Towleroad Interview: Comedian James Adomian Talks Hacktivists and Gay Villains
What do Kaa from The Jungle Book, Batman's the Riddler and the Sheriff of Nottingham have in common? According to comedy virtuoso James Adomian, they're all examples of the "gay villain" archetype, a ridiculous amalgamation of effeminate stereotypes for heroes to dominate.
Adomian's hypothesis is hilariously delivered on his stellar 2012 debut album, Low Hangin Fruit, which captures his blend of stand-up and impersonations. His material is rife with pop culture and political references, and his impersonations -- which include Gary Busey, Fred Phelps and Jesse Ventura -- are not only remarkably accurate, but they're well-developed characters shaped by Adomian's unique point of view. Though probably best known for his impersonations, he often talks about his own experience as a "homo-American," (such as his crush on Peter Dinklage, the time he was gay bashed or his time spent in small town gay bars).
Folks may recognize Adomian from the seventh season of Last Comic Standing or from his stint on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson delivering one of the greatest impersonations of President George W. Bush ever on television (if not the greatest). Comedy enthusiasts might have caught his appearances on Cartoon Network's Childrens Hospital and Comedy Bang Bang on IFC. He's also a fixture on several popular comedy podcasts, like Sklarbro Country, Comedy Bang Bang and The Todd Glass Show.
We caught up with Adomian at SXSW in Austin and chatted about being an out comedian, gay villains and the new TV series he's developing, The Embassy, inspired by the recent WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden stories.
See what he had to say, and watch some videos of his work, AFTER THE JUMP ...
Warning: Videos may contain some work inappropriate language.
I like that your album is explicitly gay, but I can still put it on with my dad and laugh hysterically together.
That hour is sort of a culmination of my standup that I had developed to go do the road for the first time around America, which involves, depending on the city or what night it is, performing for a very straight crowd, a very gay crowd, usually some mix, oftentimes people who are a bit older or more conservative than I would like them to be and sometimes also a really cool, young, dangerous crowd. So everything I have has sort of passed through all of those gauntlets. I'm glad to hear too that it's a gay album for the whole family.
Well, you go into the sports stuff, which is sort of when I tune out and don't understand.
I don't either! I talk about sports from a place of ignorance, mostly. There are huge swaths of the country that only want to talk about sports, and I have to go do shows there.
Have you had any really bad experiences?
Not as many as you would think. They called me 'Faggot' in Arizona and Los Angeles. Those I think are the only two cities where anybody has ever called me a faggot. I get people who walk out, or are horrified, and they freeze and turn bone white. I get those people. I only got yelled faggot a couple of times. Sometimes people make a disruption like, ‘Shit, that's gay.’ Sometimes I roll with it, sometimes I kick them out, sometimes I roast them, it depends on what the situation is.
What's been the most challenging aspect of being an out comedian?
I can't say that it opens a lot of doors professionally to be out of the closet and also not already famous. Usually, one or the other would help. I probably miss out on opportunities. I know for a fact that happens. It's the way the business is. People are still afraid of stuff. But, right now, it's breaking in a big way. All of the homophobic structures in showbiz are falling apart. Actually, kind of counterintuitively, live standup around the country is one of the most inviting and welcoming places for me as a gay performer, for LGBT people and people from minority cultures in general, because there are fewer gatekeepers in live comedy than anywhere else. In TV and movies there are lots of people who get to say no, and there is almost no one like that in live shows. There's an audience that kind of makes that call. It’s liberating, in a way. It's sort of a tradeoff. You get to live the pirate's life on the road with very little structure, but you have a lot of freedom to do what you want artistically. And when I say ‘artistically,’ I mean dirty sex stories.
You tweeted about Snowden's keynote at SXSW, is that part of research for The Embassy? From what I've read, there's a hacktivist angle. Can you tell us more?
It's a TV project that we're developing at IFC. Scott Aukerman and I wrote the pilot together. It's really funny, it's really silly and stupid, and like broad comedy, but it's also about the whistleblower, hactivist climate we're in. What I wanted to do was try to make a really funny comedy that’s addressing those things in our world today, where the biggest news story to me is the Snowden leaks, WikiLeaks, all that kind of stuff. Basically, it's a Julian Assange-type character who is trapped in an embassy, and that's the first episode. He mails himself to an embassy to get away from the law enforcement of the Western government. We'll see. I've written sketches and stuff for TV and my own bits, but this is the first narrative TV pilot that I've written, and I love it. I love giving full voice to all sides and making everybody look silly. I feel like when you look at politics deeply, you could look at what’s happening in the world and be really scared by it or paranoid or depressed, but I like to look at it like a circus or a professional wrestling event -- which is partly why I'm attracted to people like Jesse Ventura.
Well, he's crossed over.
He is a politician, but why is American politics taken any more seriously than the WWE?!
It only barely is.
It barely is. There’s this nominal line. I think it's a circus. It's serious and dark and disgusting -- there's death and violence and economic violence -- but I think dangerous, dark and evil things have always been good source material for comedy throughout human history, going back to Aristophanes who made plays about losing a war.
Speaking of evil, you've got a signature bit on gay villains.
It's the closing number on the album before the encore. I think I've retired it. I did it for like three years. I kind of got it on TV a couple times, I did it on John Oliver. I kept rewriting the bit, because I would get tired of doing it. So I would just change the bit with new gay villains. The first iteration started out with the Gummi Bears and Duke Igthorn, then it was the Transformers, the Decepticons. Then I brought in Ursula when I rewrote it for the album. I thought I was done with the bit, and then they came out with Skyfall at the end of 2012 with the most egregious gay villain I've ever seen, Javier Bardem playing Raoul Silva. It was like Captain Hook had a baby with Julian Assange, somehow. That was that character. So I had to address that for a few months. That was my first big closer that I thought really worked for a lot of different audiences of different demographics. I'm happy that it's out there. I don't know if you'll have much of a chance to see it live anymore. It's in the Adomian vaults.
When did you become aware of gay villains as a trope?
The upside for when I was destitute and penniless in my early 20s was I re-watched a bunch of old, shitty cartoons from the '80s. I did a lot of stoned research back in those days. There’s this endless number of gay villains. It's a whole thing. It might as well be a commedia dell’arte archetype of the gay villain. I’m like, no, most bad people in this world are straight patriarchs. The gay villain is never the bad guy. Almost never.
It's always Dick Cheney.
It's always Dick Cheney.