[photo by mindy tucker]
Comedian James Adomian does stand up, sketch comedy, has a long list of cartoon voiceovers, and is a frequent guest on tv shows and podcasts like Comedy Bang Bang, the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, Conan, and Children’s Hospital. James does hilarious spot on impressions of unusual people which you can see in his popular Funny or Die videos. He’s become particularly well known for his George Bush impressions but he also does a killer Jesse Ventura and has played Hacksaw Jim Duggen, Garey Busey, Lewis Black, and Brett Favre to name just a few. He can also impersonate comedian Andy Kindler almost as well as Andy Kindler. When he’s not doing tv appearances, cartoon voices, and podcasts, he’s busy as a fan favorite at festivals around the country.
If you want to catch up with James, watch for him at Yuck Yucks in Toronto this month, and the Just for Laughs festival in Montreal next month. Our own Kelsea Bauman talked with Adomian about where his impressions come from, and why winning over the audience matters to him.
The IBang: Who are the comedians and impressionists that inspired you to start doing comedy?
James Adomian: It depends on what age you pick, because I was inspired and delighted and amused by all kinds of different comedy at different ages. When I was really little, I saw Clue in the movie theater, when I was like five. And I was like, oh my God, [Tim Curry] can do that? I wanna do that. Tim Curry particularly. And then of course Space Balls a couple years after that. That was another movie experience where I was like, “Man, I wanna do that.”
The IBang: Do you remember what it was about the movie that made you want to pursue comedy?
James Adomian: Oh, it was hilarious. And I got all the jokes. It wasn’t talking down to me. And I didn’t want anything to talk down to me. So I got all the jokes, and I learned things from having to stretch to understand comedy. So that was my introduction to comic acting, I guess. A little bit later, I became obsessed with the Jerky Boys, and I don’t know what you call that. That’s prank calls. That’s sketch comedy in the real world. I love them. Phil Hendrie, the radio personality, I was really influenced by him as a teenager and into college. And I was obsessed with Conan O’Brien, so I would see all the stand-ups who would appear on Conan. From 1993 to 1995, I’m not exaggerating, I probably watched almost every episode of Late Night with Conan O’Brien. So that was a gateway into all kinds of stuff, like Mr. Show, and stand ups like Janeanne Garofalo and Paul F. Tompkins, just way too many to mention. And I would be lying if I didn’t mention Phil Hartman and Chris Farley.
The IBang: Did you start off doing stand up or sketch? Did you do impressions from the beginning or did you grow into that skill?
James Adomian: I always did impressions for fun, but I only did stand up a couple times, for a few months at a time, and I convinced myself that it wasn’t right for me, and that I should stick with sketch comedy. So I did the Groundlings, and UCB when they came to town. Then I got into standup later, like, for real, and it turned out it was working for me. It was just a good way to do what I wanted. You can kind of achieve different things within different formats.
The IBang: How do you choose the people you do impressions of, like Jesse Ventura and Huell Howser.
If something is disturbing to me, I like to talk about it.
The IBang: A lot of your characters seem to discuss political issues, and politics naturally segue into your standup. Was it always like that for you, or were you ever uncomfortable talking politics on stage?
James Adomian: I read a lot of news. I have to consciously force myself to walk away from reading. I like seeing what’s going on in the world. I like reading about all sides of a debate or controversy. So there’s definitely politics in my standup. And I’ve always had an attraction to bringing up controversy in comedy because it’s therapeutic for me. If something is disturbing to me, I like to talk about it. That’s going back to me being a smart ass in college. But particularly when I do a standup show, I do a lot of gaging the audience. Before I go on stage, I watch the other performers, see what kind of audience they are, how old they are, whether they’re laughing a lot or not, and that will affect what I do onstage. In the first minute or two, I’m kind of gaging them to see if they’re on my side, if they are ready to go with me where I wanna go, or if I have to spend a lot of time winning them over.
The IBang: Do you ever change your persona based on how conservative the city and audience may be?
I was out of the closet, but no one cared, so one thing I took the opportunity to do when I started doing standup, was talk to a big crowd of people as who I actually am.
The IBang: Have you always been comfortable discussing your sexuality on stage?
When I started doing standup…coming from a background where I was performing in character for years and years and years, I didn’t get to talk about being gay because I was in character. So I was out of the closet, but no one cared, so one thing I took the opportunity to do when I started doing standup, was talk to a big crowd of people as who I actually am.
The IBang: You had some controversy with Tom Leykis recently. You were impersonating him and someone in the audience got offended?
James Adomian: Yeah, [after a show] I looked on the internet, and there was a woman who was offended at some of the things “Tom Leykis” was saying. And, you know, it upsets me when I realize that someone might not know that Tom Leykis is a real person, and I’m saying very bad things as Tom Leykis, and the joke is meant to be “Hey, this guy’s an asshole,” but I guess if that’s not communicated to everyone then some people aren’t gonna get it. So I was trying to clarify on Twitter, because I really hope that people realize that when I’m in character, I’m not speaking as myself. Because Tom Leykis is a piece of shit. You can defend him by saying he’s just entertaining people, but if you look at his fucking Twitter page, he says even worse things on Twitter than he does on the radio.
The IBang: Do you have any plans for another upcoming album?
James Adomian: The next thing I wanna do is a filmed special that I want to be sketch/character-based as opposed to standup. I’m working on a pilot with Scott Auckerman, and we’re still trying to get someone to agree to film it, which isn’t the easiest thing to do. But it’s really funny and we’re really proud of it.