Comedy

People Who Make L.A. Special: The Man With a Thousand Voices

Photo by Callie Biggerstaff/Courtesy of James Adomian

As far as I’m concerned, James Adomian is one of the most revered voices in comedy. Well, he actually has several of those revered voices—as his impressions of people both famous and niche are bountiful and flawless. Senator Bernie Sanders, Jesse Ventura, Joe Biden, Sebastian Gorka, Huell Howser, and Sean Hannity are just a few within Adomian’s arsenal of improvisation intonation. And then there’s his own, a true delight to relish in stand-up over the years, which is why his latest endeavor, a character-driven podcast called The Underculture, is so gratifying.

Currently, Adomian juggles stand-up, podcasting, voice acting (Our Cartoon President is but one project), touring in character as Sanders, and more. All of which is performed to such a masterful degree, it’s the reason he’s so highly regarded in comedy. He took time from his packed schedule to tell me how he pulls all this off.

Photo courtesy of Trump vs. Bernie/Facebook

What Should We Do: Trump vs. Bernie, your comedy debate series with Anthony Atamanuik (who does the best Donald Trump impression), is going on tour again for the 2020 election cycle. What’s it been like leading up to it the second time around? Is there anything different about it? I believe the last time I saw it, it was so much darker than your first tour, but still just as hysterical.
James Adomian: Yes, we did Trump vs. Bernie once in New York and once in Los Angeles so far in 2019, and it was definitely darker but oddly looser. When we first did the tour, it was this ominous warning about what could happen versus the best chance to prevent it. Now we are in the middle of “what could happen,” so the warning is already all around us. But I do think as we look forward to the new 2020 tour, we’re still setting up the contrast of “this ever-worsening hell” of Trumpworld against Bernie Sanders, who to me is still the best way to stop and undo all of it.

WSWD: As a voice actor, actor, stand-up, podcaster, and impressionist, how do you manage to keep your hands in all the pies at the same time?
Adomian: Yes, my hands are very sticky with a lot of different pies. My favorite is boysenberry! I don’t always know what I’m doing, and sometimes I think I’m the wrong person for the job, but then again I look around and see there’s a lot of wide-open lanes. Not a lot of theatrical satire going on, and some very juicy figures to make fun of these days—and definitely some fun voices if you really swing for the fences and go wild. It does get exhausting, but I have a lot of fun and a deliciously weird career.

WSWD: You’ve carved out quite the niche in voice acting with Our Cartoon President, Future Worm!, etc. How many of these shows are you juggling at the same time?
Adomian: A lot of cartoons! It’s hard to get an exact count because I can’t keep track of when various animated projects are coming out or getting canceled, but I’m probably working on about 10 cartoons that are out right now or about to come out. I’m glad you remember Future Worm!; that one was very special to me, but sadly I think it was canceled almost immediately, leaving me one of the world’s top collectors of Future Worm! memorabilia by default.

Photo courtesy of Our Cartoon President/Facebook

WSWD: I really love The Underculture. Given how prolific you have been in podcasting over several years, what brought you around to doing your own?
Adomian: Hilariously, there were a lot of people who were almost angry at me that I didn’t do it sooner! But this year it got to a point where I was juggling so many recurring characters on other people’s podcasts, between Gorka and Bernie and Jesse Ventura and Elon Musk and Ted Cruz and all the other weirdos I play. Fans of each of those specific characters on a wide array of podcasts [were] constantly demanding new content (really only Chapo Trap House and The Dollop were paying me anything to guest), and I just finally wanted one place to put all of those things.

All my main characters [now] live in one place under my creative control, and I can also be myself in my own voice. Just to tell the audience: Hey, don’t be surprised if you come see me live, I will also be speaking as myself and performing an evening of stand-up comedy in a real human voice. And I think also last spring, my dozenth amazing TV show pitch failed, so I was really like, I work on the Internet now. And I have had a lot of fun doing The Underculture—it’s so weird. I’m very proud of how dumb we have gotten on some very smart topics.

Photo courtesy of James Adomian

WSWD: What’s your favorite impression that you feel is underrated? For me, your Howard Stern is eerily good.
Adomian: You might be hearing too much of my stuff; that’s a rare one!

WSWD: Do you ever feel like you lose yourself in all of your characters à la Jim Carrey as Andy Kaufman?
Adomian: I’ve got my problems, but I’m not a method actor. It’s just a game where you try to inhabit a character’s mind and improvise for up to maybe 90 minutes onstage at most, maybe longer if you’re on set filming. But then you’ve got all kinds of actor things to worry and complain about, way too much to be thinking about whatever the character is that you’re playing.

WSWD: Is there a dreamy show you’d like to do besides The Underculture? If so, what might it be?
Adomian: I have an endless number of styles and tones that I’ve attempted to use in creating TV shows, movies, and cartoons, and lots of projects sitting around waiting for me to get funding—some of those are dreamlike! Lots of far-out, fantastical cartoons and wild, zany comedies set in different time periods.

Photo courtesy of The Underculture/Facebook

WSWD: You also make sure to keep an eye open and an ear open for new talent. Why is it important to you to be inclusive in that way? Where do you run into these new folks?
Adomian: Almost everyone I know these days I met from doing live shows together. I am not as up as I’d like to be on what’s cool, who’s hot, where the buzz is—watch out, it’s behind you—but I really try to pay attention to who is doing killer sets or memorable material at shows when I’m booked around town. Doing shows is also a secret blessing, where you are kind of forced to go out to a comedy show several times every week and see what’s going on.

WSWD: You’ve got so many great jokes and observations about neighborhoods in and around L.A. How might you satirize the city in the not-so-distant future?
Adomian: I grew up in L.A., so I know it very well. For years I was always yearning for more specific jokes about it as a real place—or a big pile of places. Not just “the Grove, lattes, pilot season, yoga, the 405!” There was a time when I really hated Los Angeles bitterly, but I’m over that now. I just people-watch the whole city like it’s a coach or professor who everyone likes to make fun of.

WSWD: Come to think of it, what does being in Los Angeles mean for your comedy?
Adomian: I usually don’t drive a car, and haven’t for about 10 years, so I experience the city at a different level of focus maybe than I used to. I walk around a lot and listen and remember funny things that have happened to me in different neighborhoods. It’s very interesting for me to think about what an audience agrees to laugh about: monstrous things like Culver City and Culver-adjacent-City, for example, and how you can twist that beyond their expectations. So you know here we are now: the Grove, lattes, pilot season, yoga…the eternal game, the 405 eating its own tail.