but he doesn’t really announce anything. He’s like: Will I run? I don’t even know!”
James is a man of eclectic tastes, by all accounts. Although he did express a disdain for the modern gay discotheque in a recent podcast, preferring, he claimed, more old school bands like the Velvet Underground.
“Um, wait,” he stops me, “I didn’t say that.”
I point out that he was doing mushrooms during the podcast.
“Oh, Christ,” he exclaims laughing, “oh, Jesus. I like a lot of music. Sometimes I’ll say false things on stage. The thing you’re referencing was a live show, so I say things that are written jokes. I mean, I love gay discotheques! And I like contemporary music, too. I like the Velvet Underground, I like David Bowie. I like a lot of stuff. I like a wide range of different music, and I listen to music more than I watch TV, actually.”
I can appreciate that sentiment, not being a big TV watcher myself.
“I watch TV like I watch movies,” he claims. “It’s an event. I just don’t watch it all the time.”
That begs the question, then: What TV is important enough to draw James’ attention?
“I love House of Cards,” he says, “and I love Mad Men. I use to do a stand up bit about it, actually, like mandatory television watching, how it’s like a homework assignment. That’s one of my earlier stand up bits about being required to do it. It’s like reading in a college course, watching TV shows. I like all those shows. I love Orange is the New Black. I love Silicon Valley. I love RuPaul’s Drag Race, but I don’t watch anything every episode. I kind of check in and watch a little bit. When I was a kid, I never watched every episode of Star Trek the Next Generation but I loved it, and I probably saw half of them.”
It stands to reason, of course, that the lifestyle of a working actor and stand-up comedian doesn’t really lend itself to being a regular TV watcher.
“That’s the thing,” he agrees, “I’m always doing shows. At least half the nights of a given week I’m out doing a show somewhere. And then I work all day, too. If I’m gonna watch TV it’s gonna be with some friends, like an event, you know?”
“More about the exciting, off-stage lifestyle of James Adomian,” he adds.
Kids everywhere will want to sign up to be a comic now.
“I know, right,” he agrees. “They hear this interview and they go running.”
There are many stories about the lonely road of the stand up artist, eschewing connections with friends and loved ones as they travel from stage to stage. This hard-working lifestyle has a similar impact on James’ personal life as well.
“I wish I had friends and lovers,” he chuckles. “Those were fun back when I used to do that.”
“I have a busy life,” he adds, “and I’ve got a lot of stuff I have to do, but I try to make time to see people, and sometimes, if I have to, I see people how I can, like after a show. Sometimes I’ll write with somebody, and we’ll hang out afterwards. When you get really busy, sometimes you have to make the fun times mesh with the work life, too. It’s not easy, but there’s a lot bigger problems you can have.”
I suppose it could be a lot like the plight of being in any type of industry where your work life and your personal life collide. I know more than a few professional cooks who hate having to cook at home after spending all day in a kitchen.
“Here’s the thing,” he says. “I don’t like to talk a lot because I do a lot of cartoon voices, podcasts, I audition a lot, I do on-camera TV stuff, and I’m also performing most nights doing a short, 10 minute set, or even as long as an hour. So, when I’m offstage sometimes my voice gets exhausted. I’ll hang out with people and just smile, and nod, and say a few words. I’m having a good time, but I’ve talked all my words for the day.”
It must be difficult to be switched on all day, and then keep it going after working.
“I guess so,” he says, then adds “I wouldn’t be doing this if I wasn’t always fascinated by comedy, looking for new jokes. It’s more fun than it is problem.”
It’s a good thing James enjoys comedy, too, because he’s very good at it. His shows are clever, bawdy, and irreverent. He has a keen insight into making the kind of general, everyday observations that lend his performances a crucial relatability, not to mention hilarity. Sure, he makes a lot of dick jokes. He is gay, after all. But he comes at them from places you wouldn’t necessarily expect. There’s his bit about the Sheriff of Nottingham, for instance.
“The Sheriff of Nottingham kind of grew out of my gay villains stand-up bit, which is on my album, Low Hanging Fruit, which came out three years ago. That was a stand-up bit where I went through all of the different gay villain archetypes in cartoons, movies, and stuff. From Transformers to Robin Hood. At some point, I was living in New York at the time, I was like: I want to do this as a character. So I picked the Sheriff of Nottingham as probably the best standalone character. And it’s fun! I get to do that sometimes, and I just show up at a show and interrupt the host as the Sheriff of Nottingham looking for Robin Hood. I’m basically doing the Alan Richman version of Sheriff of Nottingham. Gritted, hateful teeth: I’m looking for Robin Hood,” he offers in an Alan Richman voice. “And then it’s harassing and bullying the audience until they produce Robin Hood for me.”
James does a lot of characters. His stand-up performances deftly blur the lines between stand-up and acting. It’s kind of his thing, really, and is likely due to his roots in acting and doing sketch comedy.
“I started doing sketch comedy,” he explains, “and I’ve been doing characters and sketches for over a decade, since my early twenties, and that’s how I got my start. I was doing all of that at UCB (Upright Citizens Brigade) and met a lot of stand ups that way. And then I would do stand up shows as a character, which is always fun, and I still do that. But then, at some point, I wanted to try stand-up for fun. I had done it when I was like, 23, and then I got into the mainstream comedy club scene here, in Los Angeles, and I didn’t really like it. It was kind of bro-ey and mean. Years later, I was like: Maybe I’ll do this again, for fun. And I did all of the alternative shows, the same shows where I’d been doing characters, and it was fun! It was just for fun, at first. It was just so I didn’t have to drag bags of costumes around everywhere I went, which sounds like a petty complaint, but I have countless memories of being at, like, punk rock venue with stickers on the mirror, and trying to change into a George W. Bush costume in the bathroom with no doors on it.”
That sounds like the plight of many a struggling, up and coming artist.
“Stand-up was an idea of just being like: You know what? Maybe I’ll just show up as myself and talk about my life,” he adds. “I did that for fun, and that worked really well, and people liked it, and I started getting asked to do more and more stuff. So I stuck with it, and now it’s a few years later, and that’s mostly what I do. Now it’s flip flopped, where the character stuff is more for fun, and stand-up is what I spend more of my time doing.”
I, for one, am glad that things have worked out that way. James is funny, funny man, and we’re all better for the chance to see his work.