Everyone loves an underdog, usually. While many comedians would describe themselves as one, Orny Adams has fully embraced that role — even though it wasn’t entirely by choice.
About a decade into his standup career, he received what looked like a huge break. In 2002, Adams appeared with Jerry Seinfeld, basically the most popular comedian in the world at that time, in a documentary titled Comedian. The premise was simple: Follow the goings-on of a famous comic (Seinfeld) and juxtapose it with the travails of an up-and-coming comedian (Adams). Seinfeld was pretty much Seinfeld, but to many Adams came across as brash, petulant, bitter, and resentful.
Adams didn’t make lemonade out of Comedians. Instead, he embraced bitterness. No matter how well things are going, life tries to push you back down. “I’m going to put myself in a hole anyway,” he reasoned. He channeled that attitude into a stage persona that mixed rage with bewilderment.
So after the fallout from Comedian, Adams forged on with a laser-focus on his act. He was headlining and making TV appearances when another break occurred in 2011. He was cast as Coach Finstock in MTV’s popular supernatural nighttime soap Teen Wolf.
“[Show creator] Jeff Davis was a fan of my comedy, unbeknownst to me," says Adams. "He would come down and watch me every time I was at the Improv.”
Davis wrote the role specifically for Adams. “That was exciting to me, because I felt that gave me creative entitlement on the set and that I could go off script a little bit, play with it, and be as big as I wanted to be.”
Adams, who had never acted, was undaunted by the challenge. “You know when you’re so naive that you don’t even know you should be nervous? I’d be more nervous now shooting the pilot than I was at the time. Knowing what I know now? I would be very nervous.”
He feels his lack of anxiety actually helped him develop the character. “There’s an arrogance in people — it’s part of human nature — where you think you can do anything,” he observes. “I’ve been working in standup comedy for over 20 years, and it has taken me that long to get as precise in the art and the craft.”
Adams is puzzled by people who think they can jump into another art form and be as successful as the one they came from. “You might get lucky and be a natural, but in my case? No.”
Among his standup peers, however, Adams has become noted for his work ethic, something that also helped dilute negative perceptions from Comedian. Kevin Hart, for example, has stated that he admires Adams' tenacity, and that it reminds him that he may not be putting enough time and energy into his own comedy.
Though he realizes he’s a much better standup than an actor, he embraces the challenge. “It’s important to expose yourself, and that’s sort of the theme of my act,” he says. “This arrogance when you’re in your late teens and early 20s, life just diffuses it and takes you out of it and stomps you into that hole. I think it’s good to have that when you’re young, but it’s good when you get older to understand how difficult life can be.”
Meanwhile, the controversy surrounding his portrayal in Comedian, a divisive topic among comedy fans for years, has since melted away.
“It’s really bizarre,” says Adams. “No one brings it up anymore. Audience members don’t, other comedians barely do.” Some younger comics tell him the film got them interested in standup. “I’m sort of like, I don’t want to say the old guy, but I feel like the wise elder.”
IF YOU GO:
Rick Bronson's House of Comedy
408 E. Broadway, Bloomington, Level 4 in the Mall of America
.18+; 21+ later shows
7:30 p.m. Thursday through Friday; 9:45 p.m. Friday; 7 and 9:30 p.m. Saturday; 7 p.m. Sunday
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