(Stand-up Comedian, James Adomian, is a regular on LA’s alternative comedy show, Comedy Death-Ray at the UCB Theater. His voice, along with his comprehensive library of characters and impressions can be heard semi-regularly on Scott Aukerman’s podcast: Comedy Death-Ray Radio. His wildly funny and fresh pop satire is what landed him amongst the top ten finalists on the most recent season of Last Comic Standing.
I was fortunate enough to check out his act and improv skills in New York, and later, he agreed to expose himself…well, at least some of his thoughts and philosophies…)
How has the comedy industry changed since you’ve begun your career?
I tried to ignore the “comedy industry” when I started and I still don’t have much patience for the parts of the business that take place outside of creative art. That may have held me back some, and certainly an ambitious “A-student” career attitude does well for some people’s stature, but it’s not really in my personality. There are good people and there are bad people; you have to work with all kinds. Most business in our capitalist society boils down to some kind of scam. At least in comedy, people have a good time, usually.
Who did you look up to most starting out in Comedy?
Phil Hartman, Bill Hicks and many others. I was greatly influenced by Late Night with Conan O’Brien, which came out when I was 13. I think I watched every single episode in the summer of 1994.
What lesson have you taken away from your experiences in Stand-Up Comedy?
I have to watch shows from the back of the room because my laugh is disruptively loud.
When did you first realize that you had a talent for voices and impressions?
I was imitating voices from real life and media as soon as I could talk. I used to run around in diapers doing the voices of newscasters with their grave tones–I have never respected their artifical authority. When I was in school I’d do all my teachers and coaches, and some celebrities as time went on. When I was 14, I started calling in to a local L.A. talk radio show (Ask Mr. KFI) and pretend to be prominent Republican media figures at the time, like Bob Dornan and Phil Gramm. That was probably my first experience doing impressions for a broadcast audience.
Who is your favorite character to perform?
Well, it changes with time. Original characters, I usually create in the service of an idea I want to talk about. Some of my favorite original characters are Miss Corona Martini (a filthy drag queen standup), Jonathan Summers (BBC announcer) and Bromian (my straight dude alter-ego). For impressions, I like to do people who make a big impression on me, positive or negative. I find a target who’s never been done, or someone who hasn’t been done right, or someone who hasn’t been done in a while where I have a unique angle. These days I love doing Jesse Ventura, Freddie Mercury, Huell Howser and Christopher Hitchens. Orson Welles and Vincent Price are two old favorites.
Does being a “gay comedian” play a significant role in your act?
To borrow Johnny Cash’s logic: I’m not a “gay comedian,” I am a comedian who is gay. Even then, labeling people never works well, since all kinds of sex acts happen outside of the defined sexual identities. But I publicly embrace “gay” since it’s a label that’s so heavily villified in our culture and it’s close enough for shorthand, I guess. In my act, I talk about having sex with other men and I talk about homophobia embedded deep in our culture, but I generally save it as a surprise for the end of the set because I have many things to say on a wide range of topics, and what I do doesn’t really fit very well into the established artistic ghetto of “gay comedy.” Accordingly, I am completely invisible to the official gay culture, but that’s fine with me because I speak to a wider audience than just “the gays.”
(on the Political Importance of Gay Rights)
Mainstream politics generally function as a calculated distraction from life. Sexual freedom is expressed by people and communities, not the state. I practice free love and recommend it to others. I find it insulting that we’re not supposed to have sex with other men, or that we’re supposed to live in quiet fear when we do. Homophobia, including hetero-normative (“straight-as-normal”) narratives come from fear: a wide-eyed terror at the limitless wilderness of human sexuality. Same-sex love has been enjoyed by humans since prehistoric times: sometimes it’s forbidden, sometimes it’s tolerated, sometimes it’s accepted, sometimes it’s encouraged — but it’s always happening, no matter what the nominal legal or social status. Free yourself and the world will follow. If you’re not interested in living free, I would advise you at least to step out of the way, because we’re coming.
What makes you optimistic about the future of humanity?
Not much. I’ve just about given up on the future of humanity. There are isolated pockets of wisdom, sustainable communities and resistance to global corporate tyranny, but overall, we’re headed for many different kinds of disaster. I hope someone put a copy of Dr. Strangelove in the Greenland seed vault so that the octopus creatures can see where we went wrong when they reach this level of planetary dominance in a few million years.
What are you optimistic about in life?
I live surrounded by love, wisdom and laughter and I don’t need much else to survive for now.
What advice would you give to a comedian just starting out in the business?
Watch, learn and do comedy as often as you can. Make friends with other performers. Learn how to live off the land, both for bread and for comedy. You will bomb and you will kill; you can have fun and learn a lot from doing either.
(on the feeling of being on stage in front of an audience)
The high stakes seem to be a great factor in forcing a performer to do something worthy of the lights, the mic and the audience’s attention.