Published on, Mar 2018

‘Comedy Sometimes Has Too Many Rules’

US comedian Orny Adams tells Daniel Cribb he’s sweating the small things so you don’t have to.

Orny Adams might have a degree in political science and philosophy, but he doesn’t preach about politics or religion when he’s on the stage, instead, he’s in the trenches alongside his fans, fighting the good fight. “I was going after a corporation yesterday on Twitter,” Adams begins in a Massachusetts accent. “Dunkin’ Donuts in the US – I wanted them to give all my fans free doughnuts, which never happened.”

Watching his brand of observational comedy, particularly on his latest special, More Than Loud, you’ll be disgruntled about everyday things you hadn’t previously given a second thought, like the expiration date written on bottled water or various customer service experiences. “These things just happen and I think, ‘Did that really happen?’” he tells.

“It resonates, even with you in Australia, because we all experience these same things and sometimes it doesn’t really register on a conscious level; it’s back in the subconscious, so then, when I say it, other people are like, ‘Wow, that happened to me, too, and I’m just realising it.’”

Now onto his third comedy special, he has a wealth of material, which has all come from him channelling his inner-frustration into creative gold. At a certain point, being left on hold by Dunkin’ Donuts for 45 minutes was actually a win for Adams. “It feels like a loss in the moment, but, in the end, it’s a win – it’s a victory. On some level, I hope it changes things, but it never does.

“If I can make one little change, make one more customer service experience better, I feel like I’ve done my job. My job is very micro, very small – I sweat the small things and I don’t worry about the bigger picture.”

He might not get political onstage, but his degree does help out when it comes to writing stand-up. “How I write my comedy routine is exactly what I learnt in college, which was how to write a dissertation on a subject and that’s what I do – I pick a subject, I write about it, I study it, I study it, I study it, I write ten pages and then it turns into one line in my routine.”

It’s a lengthy development process if a joke doesn’t connect with an audience, but, as Adams says, failing is just “part of the process”.

What’s even worse is, I spent an hour over the weekend writing about powdered wigs and then I went online and saw another comedian had already addressed it,” he tells.

“That, to me, is more of a bummer because I was getting excited reading about, believe it or not, powdered wigs, and then I see someone else had the exact same line of thought and was way ahead of me and I had to drop it. That bums me out more than anything.”

With that in mind, you could give two different comedians the same subject matter and both of them would approach it differently. “Nobody should ever take a joke, but if two people have the same experience, then those two people have the right to discuss it,” he says.

“I used to talk about gluten a lot – a lot of people talk about gluten. It doesn’t mean the first person to mention gluten onstage owns the rights to gluten. That’s like saying, ‘Hey, every band, you can no longer singer about love because someone else has already written a love song. It’s absurd.

“Comedy sometimes has too many rules, that’s the problem – don’t get caught up in the rules, comics just need to be themselves.”

Joke theft gets discussed a lot when it comes to comedy, but there’s another issue that Adams believes isn’t on everyone’s radar, which is personality or character theft. “That’s worse,” he reinforces. “If you’re up there being another comedian, that’s probably worse than doing the person’s jokes because you’re stealing their entire essence.”

The Adams fans see onstage is fired up (“passionate – never angry”) and is almost exactly what viewers saw on Teen Wolf —  an MTV show in which he played high-school coach Bobby Finstock. There’s a reason for that – the guy who created the show Teen Wolf would come watch me do stand-up, and he wrote the part for me,” he reveals.

“I never even auditioned for that; that’s how it was written for me, so I had a full license to go in there and be that character, who actually is who I am.”

We’ll hopefully be seeing more of him on our screens later this year as he anticipates More Than Loud will hit Aussie TV at the end of the year. Adams will perform in Sydney and Melbourne mid-March and hopefully embark on a full national tour not too far down the track.

Fortunately, this special – maybe it just came out at the right time; it just really sort of resonated with fans and has really helped me sell tickets and do more venues. It’s an exciting time and an exhausting time.”