“Uh-oh” says Orny Adams. He has spotted my tape recorder.
“Does that make you nervous?” I ask. “Just forget about it” I try. He doesn’t seem convinced, but quickly adjusts.
We are sitting outside on a gorgeous July morning at the Hyatt Hotel in Montreal, the hub of Just For Laughs activity. As I waited for Orny, I watched Gad Elmaleh (who just opened for Seinfeld) film his Netflix special. Sugar Sammy walked by.
A toonie falls out of Orny’s pocket and he gets animated. “This Canadian money falls out of your pocket and it’s like your mortgage just rolled away! In America you lose a quarter and you’re like ‘Who cares, someone needs it better than me.’ Here, I go into panic. When I see one of those coins rolling that has two colors on it, I’m like ‘O my God! Holy Moses!’ And then when you tip with it, it doesn’t feel substantial.”
This makes me laugh because I feel the same way.
“Like in a hotel. When they clean the room. I leave 3 of them and it doesn’t seem like enough” he explains.
“That’s very generous” I tell him.
“It just feels like 3 coins. It just doesn’t feel like enough” he insists.
“It’s generous!” I assure him.
“Yeah? Alright.” He is ready for the next topic.
Orny Adams, aka Adam Orenstein, first entered the international spotlight as Jerry Seinfeld’s 29-year old melodramatic protégé in the documentary Comedian. At one point Orny gets The Call from Montreal’s Just For Laughs Festival that he is approved to perform for the first time. He proceeds to call everyone he knows. A few minutes later he says to the camera “There, I was happy for 4 minutes.”
It’s 15 years later and Orny is now a regular performer at Just For Laughs. A few days earlier I laughed nonstop during his hour long show More Than Loud. It was my second time seeing him live, and he killed it. Again.
His spiky hair points up to the sky like antennas. He is constantly listening and observing. He talks to other people as we chat. “When are you coming to Belgium?” our neighbors ask Orny. He reads his phone. He makes notes. He is wearing a baby blue golf shirt, beige linen pants and matching suede Converse. “See, my pants match my shoes!” He looks relaxed and in shape. He is part man about town, and part lovable wired nut ball. He keeps me laughing.
Orny asks for my impressions of the show. Luckily, I laughed so much during his set that I decided to write down all his jokes afterwards. In one hilarious bit, he admits he can get so competitive at the grocery store, that if he thinks the lady next to him has the best blueberries, he’ll steal hers, and then replace them with his own carton. I totally relate. Well, not the stealing part, but I’ve considered it.
“O you’re right, I said that.” He writes it down.
After I recount 10 of his punch lines he exclaims “You have tremendous recall. Wow, I feel bad for your husband because if you get in an argument, you’re going to remember everything.”
I ask what Orny thinks of Montreal. “I love the people. It feels like another country. People seem very kind. As far as the festival goes, this is like a family. I consider this my summer home. All the comics don’t get to work together that often, so this is cool. A lot of them are coming to see my shows. There’s a guy Carl Barron, he’s the number 1 guy in Australia, and he sells out theaters all over. He came and watched my hour. It just blows me away that a guy at that level will take an hour out of his life and watch me. It’s an honor.”
Orny is excited because on September 9th, he’ll be taping his one-hour Live Showtime Special in North Hollywood. The air date is TBD but if you will be in LA, you can get your tickets here.
“Once I do this special, I won’t repeat any material. For me it’s an emotional thing. I can only do jokes for as long as I feel connected to them, or it won’t read as authentic. I’ll get bored.”
Comedian was an inside look at Jerry Seinfeld’s struggle to put together a one hour stand up routine fresh off the Seinfeld finale.
I want to know how Orny writes his hour. “It’s 24 hours a day on pieces of paper like these ones. Or on my phone. Something comes to me and I write it down. I try it onstage. I used some new stuff last night. It’s about going to Dallas and me happening upon a holocaust museum. It’s not developed yet. People tell me I should do that this hour, but its not ready. I have an entire file for my next hour on my phone. There are jokes in there that I love doing, but they don’t fit rhythmically or thematically within this hour.”
I am dying to know what it feels like to make thousands of people laugh. “Justice!” Orny announces. “It feels like the only time in my life I feel justice. It feels right.”
For most people it would be a nightmare to get up there. How did Orny know? “I think for a true comedian, there is no ‘moment’. It’s just a natural progression. There’s no other option. Do you remember when you started to breath?”
There is no bigger death for a comedian than a stale joke. How does he keep his material fresh? “I am curious. I think if you want to be a person that expresses themselves through any art, you must be curious. You’ve got to care about every little detail. That’s not something you can make up. That’s either something you are, or you aren’t. If you really have that mind, you’re going to see that target, and see everybody is doing the same thing. Everyone is smelling the detergent at Walmart. They go up and down the aisle, and once they find one they like, they put it back and take a new bottle from the back. Then everyone laughs because they are like, wow, that’s me! I’ve been secretly doing that!”
I ask why he doesn’t talk politics. “For that exact reason. I use comedy to unify. To show our commonalities. I want people to look around and say ‘Wow, I’m probably more like that guy than I realized. I’m a human.’ Politics and sports are too divisive. There are people out there that like to do that, and do political humor great. I’ve had opportunities to be on political shows and talk about politics and I don’t. I chose to stand before you as a human being.”
In Comedian, his agent and other comedians keep telling a throw-himself-to-the-ground Orny Adams to relax, but he can’t. “It’s easy for you to say” he tells Jerry Seinfeld. “You have money.”
I ask him what advice he is ignoring these days. “There are probably 3 bits of advice I got this week that I should be listening to. I don’t have a problem with the decisions I’ve made. You get out there and do show after show, and you just keep learning, and getting better, and better. Every week, every night, several times a night, and you earn the laughs. I don’t have a problem with struggle. I think you should fail every day, and get better for it.”
I love when he throws himself on the stage and that he puts it all out there. I am transfixed by his energy when he is onstage. How does Orny keep energized? “COFFEE! Copious amounts of coffee!”
He is in complete control of the audience. “I like silences.” He says. “If the audience is silent, it’s by design.”
But what about offstage? What’s the difference between Orny and Adam? “I’m much more mellow offstage. I’m not as worked up about things and as frustrated.”
One of the top watched YouTube videos from Comedian, is when Seinfeld tells Orny his favorite story about show business. “You learn a lot being around people like Jerry. There was a point where he flew me to New York and he took me out on the streets and said ‘I’m going to show you how to be famous.’ He showed me how to sign autographs, how to talk to fans. If you are smart, you watch, you shut up, and you absorb. A lot of young people don’t necessarily do that. I probably could have taken more from him, but I was an arrogant young man with pride that didn’t need his help.”
Orny may have been “famous for not being famous” when his star didn’t rise as fast as some thought, but now he has almost half a million followers on social media. He is famous to teens the world over for playing the loud and loveable Coach Finstock on the mega hit MTV series Teen Wolf. After The Coach’s last episode was filmed, he tweeted that filming it was particularly difficult.
For Orny “Playing Coach was transformative. It gave me a tremendous amount of confidence and joy. It also exposed me to an entirely new group of people all over the world that are so supportive and loving. Teen Wolf is truly a gift and will forever be a large part of me. I don’t usually use the word luck about my career, but in this case, I got lucky.”
What does fame even mean? “I don’t know. I’ll let you know if something happens. I think for Seinfeld, you’re constantly on, and people are constantly observing and reporting. It’s a hell of a burden.”
When does he laugh the hardest? “When I’m with my family. We are pretty funny, we are pretty real.”
Has he ever been afraid of an audience? “Yeah. The Comedy Cellar in New York, I used to find it intimidating. Not as much anymore though. I’ve reached a point where there is no fear.”
Has he ever regretted telling a joke? “In my last hour, I talked about fat kids. I probably wouldn’t now. Things change, the climate changes. The millennials are judging us on criteria we didn’t grow up on. There was one time I told a joke about my mom, at a huge theater in Boston. I probably regret doing that. I am not up there to hurt people.”
Who is Orny’s favorite comedian? “There are so many. I’ll tell you that my favorite mentor was Gary Shandling. He did more for me than any other human being outside my family. He was just a kind, generous soul.”
I ask Orny what he thinks is the link between generosity and success? “I think the more generous you are, the more successful you’ll be, at least internally. I think that’s more important than any external success.”
As I exit the hotel, I can hear Orny talking. He is happily surrounded by a big group of people at the elevator. I wonder how long it takes him to get back up to his room.
Get tickets to Orny’s Tour and LIVE Showtime Special More Than Loud here!
Watch Comedian here:
Get Teen Wolf News here!
Get more details on Just For Laughs here with leader Bruce Hills.
All photos used with permission from the artist from OrnyAdams.com