Adam Norwest Interview
Seattle-based comic Adam Norwest is quick (and hilarious) at putting himself down. Yet no matter how often he points out his alpha-male shortcomings, his comedy remains confident, tight, and focused. Rooftop is thrilled to release One of a Kind, the debut album from Adam, who recently won the title in CMT’s Next Big Comic. We recently chatted with Adam about his love for Seattle culture, navigating “offensive” material, and more.
Rooftop Comedy: Your album cover is a nice twist on the iconic Nevermind album from Nirvana. Why the homage?
Adam Norwest: For a couple reasons. One being that I’m from Seattle and I thought that it would be cool to have a Seattle reference on my album. Two: I think being naked is funny in general—especially me being naked, for some reason. It’s never a sexy thing. It’s just supposed to be hilarious—especially considering the fact that I don’t have a penis on the CD cover.
RC: Are you still pretty active with the Seattle comedy scene?
AN: Yeah, this is where I’m from, so it’s my home. I perform here as often as I can. Tacoma Comedy Club is my home club now, but I’ve worked all over the Northwest. I owe a lot to the clubs here—especially Tacoma and Laughs Comedy Spot for all the stage time they’ve given me to help develop who I am now as a comic.
RC: What sort of changes have you seen in the Northwest comedy scene?
AN: It’s interesting, because, when I started, obviously, I was the newest person. Then, within three or four years, I was in the top ten percent of people who had been doing comedy the longest. It’s just amazing how often people either move away or just drop out and stop trying. That’s probably the biggest change I’ve noticed. [In terms of comedy], I don’t think a lot’s changed. A lot of people are still trying to follow an alt-scene or trying to work the road. Seattle is a great town for comedy. Anytime a bigger name comes through and they may play a theater or they may play a large club in another town, just because Seattle is so supportive of the arts and of stand-up.
RC: So there are some smaller rooms where comics like to work out material?
AN: Seattle’s a great scene as far as that goes. Our open mics have good audiences and then there’s different bar shows and little theater shows. There’s tons of stage time. It’s a great place to do comedy and develop comedy.
RC: Do you have any pre-show routines?
AN: I have some sort of set routine—it’s not very exciting. An hour before I have to be at the club, I finally go, “Oh crap—I have to get ready”. I take a shower, drastically try to figure out if there’s anything new I want to try out. I write it on my hand or a piece of paper. Then, right before my set, I’m ridiculous. I stretch and jump and shadowbox and try to get my energy up and then I go on stage and stand in the same place for an hour. It’s very deceiving, if you’ve never seen me perform, watching me before my set, because you’d think I’d be doing jumping jacks and cartwheels and juggling. Then I just stand there and deliver words.
RC: How did you transition from improv to stand-up?
AN: Somebody who I did improv with, Jim Kellner, wanted to try stand-up. There was another actor that had done stand-up and he used to tell us jokes all the time backstage. We thought it was the coolest thing, but now I realize he was just using us as his open mic. I had no idea we were being used. So we decided to go to open mics. It was tough. I was 19, so there wasn’t a whole lot of stage time I could get. I went to enough open mics to the point where, when I was 21, I was able to go to some random bar and road shows and start doing work. I like stand-up because it’s only me I have to rely on. With improv, it’s a team: I can let them down or they can let me down. With stand-up, it’s all my fault.
RC: One of a Kind shows you have a talent for talking about “manliness”, or lack thereof, while always remaining tight and confident. Would you say that’s always been your comedic voice or has that evolved?
AN: When I started comedy, I was pretty much willing to say anything I could that could get a laugh. I used to do a bunch of material that made people think, “Is he straight? Is he gay? What’s going on? He has jokes about his girlfriend, but then he talks about that guy” I was saying anything I could to get a laugh. It didn’t matter. Then I started working to develop little, short stories. Now, with One of a Kind, I’m finally able to deliver a mix of “This is who I really am. This is really my life. Obviously there are some twists and things that aren’t real. Also, here are some random observances that I’ve seen that I think are weird from my perspective. The album now is very me. The only difference between my album and the actual stage show is the album is all material. It’s just joke after joke after joke. Whereas, at my live show, I like to be a lot more in the moment. Not necessarily making fun of people, but things happen and I ask questions and people have different responses. I like to make every show different—I just don’t think that can come across as well on the CD. If you like the jokes, you should definitely come see the live show because it’s that material and then more.
RC: In keeping the live club shows more spontaneous, do you find yourself censoring certain topics depending on where you’re performing?
AN: In regards to audience, obviously the venue could say it should be clean or whatever. You can really tell with the audience. If the audience tenses up on anything questionable, then I know I can’t push the limit, but if they’re laughing at everything, I know I can take it further and be more vulgar and they’ll like it even more. I don’t want to be just blunt and dirty, but if I can think of a clever dick joke, I’m gonna use it.
RC: Do audience members make it known if they think you’ve gone too far?
AN: All the time [Laughs]. I mean, maybe not all the time, but I’ve definitely had moments where I’ve had people come up to me after shows and said, “I really don’t think you should have called that lady’s daughter a whore. I don’t think she was OK with it. I don’t think they found it very funny”. Whereas, they could have been laughing and this person didn’t even see it happen. It just bugs them the wrong way. And I never want to upset anyone. That’s never my intention. I truly believe that it’s comedy– you’re obviously there because you want to have a good time. Don’t take anything too seriously or too personally. I think a lot of times, people just have other stuff going on in their lives. She may have had a bad last hour at work or she may have had a bad personal experience of someone calling her that. Or just some other trigger-pulling thing. That’s out of my control, unfortunately. Besides talking about Jell-O for an hour, there’s nothing I can do.
RC: Does one track or joke stand out as a particular favorite?
AN: I guess I have a few favorite jokes. I talk about sting rays and I like it just because out of nowhere, I go, “OK, let’s talk about sting rays”. It really throws people off-guard because no one else does that and it’s after I’ve told a bunch of personal stories. With sting rays, I take actual true facts, which shows, technically, I’m educating people and making them completely ridiculous. So I really like that, just because it’s fun to watch people’s reactions to those jokes.
RC: How many weeks in typical year are you out on the road these days?
AN: It’s become more and more as the years go. Three years ago, I may have done, I don’t know, 20 weeks and last year I may have done 35 or 40 weeks. I’m exhausted. I was half-tempted to call this album my debut and retirement. For me, that’s one of the big reasons I’m excited about putting this out. I think it kind of marks the end of a specific era of my career. It’s my way of saying goodbye to this material. This is where my life’s been at for the past few years. I’m going to take some time in Seattle to write a new act about more where I’m at now and go from there.
RC: I can’t imagine traveling that much for work.
AN: We’re the hardest working and the laziest people at the exact same time. I have the ability, if I want, to work five hours a week and do nothing else. I’m not going to progress that way. Or I have the ability to work 90 hours a week and do everything I can. I have had moments where I’m like, “OK, where am I at again?” Onstage, I’ll be like “Thank you Cleveland—I mean, Indianapolis”. I’ve had that moment. The audience normally thinks I’m joking so they laugh.
RC: Down the road, do you ever see yourself taking on more script-based comedy?
AN: I just like entertaining and being creative in general. So I’m working with wherever that takes me. Steve Gillespie, who’s another stand-up, and I wrote a pilot this year and we’re going to start writing another one and regardless of what happens with that, it was a fun process for me. I’d love to be a part of some writing staff or end up with a clean act and doing cruise ships. I just enjoy making people happy. It sounds cheesy, but it’s true.