Talking with James Adomian About His New Album, ‘Comedy Bang! Bang!,’ and the State of Gays in Comedy
James Adomian is probably best known for his appearances on the podcast Comedy Bang! Bang!, where he appears regularly as demented, hilarious versions of celebrities like Jesse Ventura and Huell Howser, but he’s also a talented stand-up comedian, constantly performing all over the country, most recently alongside Scott Aukerman in the Comedy Bang! Bang! live tour. Adomian’s debut stand-up album, Low Hangin Fruit, comes out today via Earwolf (it’s also the podcast network’s first comedy album). I had the chance to listen to Low Hangin Fruit last week, and it’s a really funny album and an excellent sampling of Adomian’s abilities as a stand-up. I recently had a chat with James Adomian about the new album, the obstacles faced by modern gay comedians, and his run-in with the real Huell Howser:
How’s the Comedy Bang! Bang! Tour been going? Any highlights?
The tour’s been really fun. I got to do stand-up at all the shows, and that’s been a blast. I didn’t know I was gonna do that; it just sort of evolved that way. People know of me as either a podcast personality or as a stand-up. I have my new album on Earwolf, so that’s kind of a conscious effort to bring the two camps of people who know about me into one place. But yeah, it’s been great. I’ve been doing characters, and I’ve been doing standup as myself. It’s been a really fun time. I got to do Jesse Ventura in Minneapolis. I’ve done Gary Busey, Dov Charney, Christopher Hitchens, Huell Howser… I might be forgetting some. It’s been a blast. To just be able to do them in front of audiences is so fun for me. It’s nice to hear that people enjoy a podcast, but it’s really nice to be there in the room. It’s very rewarding.
Do you have any new impressions you’re working on currently?
I’m always working on impressions. One of the more recent ones I’ve done is Richard Branson on the Sklarbro Country podcast that the Sklar Brothers do. I do Richard Branson as their Olympic correspondent, and I started doing Fred Phelps. I stumbled upon that in my standup act, and that was fun. Yeah, I’m always working on new guys. There’s more to come. The Sheriff of Nottingham is a character that I like playing. It’s basically Alan Rickman, but I’ve just made it into the Sheriff of Nottingham. It’s such a juicy character. I like doing characters and I like doing standup because you can get away with different things in the two different media. I feel like, if I’m doing a character, I don’t have to get an audience to like me, and if I’m doing standup, I’m kind of playing the good guy. So, I get to play a bad guy or a lunatic when I’m doing a character, and I get to play a good guy or a lunatic when I’m doing standup.
Have you heard from anybody you’ve done impressions of, maybe through the grapevine? Are, say, Huell Howser or Jesse Ventura aware of you?
Yes, actually. Jesse Ventura, I think knows about my impression. His son came to one of the “Conspiracy Theory” shows that I did as Jesse Ventura, and he liked it, so I’m imaging that the Governor has heard about it. Dov Charney from American Apparel, I’ve heard that he’s aware of my impression of him [and] didn’t like it at first but came to enjoy it.
Huell Howser actually called me on the phone. He got my number because I knew a guy who works for him and then sent him some of the podcasts that I did. It went up the chain to Huell at Huell Howser Productions, and I got this call from an unknown number, and it was like, “Is this James?” And I was like, “Well, who’s calling?” because I just assumed it was a bill collector or something. “This is Huell Howser.” The timing was perfect because I had just sent the thing to the guy who works for him… I knew it was him. It wasn’t somebody doing a bit. It wasn’t like a prank or anything because people when they’re really talking, they’re kind of boring. It was just mundane enough that it was like, “Oh my God, I’m talking to this guy.” I was at a party and I went and locked myself in a bathroom so I could talk to him. It was like talking to Big Bird. Like you don’t know he’s a real person, and then he is.
He was like, “Well, I understand you do an impression of me.” And I was like, “Yes.” And he was like, “It must be really easy to do a dumb Southern accent.” And that melted me because he was clearly on top of everything. And I was like, “Huell, actually, I grew up watching you on KCET because I didn’t have cable.” And he’s like, “Yeah, that’s where we are. Old KCET.” He talked to me about California and broadcasting and the involvement that he’s had in comedy so far.
What was his involvement in comedy?
I don’t remember exactly, but he was like, “I’ve been on The Simpsons… I’m gonna be in a Winnie the Pooh movie.” At the time, it sounded like a joke, like he was writing for me. God, that was fun. I tried to get him to do a show with me, but it’s been hard.
Aww. Too bad he called from a blocked number. You can’t call him back and bug him about that.
Well, he gave me a way to contact him, but it’s actually not easy. You have to go through people to talk to Huell Howser. He’s like a mystic.
You seem to try to pick obscure impressions that not everyone else does. Do you ever have an impression you do that everyone else piles on and then you have to stop doing it because it gets too common?
You know, sometimes, you sort of find something that somebody else has found. I do aim to have impressions that are not done to death. Sometimes, yes. I mean, I was doing George W. Bush for years and nobody noticed. The hard part is, the bigger the person is, the more people are gonna try to do an impression of him. Yeah, it happens sometimes. That’s one of the pitfalls of the trade. Someone who’s getting paid more than you is going to accidentally stumble onto the same idea or just outright steal it. Yes, that happens, and I wake up in the middle of the night screaming about it.
You appear on a lot of podcasts. Why haven’t you started your own podcast yet?
I don’t see how there’s any money in it, and I don’t have any money. That’s basically the short answer. And I’m somewhat bicoastal and I need to figure out a way to do it where it’ll travel with me. I don’t want to do a lousy one, and I want it to be really good. I feel like… if I’m gonna put effort into what would be a podcast, I might as well do it as a TV show. And I’m working on a few ideas like that would actually, you know…
Make you money?
Yeah. Allow me and my family to breathe easy for once.
So, it seems like there aren’t a lot of out gay comedians these days…
There’s a few of them…
There aren’t really any huge ones.
Right. Because there’s not a concerted effort by the very big gay media gatekepeers to support comedians who are gay. Drew Droege is one of my best friends, and he’s fucking hilarious. I could sit here for a long time and tell you. Dave Holmes and Brent James Sullivan.
Todd Glass! Todd Fucking Glass. We’re out there, and we’re doing it. If it seems like there’s a fucking gap where there should be more comedians, there are. You just don’t know about them.
But there is kinda this bullshit bias about coming out.
Uh yeah. It’s strange, I never came out publicly, really. I’ve always just been out as long as anyone knew about me. Yeah, there’s a bias against it… My attitude is I’ve suffered enough, and I’m not gonna sit around and let someone tell me how I should live my life or talk about it. It’s extremely difficult. People don’t understand what it takes to be out of the closet professionally. I’ve been set back significantly from being out of the closet. It happens, and I’m lucky enough that I’m just good enough at what I do that I can pull it off. And I think being gay and being a comedian… artistically, it’s easier because it’s like I don’t give a fuck what someone thinks about me. I talk about being gay in rooms without a single gay person where they’re all homophobic sometimes, and I make them laugh because it’s what I do. And I can perform for the opposite crowd too.
I hated myself and suffered and took too much shit for way too long for me to do it anymore. I might anger some people, but I perform for those people and I force them to like me.
I mean, it seems like the tide’s definitely turning.
Yeah, you watch Fox News, and Fox News can’t even be openly homophobic. They’re as homophobic as they can get away with, but they have to do it tangentially, in a sly manner. It’s amazing, even Fox News has been dragged along kicking and screaming into the future. And the debate over gay marriage and gay rights and gay sex and same-sex love, in general – just anything, I should even say “queer identity outside of the heterosexual mythology” – has come a long way in the West. It’s one of the few bright spots I think, in the United States specifically.
But yeah, everybody knows, at this point, there’s no victory in hating gay people. Even people that do hate gay people are constantly in retreat, and they know about it. They’re constantly pretending that they don’t hate gay people. So, that’s some kind of victory that we’ve changed the terms of the debate, I guess. There are lots and lots of people who don’t like me because I’m gay, and it’s kind of delightful to force them to, grudgingly at first, laugh. I’ve been an ambassador to a lot of different rooms full of hateful people. It’s a unique ability that I have because I guess I’m relatively masculine. Maybe others would object to that characterization.
You’re fairly masculine.
You haven’t seen me at all hours of the night.
[Laughs] That’s true.
I feel like I have the ability to talk to a range of people that not everyone has the ability to talk to. And I’m doing whatever I can. I had a very difficult time when I was younger, accepting that I was gay and then figuring out how to live that way. It fucked me up permanently, actually, and part of the way I deal with it is just talking about loving someone of the same sex in a way that people have to pay attention to me. And I also talk about homophobia a lot. A lot. I make a great effort to attack homophobia as much as I can. As much as I can get away with without it being all I do because there are a lot of other things that I do enjoy talking about.
You don’t want it to be your whole act.
No, I don’t need it to be my whole act. I wouldn’t be able to be just a gay comedian. I talk about being gay in very different ways. I talk about what it’s like to watch cartoons with so many gay villains in them, and I talk about what it’s like to be gay-bashed while you’re on a date with someone, and I talk about hitting on guys and dating guys and stuff. There’re other things too. It’s a crazy world, and there are all kinds of things that need to be talked about. There are also a lot of absurd topics outside of human sexuality that I feel I’m able to weigh in on. I don’t like joining in on something that other people are taking care of… If there are a lot of people already taking care of something, I feel like it’s not a good use of my time. I try to find out where the slack is, and I try to pick it up. The rampant homophobia all over our culture is one place where I feel like not a lot of people have done very much scientific research, so I’ve decided that my talents are useful there.
I’m just curious, if you don’t mind talking about it, but what are some examples of some ways that being out has set you back?
Here’s the thing. I don’t know what I can say here to this. I’ll put it this way: I don’t want to be specific because it’s very touchy in many different directions. It is a heavy extra bag that you have to fucking carry in show business, to be openly gay or even just openly not straight. It is a professional burden that people do not understand unless they’re doing it themselves, but there are a lot of people out there, mostly just future generations who are out there, and I’m doing it for them. I’m doing it for other people to have a better life than I did. And I feel like, at this point, I’m not on TV. TV didn’t invest in me enough for me to be in the closet, so here I am. I’m at a point where I can’t be ignored unless—well, I could be ignored pretty well, I guess. [Laughs]
I do feel like, for me personally, growing up as a gay kid who liked comedy, there weren’t a lot of role models in terms of out gay comedians. It was just like, one of the Monty Python guys, one of the Kids in the Hall.
Yes, Graham Chapman and Scott Thompson were two of the people to me who were like, “Bing bing bing! What’s going on? You can just be gay?” And I didn’t know about Graham Chapman until I was a grown-up, but I mean, Scott Thompson was one of the early influences where I was like, “You can do this.” It was inspiring to me, and I feel like if there’s some small way I can contribute to other people’s lives being better, I’m happy to do that. I’ve been through a lot of misery personally, and I feel like the best way to deal with that is to laugh about it and to share that laughter with other people, so that’s a lot of what I do.
So, tell me a little bit about your new album.
It’s called Low Hangin Fruit, and it’s available on Earwolf. I recorded it in New York and there’s some bonus stuff that I recorded in Portland. It’s really fun. It’s a lot of stuff that I’ve enjoyed doing for anywhere from one month to two years, and I guess the best way to describe it is that it’s a snapshot of the standup that I’ve been working on as of the summer of 2012. The gay villains bit that I close the album with, I’m really proud of.
I’m just happy to finally have a way to let people hear what I’ve been doing because I do it one room at a time. I do it bar by bar and theater by theater and club by club. I’ve never done anything like this. This is the first time I’ve had something that’s a collection of the comedy that I’ve been doing. I’m putting it out for people to hear, whether or not they’re able to come see it. I love doing standup. I perform almost every night. I do generally more than 30 shows a month and work really hard at it and make a lot of people laugh. It was really fun to put that together into an album. My standup tends to be somewhat loose and improvised, so it was a little bit of a challenge to pull it together and put it into an album format. I’m really happy with it, and I hope other people enjoy it too. And if they don’t, you know what? I’m sure they’ll let me know.
James Adomian’s new album, Low Hangin Fruit, is now available via Earwolf at earwolf.com/jamesadomian.
Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles.