Adam Newman on His Beginnings in Comedy and His New Comedy Central ‘Half Hour’
Adam Newman wants you to know that his new Comedy Central half-hour special, which airs Friday, contains what he hopes is the longest diarrhea joke in televised history. The Brooklyn-based comedian’s episode of The Half Hour airs this Friday, and the special has always been his main goal as a standup. Along the way, he’s appeared on John Oliver’s New York Standup Show, released his first album, and made his Letterman debut last year.
I got the chance to talk with Newman about how he did a 45-minute set for his first time doing standup, Last Comic Standing, and poop jokes, among other things.
Congratulations on The Half Hour. How did the taping go?
The taping went great. Usually after a set, I can remember how specific jokes went. I’ll be able to get offstage and go “This joke hit, this joke maybe didn’t hit.” But for some reason after The Half Hour taping, it all felt like a blur. I couldn’t remember how any specific jokes went, but I remember a general feeling of “That went very well,” so hopefully that’s what shows in the final product.
Had you done standup in Boston before?
Yeah, I’ve been in Boston a ton of times. I was just in Boston a couple weeks earlier doing a little run. I go to The Comedy Studio at Harvard Square probably once or twice a year. I grew up in New Hampshire. I didn’t start doing comedy in New Hampshire but grew up in New Hampshire so I try to get around New England as much as I can. I have a good amount of friends and family come out when I do so I try to hit Boston a good amount.
This is your first TV special. That’s huge. What was it like finding out you got it? How did you prepare for it?
I actually couldn’t have found out I got it at a better time. There are almost no comedy clubs that I would ever bash. I’ve had very positive experience with any and every club that’s ever had me headline. But in January I was at — I don’t even care about saying their name, they were so horrible — I was at the River Center Club in San Antonio and just having a miserable weekend, basically in this garbage comedy condo where it’s just covered in roaches and jizz stains and it’s disgusting. I wouldn’t stay there, so I was staying at a hotel and paying for it myself. And I booked the club last minute so my flight was like $800. I was losing money at this comedy club. It was a nightmare comedy club in a mall, like fourth floor of a mall so nobody was coming to the shows. While I was just sitting in my hotel room bummed out was when I got the call telling me I got the Half Hour special. That was how I found out about it, so it kind of made a really bad weekend a lot better.
After that, I had been running that same half-hour since a few months earlier when I was getting ready to submit it. So I had been running that half-hour basically since September 2013. I basically constructed it out of jokes I had and was running it over and over again to put the submission tape together. Once I found out I had it, I called in every favor I could, took every weekend at a club I could and just ran it over and over to get it as tight as possible. Are these boring answers for a comedy interview?
Can I tell you the thing I’m most excited about for the special without you even asking? The thing I’m most excited about on the special is that there will be a five-minute uncut diarrhea joke. I’m very excited about that.
Is that the first of its kind on The Half Hour, you think?
I don’t think it’s the first diarrhea joke on a half-hour special. I would be willing to bet that it is the longest diarrhea joke in Comedy Central standup history. That’s based on no research, but I’m willing to go head to head with any other comedian that has a joke as long or longer, although I’ll match them back and forth for the next however many years. I would love to keep one upping another comedian. I just want to hold the record for longest standup diarrhea joke on TV. I would love to hold that record. I don’t know if they get a trophy for that, but I’d love to be the holder of that record.
That’s definitely something to look forward to. Was that inspired by or at all related to your podcast, Butt Talk?
The podcast is more inspired by the material. Me and my friend Nate Fernald, he’s a very funny comedian, comedy writer, he was writing for The Pete Holmes Show, part of Team Submarine, me and him came together on that podcast because we both realized we had a lot of standup poop material. This place, Breakthru Radio, asked me if I had any ideas for a podcast. I could do literally anything I wanted. They record it, they edit it, they put it online and pay us a little, and they’re like, “You can do literally anything you want.” I’m like, “How about butts?” “You want to do a podcast about butts, you can do that on our station.” So I recruited Nate because of our mutual love for poop humor.
It might just be me, but I feel there’s a running trend or common thread among standups and comedians that they all have some mortifying poop story or story of shitting their pants. Do you think that’s true?
I don’t think you can deny that when you think about what’s funny you go to bathroom humor right away. Maybe this is not a good thing to say about me as a comedian. Maybe I should have advanced further than this, but you take a person off the street who’s not a professional comedian and you go, “Hey, what’s the funniest story you can think of?” 99 out of 100 times he’s going to go with, “My friend shit his pants.” It’s always going to be the funniest thing. Maybe a lot of comedians will claim to be too cool for that or whatever, but I think most people can relate.
How did you first get into standup?
I loved standup ever since I was a little kid. I had George Carlin records and Bill Cosby records and all that from my mom’s record collection when I was as young as first, second grade playing them on a Playskool record player. I loved standup since I was a little kid. Never knew how you were supposed to get into it. I didn’t even know about open mics until after I had done my first standup show. Basically after I graduated college, I just booked myself at a bar. I used to play in bands when I was in high school and college, and one of the bands I played in used to play this guy’s bar and I thought it would be a good place to try to do standup. I basically called the bar and said that my band was gonna play and instead of my band playing I showed up and did 45 minutes of standup for 40 people who came out to see my band, and it was a complete disaster. But that was my first time doing standup, and someone at that show who was hanging out at the bar told me about a couple of open mics in the city. That was in Atlanta. I think that first show was July 1, 2006. I did four or five open mics that month and then August 2, 2006, a month later, I moved to New York because there just weren’t enough places to get up in Atlanta back then.
I can’t believe you did 45 minutes of standup your first time.
Yeah. You want to know how stupid the reasoning was? Want to know why I did 45 minutes? It doesn’t make any sense to me. Being a beginning comedian, or the fact that I was 23 years old, it doesn’t make any sense that I would think this stupidly. What I had seen at that point, I didn’t know about late night sets. I didn’t even factor in Letterman sets or Conan sets. I was like, “Okay, what have I seen? I’ve seen half-hour specials on Comedy Central and hour specials on HBO. So let’s just split the difference and do 45 minutes.” I remember thinking about it like that, and that doesn’t make any sense to me now, and I can’t believe that made any sense to me then.
I was like, “Let’s give them a 45-minute show.” I basically prepared for my first show six months at my boring office job I was writing down one-liners, I was writing down drunk stories. And then I had seen Demetri Martin’s half-hour special, his first one, and I was like, “Oh you can do slideshows.” The bit I did on the slideshow was so horrible, it was like how different ethnicities’ vaginas look like the sandwiches from places they’re from. I’d be like, “Here’s a white girl’s vagina, it’s a ham sandwich; here’s a black girl’s vagina, it’s a roast beef sandwich; here’s an Asian girl’s vagina, it’s some weird sushi roll. I don’t know if I want this published anywhere. That was my first show, just horrible bits like that. I didn’t know what I was talking about. I just thought that that made me laugh when I was 23. Hope that’s helpful. [Laughs] Feel free to use that and hopefully not make me look like a horrible person. I know it’s wrong now, if that helps anything.
You mention late night. You did Letterman last year and have plenty of other accomplishments, from Comedy Central’s Comics to Watch and Just for Laughs. Was there one moment that felt like you had made it?
In all honesty, when I started doing standup, my ultimate, way-down-the-road, top goal was a Comedy Central half-hour special. I know now that there are things beyond that. I know you can do your hour specials and you can sell a TV show. I know that there are all these career-maker milestones beyond that. But when I first started, Comedy Central half-hour, that was my favorite thing to watch before I started doing comedy. That’s the main thing I wanted to do. Everything along the way, Oliver and Letterman and all that stuff, weren’t things I was specifically working for. They were really exciting, but The Half Hour was the one I was specifically working for the whole time. So this is the biggest one for me, this is the one I’m most excited about.
Letterman, I remember when I got asked to audition for it, I was like, “Holy shit, I’m going to be able to tell my kids one day that I auditioned for Letterman.” I thought there was no chance I was ever going to get Letterman. I’m so not “guy in a suit telling clean jokes” onstage. I thought there was no way I would ever get anything like that. When the audition process kept moving forward and I kept getting closer to it and I finally got that phone call where they gave me a date, it was so out of the realm of possibility earlier that that one felt the most crazy, like that didn’t make any sense that I’m on Letterman. That was the first one too where my family was freaking out. It still feels weird.
You also did Last Comic Standing—
I don’t know. I might be on tonight. [Editor’s note: interview took place June 5, when the final round of “Invitationals” aired]
So you don’t know if you get air time or not?
No, I have no idea. I might be on it tonight. There’s a few things that could happen. Either I could be on it tonight just telling a joke and then they cut away, or it could be me telling a joke then judge reaction or they cut me out of or they could do what they did to [Ben] Kronberg and edit me to look like a villain. They’d have to make an effort to do that but it looks like they made an effort to do that with Ben.
That seems so bizarre. What was your experience on the show like?
The entire Last Comic experience, minus the two minutes where the judges are giving you feedback after your set, was completely positive. I loved it. I had so much fun hanging out with the other comedians. Overall, it was a really fun experience, and performing at the theater was even a really fun experience. Just the two minutes where you’re done performing and three people are critiquing your set feels wrong. I don’t like that. I don’t think that’s what we should be doing. I totally appreciate the exposure that it gives a lot of comedians. Some comedians get a lot of work out of a show like that. And I appreciate a lot of what that show does for those reasons. Just as a comedian standing up on stage telling jokes you’ve worked really hard on and have three comedians just kind of shit on them, don’t really care for that.
It’s kind of surreal having Roseanne telling you what she thinks about your comedy. I thought that was kind of cool. Russell Peters and Keenen, I respect them as people in comedy, but the truth is I don’t really care what they think about my comedy. If they love my comedy or hate my comedy, it’s not going to change how I come up with material or what kind of material I perform. It’s a competition but there’s no adjusting what you do. All you can do is bring what you already do to the table and then go with however they feel about it and hope they don’t edit you to look horrible.
On the subject of getting more exposure, did you get a lot of exposure from the viral video of you finding cocaine in heckler’s coat?
Yeah. I got a lot of exposure out of that, a totally different kind of exposure though. I got a few million views on YouTube, and the truth is more people probably saw that cocaine heckler video than saw my Letterman appearance. But more clubs are going to book me based on a Letterman credit than a heckler viral video. Comedy clubs want to put “Adam Newman from Letterman” on their website over “Adam Newman, the guy from the heckler video.” Still anybody could have had that heckler video. I just happened to have this weird experience, and the club was taping in the back of the room. They’re both exposure, but one carries more clout than the other. I’ve definitely been asked a lot more about the heckler video than about TV appearances. That’s pretty cool. The comments are equally mean under both videos though, I think. But after shows more people will come up to me and go, “Dude, you were the guy from the cocaine video.” More people will come up to me and say that than say, “Hey, I saw you on Letterman. I really liked it.” They more often come up like, “Dude, I would have done all that cocaine.” They’re more interested in that.
Do you have any other projects coming up or goals for the future?
The goal for me is to keep doing standup, and I’m open to anything else. I’m constantly writing writing packets, I’m constantly auditioning for pilots, I work on scripts with friends. The truth is I really like doing all of it. I’m open to anything. I’m working on things, but I got into comedy because I love doing standup so as long as I’m doing standup the whole time, I’m pretty happy.
Emma Soren is a writer from Chicago living in Philadelphia.