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Exclusive interview: Orny Adams talks Millenials, comedy heroes and his Showtime special More Than Loud

Orny Adams
More Than Loud is the latest special from Orny Adams, for Showtime. Pic credit: Showtime

Pacing the stage like an enraged comedy panther, Boston native Orny Adams, nee Ornstein, has a big gluten-filled meaty bone to pick with the babied generation of Millennials.

Among many things grinding his gears on his new 80-minute special for Showtime, More Than Loud, are the real-life head scratching absurdities now part of the normal fabric and chatter of American life.

Like bottled water that comes with a warning label.

Using observational and satirical twists in his new stand-up special, Adams bounces from each subject wide-eyed and lit, but revisits and connects the dots, making the entire routine a fluid laugh-out-loud experience.

Back in 2011, Adams was spotted by a TV showrunner who knew he had found his Coach Finstock for MTV’s popular supernatural night-time soap Teen Wolf.

Jeff Davis wrote the role of Bobby Finstock specifically for Adams based on his kinetic energy and ability to hit the mark with just the right lines.

Fans of the series and of Adams’s natural quirk and rapid-fire musings hope that with the expansion of Hulu, Netflix, Amazon and so many other networks now that somewhere there’s a worthy project that will lure him back to the smallscreen. Until then, his new comedy More Than Loud is a ride not to be missed.

We spoke with Adams today about his latest work airing on Showtime and thoughts on the comedy scene, the new paradigm in the culture and the best club that he loves to perform in.

Monsters and Critics: Do you have a lot of millennial fans?

Orny: Yes, a ton.

M&C: Can you talk about, of late, some of the things that are really getting to you, that’s grist for your comedy?

Orny: You know, I’ll start by saying that the millennials have the best sense of humor of any generation. They laugh harder at themselves. They get it, they agree with most of these complaints, and there’s a lot of millennial denial going on. Like, ‘I’m a millennial, but I’m not really a millennial.’

They’re identifying with other sorts of generations. So, they get it. And they get the tone, and that it’s funny, and it’s supposed to be funny, and that they take everything too seriously. So, I’ll start by saying that. There are very few complaints. More complaints from [the] gluten people, than anything.

M&C: I can imagine gluten people are really on your case.

Orny: Yeah, they’re hardcore…you’ve got to laugh at these things. You’ve got to laugh at life, and that’s what I’m sort of saying. I’m not saying that people don’t have celiac [disease] or…I always get it wrong because I actually make fun of that in the act, which you saw, but there’s a lot of people that are just on this whole bandwagon. It’s always something…that people are clinging to for hope that they can live forever.

Like anyone even wants to live, nowadays. That’s what I don’t get. You’re going to go to Whole Foods so you can extend your life, and I’m like, why? I barely want to live now and I have everything I need. You think I’m going to stick around when I have to go…if there’s an apocalypse…camping with people? It’s nuts.

M&C: There’s an interesting, weird thing going on in the culture right now, which I’m sure you’re picking up on. There’s a real chill in comedy. I was just reading an article about how people are bagging on Steve Martin for his King Tut bit. I was wondering if you would talk about that.

Orny: I wish I had read the articles. I saw it, and I couldn’t even get myself…what’s the gripe?

M&C: The gripe is many academics and students say that Steve Martin’s King Tut routine is racist because of the way he portrays a white man, who dares to dress up like an Egyptian.

Orny: It can be daunting and scary to realize you’re one post away from ruining your entire career at this point. You know, for myself, I know where I stand, I know my values, and I know in my heart how I am. I hope that only comes through on stage, in that I don’t get caught up in a firestorm like this.

My only fear is that there are horrible people out there. I know them. I’m actually a fan of a lot of stuff coming out right now. I actually, I’m for justice, and I’m for equality, and I’m on the side of victims. So, if somebody is a horrible person and they get their due, that doesn’t bother me.

What my fear is, that, if you go after somebody like me, or, let’s not even take me, but…we can say me. In my special, I go after things that I think could be misinterpreted, and it shouldn’t be. What you should understand is that I’m in the corner of people being what they want to be. I’m as tolerant and liberal as you can probably get as somebody who grew up in the North East, [I’m] Jewish, you know? I fall into every sort of that category.

I just hope that we go after the right people, and that we don’t go after people that actually are on the right side, and may have been insensitive for a moment, or didn’t think it all the way through, and maybe it’s a good time to go, ‘Hey, that can be seen sort of this way, just so you know.’ And not destroy them.

Again, the King Tut thing is, what, 30 years ago? It’s a completely different climate and temperature. If I told you the things that in high school, before we were even in junior high and aware that we were being racist, the things that people mocked and made fun of was horrible. The kids now know not to do that. We didn’t know.

So, what’s beautiful is that something Steve Martin did 30 years ago he probably wouldn’t do today, and let’s focus on that. Let’s focus on the progress that’s happened.

M&C: When you put the Showtime special together, your process for shaping a one-man show, or comedy special, how is it born in your mind? Is it a series of notebooks, or journals? What’s your creative process for putting your stream of consciousness together?

Orny: There’s no real answer to that. It’s so broad, it’s from little notes of paper to myself to stopping in the middle of the street when I’m walking to type something on my notes on my iPhone, it’s constant. So, I’m of the comedy ilk that believes in writing to perfection. I like to screw the comedy screw as tight as I can on a bit and make it as concise and perfect.

So, if you take one of the jokes in the special when I make fun of…I say that I eat meat, ‘me eat,’ and I say, ‘What’s in the word meat? Eat’ You know, that was a joke, I did that one television in Canada several years ago, and I knew it wasn’t finished, but I did it anyway.

Then, about a year later, I came up with that final tag. Because I say at the end, I go, ‘What’s in the word vegan? Nothing. Probably stands for vegetables, again.’

So, to me, a joke is done when I’m sick of telling it. That’s when it’s done. Until then, I don’t have a problem. There’s a lot of comic bravado where [a comic would say] ‘I’m going to do a whole new hour every year.’ That’s not me. I believe in writing, and writing, and writing. I like to tweak, and tweak, and tweak.

I’m really into writing note cards, putting them on the floor, mixing the order around, and writing them over and over again. Like, in high school, in college, you’d write your notes over and over again to learn it, to get the memory down. The process is very specific. I have to write it a certain way on the card.

If I don’t like the way it looks I rip it up and I write another one. I have my own note cards made. It’s got to be a specific weight of paper, and look. So I buy the paper, and then I bring it to a place to have it cut in 4×6, and special pens, but that’s what brings me joy, and I love it.

I just love to write, and I love to find something that is bothering me. That’s really the fear. So, the fear, as someone who is creative, is…I’ve done three specials now. Path of Most Resistance, Takes the Third, and More Than Loud. When I did Takes the Third, I thought, ‘I may never top this.’ And I can only hope I have with ‘More Than Loud.’

I hope I have, and you hope you continue to move forward but the fear is…you don’t want to recycle. You don’t want to be the guy talking about the same things over and over again. So, now as I sit down to write again because this special’s coming out, what, 90 days after we shot it? It’s almost unheard of.

That’s no time for me to write a whole [new show], and I’m touring nonstop so, people are going to come out having seen this next week, or this week, on Friday, and they’re going to think when they see me in San Jose Saturday night, ‘Whoa, we’ve seen some of this stuff before.’

But, I’m not a guy who declares, ‘I’m doing all new,’ [More Than Loud] is a tight 80-minute presentation. I don’t take a breath.

M&C: You’re an energetic comic. You are pure motion all the time. You’re in the audience, you work the stage like a rocker. Talk about that.

Orny: So, we shot two shows, and if you saw the second show you’d say, ‘Wow, he’s sitting in a chair telling that joke. Whereas, he was standing up two hours ago doing the same joke.’ So, I don’t pre-plan any of my motions, it’s sort of just where I am at that point, and where the audience is.

Besides my comedy influences, my two biggest influences are Mick Jagger and Bob Dylan. I study Mick, I study his motions, and his physicality, and the way he dresses. I’m a huge fan of the Stones, but you can mute the Rolling Stones’ [music], and you can just watch Mick, and you cannot deny that there’s something interesting happening.

I wanted to texture the act with motion so it would be interesting, and Bob Dylan because of his freedom. I’ve studied Dylan. In some songs he’s using past tense, and he goes future tense, he changed ‘he’s’ to ‘she’s’. He’s constantly manipulating wordplay. He keeps it sort of…he’s going to do what he wants to do. I’ve seen him bore the hell out of audiences, but that’s what he was probably feeling that night. That, to me, is something that I allow myself.

I’m moving constantly because it’s nervous energy, and there’s no other way for me…I mean, every second my goal, when I’m on stage, is to be in that moment every second. That’s why you see me looking at people in the audience going, ‘Hey, get the camera on that guy, he’s laughing.’ Or, ‘Look at that, or go here.’ I didn’t know what I was going to say when I walked out on stage.

M&C: It comes through. I loved when you said to that one guy, ‘I don’t like you,’ and you moved on.

Orny: Yeah. And I get away with it because they know. What you’re looking at, one reviewer said, ‘is that a paid audience?’ We sold tickets. We sold out two shows, those people paid to be there, they’re people that have been following me for 25 years and don’t understand why my career hasn’t advanced. I think that they’re just really supportive, and they get that sense of humor. I think there is a coolness to it when I go after people.

Even that one guy that I went after, and I had recognized him, he had been at a couple of other shows, [his name was] Perry. The one thing I couldn’t have calculated, and I should have, but I now know for future tapings, [is that] people act differently when they’re on tape. So, when you go, ‘Perry, you’re dumb’…if I had done that at a comedy club, people would have laughed out loud. But you see the cameras swing, and go right in Perry’s face, and he’s gulping thinking, ‘How am I going to look?’ That’s something that I now know moving forward.

M&C: It’s an interesting skill-set that you have. So many fans miss your TV acting and your work on Teen Wolf. Is there anything that your fans can look forward to?

Orny: Yeah, there’s nothing. It’s a harder nut to crack. About five years ago…I talked about it in an interview…I came to a realization that I’m actually kind of good at one thing, so why wouldn’t I focus on that one thing, which brings me the greatest amount of joy?

And I have the most control over my craft. That’s what I’m really good at. I would sit down, I would write scripts, I’d pitch TV shows all the time, I’d get deals for TV shows all the time. They don’t come to fruition, but that’s not where my talents lie.

There’s an arrogance when people think, ‘Hey, I’m a standup, I can write a movie.’ It’s a whole different skill-set that these people [have]. I used to go to the library and before Woody Allen was under fire, this was one of my heroes, and I’d read Without Feathers, and I’d say, ‘Wait a minute, he’s thanking Robert Benchley and S.J. Perelman. Who are these guys?’

Then I’d read Robert Benchley and S.J. Perelman, and then I’d read who influenced them. Then the next, you know, I’d be in the basement of the Boston Public Library checking out books that haven’t been checked out since 1920, and reading them.

So, for me to go, ‘I go to movies all the time. I can write a movie.’ It’s just not that easy, and the people that are doing it right? It’s amazing. You just go, ‘Whoa. Wow. That’s flawless.’ So, I can only hope that I pair up with somebody at some point, or I get in the right project, but I haven’t even developed to the point…Bob Dylan writing Blowing in the Wind at age 22?

I’m not even there yet. He had [for his age]…to have that sort of empathy and that sort of insight into human nature, and that sort of soul…I’m not there yet. I’m not even ready for the big stage yet, but as long as I keep going forward, which is what I hope More Than Loud is — a step forward — I can only hope that I evolve like a Leonard Cohen, where at age 80 I’m on stage in London, sounding better and more in touch with my craft, and connected to my songs than I’ve ever been.

M&C: Quick-answer round. Favorite room to play in the country?

Orny:  I love the Comedy Cellar [in Manhattan]. Because it challenges me. It’s the last room in the world I’m still afraid of. I’m afraid of it. You’re six inches off the ground, and you’ve got real comedy fans out there, and hardcore, just native New Yorkers, or tri-state area people, and you’re sandwiched in between the best comedians in the world.

I enjoy the social aspect of it. Now, I know that’s under fire now, so maybe I’m in trouble for saying that. Maybe you can’t even enjoy…that’s the thing, is I don’t want people to over-think things. That would be the tragedy.

M&C: Last quick question. Favorite comedian you’d spend your money on to go see?

Orny: Wow. Let’s see. I mean, wouldn’t it be cool to see Eddie Murphy? Only because I watched Raw…Sam Kinison was one of my biggest influences, and then Carlin, he was a huge influence…Woody Allen. I did a show with Steve Martin, so I’ve seen Steve, and I saw him do King Tut live. I’ve seen it.

Yeah. Eddie Murphy. Put aside some of the weird reporting on him at the SNL reunion…there’s a guy who is so charismatic. I am so envious of people…there was a period where I was watching Adam Sandler do the Hanukkah Song on Saturday Night Live, and he’s walking, I go, ‘This guy is so damn likable.’ He hasn’t even hit the microphone yet, and we love him.

I’m the opposite. I’m like ‘thunderclouds’. I walk into a room and I’ve got to earn it. I’ve got to earn everything. So, I think Eddie Murphy was as charismatic as you could get, and Eddie Murphy Raw…watch it. He doesn’t take a sip of water the entire time. I want to know how it’s possible.

He was so charismatic and likable. It’s not the material, but it’d be kind of cool, just because he was a guy that I grew up watching, and I think that’d be kind of cool. Who would be yours?

M&C: I worked with Sam Kinison in the 80s. Our booking agency repped Louis Anderson and Roseanne Barr too on mega-tours. I would love to dig Sam back up from the dead. I have a soft spot for my Boston homies, Bill Burr, and Steven Wright. I miss Mitch Hedberg. I was fortunate to see Bill Hicks in Houston. Love KFI AM radio host Monique Marvez who did several Showtime specials…

Orny: I think I met her in Montreal one year. You have exceptional taste in comedy, by the way.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D-6nT8Vvq4I

Orny Adams: More Than Loud premieres Friday, December 1, at 10pm ET/PT on Showtime.

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April is an accredited entertainment writer, interviewer and television critic. She is a current member of the Television Critics Association (TCA), Gay and Lesbian Entertainment... read more
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