When Orny Adams is in Montreal, I book my tickets fast. My cheeks hurt from laughing by the end of his show. I feel exhilarated and not a little bit awed by his astute observations and contagious energy. Watching Orny crawl across the stage, hop around or break his microphone is pure joy. It all stems from his intense passion for comedy.
For Orny “Comedy done right is a love story”.
I first discovered Orny with the rest of the world in the documentary Comedian. It follows Jerry Seinfeld as he puts together his first one-hour routine after the series Seinfeld ended.
Orny Adams entered the international spotlight as Seinfeld’s 29-year-old melodramatic stressed out protégé. Everyone keeps telling Orny to relax, including Seinfeld. “That’s easy for you to say” he tells Jerry. “You have money!”
At one point Orny gets the call that he has been accepted to appear for the first time at Montreal’s Just For Laughs Festival. It is the place to be seen as a comedian. After he gets off the phone, Orny lies down in the street and says to the camera “There. I was happy for four minutes.”
Since the documentary aired sixteen years ago, Orny has performed regularly at Just For Laughs and is invited to perform all over the world. He appeared on The Tonight Show and Conan. He filmed one-hour specials for both Netflix and Comedy Central. Last year he broke hearts filming his final episode as Coach on MTV’s mega-hit series Teen Wolf. He also performed a one-hour show at Just For Laughs that he later filmed in Los Angeles for Showtime called “More Than Loud” which is now streaming.
Starting this Wednesday, July 11th through July 26th he performs at Just For Laughs in both The Ethnic Show and The Ken Jeong Gala.
I will not know what I am going to say until I’m on the stage and my lips start moving. And hopefully they move. And move in a funny way. Ahead of every show I outline my thoughts and have personal objectives I try and achieve. It would be a waste of everyone’s time if I didn’t prep. But I can tell you from experience it all changes in the moment. And in that moment I’m prepared to go in any direction.
When I sit down with Orny Adams, aka Adam Orenstein, it’s a gorgeous sunny morning at the Hyatt in downtown Montreal. This is the hub of the Just For Laughs festival. Sugar Sammy walks by. Various big names are filming specials or getting interviewed. The air is electric.
Orny’s spiky hair points up to the sky in all directions like a cartoon character. He is constantly observing and taking notes. He talks to other people as we chat. “When are you coming to Belgium?” our neighbors ask.
He drops some change and tells me “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 more than me.’ Here, I go into panic!”
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.”
How does Orny write a one-hour routine? “It’s 24 hours a day on pieces of paper. Or on my phone. Something comes to me and I write it down. I try it onstage. 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 am dying to know what it feels like to make thousands of people laugh. “Justice!” Orny announces.
How did Orny know he wanted to be a comedian? “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?”
How does Orny keep energized? “COFFEE! Copious amounts of coffee!”
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!”
Why doesn’t he talk politics? “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.’”
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.”
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 Orny 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.”
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.”
What’s 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.”