November 15, 2019

A Stand-Up Comedian Who Sounds ‘Like Your Dad or Uncle’

Orny Adams is a comedy veteran. He began his career in Boston and has been in the game for more than 25 years. Now based in Los Angeles, Adams, 47, recently completed a tour of the Bahamas, Australia, France, Canada and Israel, and is headlining “The Ethnic Show” during the Just for Laughs (JFL) comedy festival in Montreal this month.  

The Journal recently spoke with Adams about his upcoming shows, his role as Coach Bobby Finstock from 2011-17 in the MTV television series “Teen Wolf,” and how his Judaism informs his work.

Jewish Journal: What was it like when you started doing comedy in Boston?
Orny Adams: It’s like doing comedy for your family. Everyone has the same rhythm and mindset. Boston comics tend to be very fast. There’s sarcasm. When you see one you go, “That’s a Boston comic.” You just know it. I never did an open mic. I was fortunate that comedy was booming in the early ’90s and I could go on at the big clubs. It was really different than it is now. 

JJ: What’s comedy like now?
OA: There’s a lot more people doing it and I think it’s more restrictive. You have to think a lot more [before you talk]. Boston was the only town where I was doing comedy that was purely for the sake of comedy. There was no thought about what I would wear, or what the industry would think, or would this joke play on TV, or is this joke offensive? You got up there and you were funny. People had comedy in their bones. You weren’t doing it because you thought it might lead to something else or because it was trendy. You were just a comedian. 

JJ: What was your Jewish upbringing like?
OA: My family is very Jewish-centric. I went to temple and I identify as Jewish. I feel my comedy is very Jewish. If you look at me you’d say, “That guy is Jewish.” To me, it’s a big part of my essence. I talked about being Jewish on my last special. I changed my name when I was younger [from Adam Jason Orenstein to Orny Adams] because I didn’t like people knowing I was Jewish without getting to know me first. There was anti-Semitism. When I was 8 years old, a kid told me I was a cheap Jew. I was 8. I didn’t even have money! 

JJ: What was it like working on “Teen Wolf”?
OA: We reached 100 episodes over six seasons. I loved that I showed up and did somebody else’s lines. It was a really great experience. The fans are not comedy fans. They are younger, exuberant, not jaded. It’s the most beautiful thing. When you go to one of my stand-up shows you can see it. There are “Teen Wolf” fans and there are comedy fans. I love the duality of my career and that I had that experience. There was a coach in the movie version, but Jeff Davis, who created the show, also wrote [the coach part] for me. He was a fan of my comedy. I never auditioned, which is really the way I’d like all of life to be.

“I changed my name from Adam Jason Orenstein because I didn’t like people knowing I was Jewish without getting to know me first. There was anti-Semitism. When I was 8, a kid told me I was a cheap Jew. I was 8. I didn’t even have money!” 

JJ: How many times have you been to JFL?
OA: I couldn’t even count. I did “New Faces,” and there was a little bit of a gap, and then it was once every other year. That festival has been so good to me. That’s a family. I love those guys and going up every year and seeing the same faces in the audience and the same reviewers. When I started going up there it was a dream. I was going to be discovered and get a sitcom. Now I go up there and I couldn’t care less about the business. I just go up there and I’m social. I consider Montreal a second home. 

JJ: How are you going to represent the Jews at “The Ethnic Show”?
OA: They have a Jewish flag behind me [on the flyer]. I’m Jewish but not Israeli. The flag doesn’t represent me as a Jew. Shouldn’t it be a dreidel, or a hanukkiah? I’d like the Dead Sea Scrolls behind me. I don’t think I have to do Jewish jokes [on the show]. I could talk about my experience in Israel. If you see me and you’re Jewish, you’ll say that I sound like your dad or uncle. 

JJ: Last question. Do you have any tips on how to keep a healthy head of hair?OA: I just pray to God. I think it’s genetic. I can’t lose it now because it’s sort of become my identity. I’ve become one of those hair comics.