Interview: Orny Adams—Once Comedy’s Antagonised Underdog20 March 2018
Netflix recently added the 2002 documentary Comedian to its vast selection of movies and shows—much to Orny Adam’s dismay. One might imagine that starring alongside Jerry Seinfeld, one of comedy’s household names, in a popular documentary would be the key needed to open doors in comedy. Orny, however, remains unsure of what effect it has had in his career of nearly 20 years.
“I would love for somebody to give me a spreadsheet and write down what it did for me as far as helping and hurting” Orny said. “To me, it’s fascinating to see that part of my history, but I don’t know if it did for me what I thought it would have done for me or even what Jerry Seinfeld thought it would do for me.”
Many perceived Orny as petulant and ‘bereft of humility’ when cast as a foil to Seinfeld’s seemingly effortless success in stand-up, to which Orny struggled and pushed through each night. To some degree, Orny understood the reaction he got from critics: “If I watched it today, I would probably hate myself. You know, I’m young, I’m fighting, and I’m trying to punch through. I’m full of confidence and these are things that can be scary to some people.”
Despite this, he contests that most of the criticism he got was a little uncalled for, while bringing up a very valid point.
“I think it’s so funny, the whole documentary is about building a whole act from the beginning but there’s this other storyline where Jerry Seinfeld’s so excited to meet his comedic hero who happens to be Bill Cosby and he meets him at the end of the documentary, yet I’m still the guy who’s hated for the documentary, not Bill Cosby! But me, Orny Adams! I’m the villain.”
Despite having been a polarising figure in comedy for some time since the release of the documentary, Orny honed in on his craft and made his mark as one of stand-up’s most distinct voices. City Pages described his stage persona as one of “mixed rage with bewilderment” to which Orny gave a bemused “Wait who? It was described as what?”
Clearly, it wasn’t an intentional decision to come off this way.
“I think if it was a persona that I created and went out there to do…I think it would read that way and I don’t think it does to the audience, I think it’s relatable because they know that it’s who I am. That’s my accent; it’s just pouring out of me” Orny added.
Orny’s authenticity on stage takes inspiration from legendary musicians such as the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and the Movement. Just as their renditions of their music changed from one rhythm to another, Orny’s delivery changed from one night to the other.
“See if you come to one of my stand up shows, you might see me tell the same stories sitting down one night and another night running up and down the stage or even going out into the audience. It just depends on my energy at that level and the point of the show and how I feel about it.”
The road to success hasn’t always been easy though; after all, you don’t earn the title of the most hardworking comic for nothing.
Speaking about failure, Orny said: “It’s frustrating, it’s angering, it’s not easy, and it’s painful. It’s a lot of pain. You can’t intellectualize what’s going on. It doesn’t make sense to you, you know you’re capable of something and you’re not being allowed to do it. It’s that sense of injustice which I think is something that we all feel in life.”
However, that pain is necessary.
“If a comic doesn’t want to struggle then get out of the business. It’s all about failing and the getting up and learning from failing.”
His so-call ‘high-octane’ comedy now brings Orny to the mercy of Australia’s “smart comedy consumers” as this unapologetic, industrious comic steps out of the murk of the infamous documentary and into his stage, the Orny Adams stage.
Orny Adams is performing at The Comics Lounge on 22 March.