Backstage at The Hollywood Improv Comedy Club

18 March 2018

I sit at the bar, sipping my beer. Outside on Melrose Avenue. Hipsters walk in pairs. With wide eyes, they gaze into vintage clothes shops that trickle throughout West Hollywood. I’m the only one sitting down. I hear laughter coming from the main stage. This place is the home of comedy. Along the walls are portraits of legends. Joan Rivers. Jerry Seinfeld. Jay Leno. Sarah Silverman. Dave Chappelle. All comedians who have grown up here.

When Orny Adams walks in. I almost don’t recognise him. Clad in a leather jacket, I quickly cue his unmistakable energy. The star of Teen Wolf, and one of America’s favourite comedians, greets me with a smile.

“Hey, Ferg. Follow me.”

We walk up a flight of wooden stairs that leads to a seemingly ancient comedy room in the attic of the building.

“This is The Green Room, where comics go before they perform. We can record here.”

I set up my recording device for the podcast. Judd Apatow and Jeff Garlin sit in the corner, talking. Orny walks over and has a chat to them. They both laugh. Then they head over to where I’m setting up.

“This is Ferg, we’re doing a podcast,” Orny tells Judd and Jeff.

“With that $49.99 recorder?” Judd jokes. I laugh.

Orny ribs Judd and Jeff to get out of the room, “This place is for professional comedians, only.”

Orny Adams first came to prominence starring in the documentary Comedian alongside Jerry Seinfeld. Some berated Orny for his apparent obnoxious personality showcased throughout the narrative. But his drive for success was palpable to the audience, and perhaps a little threatening to other comics.

“I hate discussing Comedian, glad I brought it up,” Orny laughs.

Orny first came into stand-up, after what might be called a ‘Comedic Awakening’. In Italy.

“America has this disease, called capitalism,” Orny looks at me with mirth.

“When I went to Italy. Everybody was valued. Not just the doctors and lawyers, but the baristas, the waiters. Everybody was enjoying life without monetary drive. That’s when it clicked for me.” Orny gets up to shut the door. The laughter downstairs slams quiet.

“Money went out the window at that point,” Orny says as he sits back down.

What followed from this realisation was a comedian who would change the landscape of the entire American comedy scene.

The hot smoggy air, that only Los Angeles can muster in winter, sweeps through an adjacent window that looks over Hollywood. We both take a breather, and look out over the fairy lights and palm trees that dot the city.

We close the interview with Orny discussing his infamous appearance on Australian television ten years ago. Alongside Dave Hughes and Wil Anderson on The Glass House.

“I was an obnoxious American. Defending America. To an audience entirely consisting of non-Americans. People got so angry,” Orny rolls his head back with laughter.

Orny goes on to talk about his love for Australia, and the idea that American comics have of Australians having a great ‘comedy radar’ for sniffing out duds.

“Orny, time to roll.” A stage-assistant sticks her head inside the door. I hit stop on my $49.99 the recorder.

“Come watch me, from the VIP area,” Orny tells me.

I hesitate, before Orny grabs my shoulders. He guides me downstairs and sits me right next to my comedic idols. Whitney Cummings. Judd Apatow. Jeff Garlin. They nod an acknowledgment.

Orny rushes to the stage, in front of a sold-out, 400-seat show.

Orny Adams has often been described as Andy Kauffman. In the sense that his comedy is not traditional. It plays with form, and tantalises the audience. For the first two minutes Orny doesn’t say anything. He walks around stage, looks at audience members. Some people are confused, others are dying for monologue to ensue. The room has a tension.

What follows is what can only be described as an explosion of comedy. Orny weaves and sows words together, stitching together a powerful 20-minute performance that leaves the audience in knots. His jokes manifest from a novel perspective, yet they are still somehow extremely relatable.

I get the wave of heat to the face I always experience when I laugh too hard. The set ends. I say goodbye to the people I’ve met. As the crowd pours out onto the street from the main entrance, two Cadillacs sail past with a gush of Californian air.

I love that feeling when you leave a comedy show. The world takes a fresh perspective, just for a moment. These modern-day philosophers find a way to craft everyday banality into a magical experience of weird and wacky occurrences. Orny Adams is one of the most novel comedians of today. For the next few days, his ideas stay with me, I find myself getting the giggles. As if the magic of then night has not yet rubbed off. That is the power of comedy.

Orny Adams is performing at The Comics Lounge on 22 March.

You can hear the podcast of this interview by searching ‘The Ferg Neal Show’ on any app.

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