What do they say about New York City: There are eight million stories, and sometimes it seems as though eight million of the people telling them think they’re comedians? No, that’s not it. It is a fact, though, that America’s biggest city is also its biggest comedy mecca. Hollywood may be Hollywood, but New York City is where comedians are born funny, become funny or arrive to thrust their funny upon us. I think we should meet some of these people. This is a recurring feature, a mini-profile of newcomers, up-and-comers and overcomers of New York’s vibrant comedy scene. It’s called Meet Me In New York.
If you blinked while watching the “Invitational” rounds for this season of Last Comic Standing, then you might not have seen that Adam Newman was one of the Top 100 comedians competing on the NBC series. They did show him in the green room with other comedians; just not onstage, actually telling jokes. Their loss, really. Anyhow, you can see him this weekend in his very own half-hour stand-up special on Comedy Central’s The Half Hour. Last year, Newman did make his network TV debut on Late Show with David Letterman, the same summer he was a “New Face” in Montreal’s Just For Laughs.
A few years ago, he released his debut stand-up CD, Not for Horses, on Rooftop Comedy Productions.
His other credits include winning Caroline’s March Comedy Madness contest, making Comedy Central’s Comics to Watch List, and performing on John Oliver’s New York Stand-Up Show on Comedy Central. But he remains forever young in my eyes so long as he keeps producing material and videos and whatnot for CollegeHumor.com.
Can we figure out his secret to eternal youth, especially while living in the big city? Here’s a behind-the-scenes video from his Comedy Central taping to warm you up for the full Q&A!
Name: Adam Newman (@Adam_Newman)
Arrival date: Aug. 2, 2006
Arrived from: Athens, GA
When and where did you start performing comedy? July 1, 2006, at a dive bar in Atlanta called Lenny’s, which has since closed. I didn’t know that most comedians started out doing 3-5 minute sets at open mics, so I just booked my band (I used to play in bands) to play at this bar, but instead showed up solo and did 45 minutes of stand-up. And it was awful. I told horrible one-liners, showed a slideshow of sandwiches that I thought looked like vaginas, and clips of the The Passion of the Christ where I switched out the soundtrack for circus music and farts. In Atlanta. You know, The South. People booed and threw full PBR tall boys at me and I totally deserved it. Someone at the bar that night told me about some local open mics, so I tried those for the next few weeks, but I had already decided that I had to move to NY if I wanted to do comedy for real.
What was your best credit before moving here? Lenny’s Bar, unfortunately.
Why did you pick NYC over LA or anywhere else? This is so comedy-nerdy, but I remember reading the bio on Zach Galifianakis’ old website, and it said that he got his start performing in the back of a hamburger restaurant in NYC. I Googled “open mic hamburger restaurant NYC” and it led to a whole world of NYC underground comedy mics and bar shows that I just thought were the coolest things. I even drove up from Georgia one time in my pickup truck to see Invite Them Up at Rififi (a now-defunct show at a defunct venue in the East Village that Eugene Mirman & Bobby Tisdale hosted). I wanted to be a part of that.
How long did it take to get your first paid gig in NYC after moving here? The Comedy Cellar used to have aWednesday open mic that Erik Rivera hosted. One time he asked me if I would host for a couple weeks, and in exchange he’d get me some paid work performing on prom shows at Broadway Comedy Club. Kids’ parents in NYC or Long Island sometimes rent comedy clubs for their kids to go to after prom. The shows start at like 2 a.m. and they’re never good. I did 10 minutes in front of 200 screaming high schoolers wearing prom dresses and tuxedos, loaded out of their minds and giving/getting handjobs under the tables. I got paid $30. I had left my bag on a table in the back of the room, and when I grabbed it to leave, I found that my iPod, camera, and phone had all been stolen while I was on stage. So I lost about $600 on the gig. That was about one year into comedy.
How is this scene better/same/worse than the scene you moved from? At the time, I was moving from a place with no scene to The Scene. NYC is still the best place to be and develop as a stand-up comedian, but Atlanta has become a great place to do comedy in its own right. The Laughing Skull (which opened a year or so after I left) is one of my favorite clubs in the country. I haven’t done the new ATL Improv yet, but I hear it’s also great. Tons of great comedians are coming out of Atlanta, and that doesn’t happen unless there’s quality stage time every night of the week.
Can you describe an “only in New York City” moment from your experience here? I mean I’ve seen all the doo-doos and pee-pees on the subway, but here’s a nice comedy moment: I did a storytelling show at a small cafe in Brooklyn a few years ago, and the story I told was about how I used to work a late night shift at a 24-hour grocery store in college. One night a customer came in at like 3 a.m. and bought just a zucchini and a jar of Vaseline, and it was an uncomfortable thing to ring up, because it was clearly going in this guy’s butt. The next storyteller who went up basically told the exact same story, but from the customer’s point of view! In his story, he went into a grocery store at 3 a.m. to buy a cucumber (to put in his butt), and had an uncomfortable interaction with the cashier. That storyteller happened to be Kevin Allison, who I recognized from The State, which was a sketch comedy show on MTV I was a HUGE fan of when I was in like 7th grade. We ended up becoming buds, told our butt-grocery store stories together onstage a few times, and I’ve since gotten to perform on his RISK! podcast/story-telling show all over the country. Just a cool thing that happened because, even though he’s been in comedy a lot longer than me, that night we were both just comedians running around the city who happened to cross paths.
What tip would you give to any comedian who moves here? Ted Alexandro gave me my favorite piece of advice. I was opening for him last summer a few weeks before I did Letterman, and I asked if he had any advice about the taping, since he’s done Letterman like five times. I was hoping for some specific thing about the acoustics of the theatre or which camera was best to look into or something, but he just said, “Do the work.” And I was like, “Doy.” He basically meant to run the set as much as possible and be as comfortable with it as I could be, but he knew I knew that and that’s why what he said stuck. “Do the work” is the best advice for everything. Whether you have an audition coming up, you’re trying to submit a writing packet, or you just want the other comedians at the open mics to think you’re funny…do the work. It’s something we all know but often forget because we’re dummies. Thanks for reminding me, Ted! Also, if your first name starts with an A, keep your Gchat and Facebook chat open. If you’re even a little good, you’ll get lots of spots from people trying to book comedians last minute.
Where do you see yourself five years from now? I want to create and have a role in a great TV comedy show I get to make with friends. And whatever else I’m doing, I also want to be doing stand-up. I’d love to be the headliner at a club on a non-Groupon weekend. Theatres would be cool, too.
Follow his Twitter handle and check him out at a show near you. And tune in tonight to Comedy Central to see his new half-hour special. Roll the clips! This is a great bit about basketball great Dikembe Mutombo.
Which NYC comedian would you like to see me style and profile next for Meet Me In New York? Send your nominations to: thecomicscomic AT gmail DOT com