On comedian James Adomian's debut album Low Hangin' Fruit, his celebrity impressions are so well-developed that it's sometimes hard to tell where they end and when his true voice begins. After honing his craft at Groundlings and the UCB Theater, the 32 year-old L.A. native has made his mark in recent years with regular appearances as Huell Howser and Jesse Ventura on the Comedy Bang Bang podcast and television show.
When I meet him outside the Downtown Independent after last month's alternative comedy festival Riot Fest, he's wiping chocolate off his face and periodically clearing his throat from hosting a talk show as the gravely voiced former Governor of Minnesota. Despite his exaggerated impression of the politician turned conspiracy-chaser, Adomian admits he has a soft spot for Ventura. “I plan to write in Jesse Ventura if I vote. He's the kind of leader that people should have, someone who is at least going to tell the truth,” he explains.
For Adomian to develop an impression of someone, he says he has to either love or hate the person, and one thing Ventura and Adomian definitely have in common is a shared interest in politics and social inequality. Adomian's Twitter feed often reads like a mix of Democracy Now and radio host Alex Jones and he's a fervent supporter of the Occupy Wall Street movement. As an openly gay comic, he also touches on homophobia frequently in his stand-up act.
One of the highlights from his album is when he points out the ubiquity of the “gay villain” in popular culture by addressing characters like The Little Mermaid's Ursula and the Sheriff of Nottingham from Robin Hood. Adomian says he doesn't feel pressured to discuss sexuality in his act, but he says it was a selling point in branching out from improv to stand-up nearly five years ago. After deciding to pursue stand-up, he moved to New York in order to perform more regularly.
“Part of the reason I started doing stand up was to be able to talk about my own life. At a certain point, if you're always performing as other personalities in costume, nobody gets to hear your real opinions,” he explains.
On another track, titled “Gaybashing (Hey, Faggot!),” Adomian discusses the irony of being assaulted with homophobic slurs in the parking lot of a gay bar. Stating the importance of revealing personal stories, he says, “I think the process of change is accelerated by people openly acknowledging who they are and what their lives are like.”
But the closer the subject matter gets to preachy or unsettling, the more Adomian balances it with outright absurdity. One minute he's ranting in the screechy voice of actor Paul Giamatti and the next he's Gary Busey, spouting ridiculous acronyms like “R.A.P.E: Reaction Against Predatory Enemies.” His appreciation for character work is attributed to childhood summers spent staying up to watch Conan O'Brien and early exposure to Saturday Night Live and Kids In The Hall.
First gaining notoriety for his impressions of George W. Bush, he has been featured on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson and Last Comic Standing. Adomian now splits his time between stand up and sketch shows like Conspiracy Theory Live, which he hosts as Ventura. His newest characters are celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay and radio personality Tom Leykis. He debuted the latter on the Comedy Bang Bang podcast a few weeks ago, leaving the normally contained Amy Poehler laughing hysterically for almost an hour.
Though his peers consider him one of the best comedians and sketch performers in the country, making the transition to television and film hasn't been easy for Adomian. Now at work on three separate projects, which he's pitching to different networks, he fears that his dream of producing his own sketch show for television may go unfulfilled. When asked about the ideal format for his show, he laments, “When I try to tell people that have the power to make it happen, they act like I've just broken the law.”
But as with most every topic I bring up, Adomian somehow manages to find the silver lining. He still loves the freedom of performing in clubs like the UCB, both in and out of character, and when confronted with the possibility of his projects getting shot down, he smiles resiliently and says “I'll just keep performing live, where nobody can tell me what to do.”
James Adomian's stand-up album Low Hangin' Fruit is available now through Earwolf. You can follow him at @JAdomian on Twitter.