by Rachel Perlman
Over three million people on YouTube have seen comedian Adam Newman’s close call with cocaine and a heckler. Last fall at a gig, a rowdy couple was bothering the crowd all evening, so when the man got up to go to the bathroom, Newman did what anyone would do, he put on the heckler’s coat. After rummaging through the pockets full of used tissues and a rave wristband, he found a baggie of cocaine. He quickly returned the coat and contraband and recovered by saying “my heart’s beating as fast as if I did what I just found in your pocket.” Though the moment was startling, it ended up being some good PR when Newman put the video online. Hecklers are bound to be a problem for any performer, but Newman says when it comes to negative feedback, there’s no handling it anymore. Someone insignificant is probably saying whatever is being said.
When Newman was first starting out in his early 20s and finishing his degree in psychology and sociology at University of Georgia, he booked himself at a dive bar in Atlanta for 45 minutes. “I was too dumb to be nervous, and I was too dumb to know it went horribly,” says Newman. He did not want any of his friends to know about his aspirations. He thought they would make fun of him or call him out on exaggerated stories. When one friend asked him if his scrawling of jokes in a notebook were rap lyrics, he confessed to the rhymes because “I was less embarrassed that she would think I’d be a rapper,” Newman said.
“I wanted to just do it in front of people I didn’t know,” says Newman. Though he claims he was not a competent comedian for at least a few years, the laughs he got from open mics led him to New York. After only a month and about six comedy shows, Newman bought a one-way plane ticket from Atlanta and moved to New York City even though he knew it was risky. He says his parents were not particularly thrilled when he decided to pursue comedy, but his mother was the one that helped introduce him to the craft. When he was a kid, his mother gave him a bunch of her old vinyl collection. Amongst the Motown and classic rock, were a few comedy records, including George Carlin, who Newman calls a favorite.
Big name comedians would come through Georgia comedy clubs and Newman bombarded them with what he now realizes were pestering questions about which were the best open mics and how to get an agent. Until recently, he was frustrated with their responses, but today he understands. “Keep doing it, keep writing and getting up, and be nice to people. There’s no more advice for stand-up than that,” he said.
Newman, now 30 and based in Brooklyn, is still doing stand-up at comedy clubs and has appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman and John Oliver’s New York Stand-Up Show. Newman says there are no rules about what is funny or what has been played out. When it comes to his live act, his smiling demeanor keeps crowds laughing whether it’s a joke about the Fresh Prince theme song or pulling a garbage bag out of a dog’s behind.
When Newman is not on stage, he uses social media to fill the craving. From Twitter and podcasts, to Vine and Tumblr, he has social media platforms covered. Social media allows comedians to connect and interact with the audience before, after, or even during a show. A few weeks ago, while on tour with Bo Burnham, famed YouTube comedian songwriter, Newman took out his phone and Vined the crowd mid-show. Vine is a mobile application that allows users to create and edit short video clips. “Whenever I get a chance to play at a big theater or a packed club, I’ll try to do a Vine with a crowd,” said Newman. He thinks the crowd likes it because they get to be part of the show in a non-heckling or disruptive manner. This way, after the show they are likely to look the video up and in the process find his page. It is an indirect and successful form of self-promotion.
Though Newman does not consider Twitter to be a place to test out jokes, he does think that Twitter is a place for jokes that don’t work anywhere else. “I like that I could put a bad joke on Twitter on purpose. And like you know you hope that whoever’s reading it realizes you’re doing a bad joke on purpose and thinks it’s funny because of that,” he said. Newman’s Twitter mostly consists of jokes about the latest outburst in pop culture news, his obsession with the 1995 movie Powder, or his ever-popular butt puns.
Twitter can be a worrisome medium for aspiring comedians who want to protect their material. Joke stealing online is an issue, but “I like to think I’ve been doing it long enough that I deliver my jokes in my own way,” said Newman. Contrarily, Bob Greenberg, a working stand-up and improv comedian for 20 years, has qualms about sharing his jokes online. “Lots of comics use Twitter to get the word out and that’s fine with me. My own worries about that is that once your material is out there, anyone can take it,” said Greenberg.
Newman recently started a bimonthly podcast with fellow comedian Nate Fernald called ‘Butt Talk.’ An online radio show approached Newman in February of this year to do a podcast about anything he wanted, and he chose butts. They host a guest each show and have yet to run out of butt-related stories to talk about. “Everybody’s got a poop your pants story or some issue with butts,” said Newman. He lets Fernald deal with the listener counts, he prefers to stick to sharing what makes him laugh and hopes it will make other people laugh too.
As much as social media has facilitated comedians to attract fans, Newman and Greenberg think that you learn to be a better comic by doing it and performing. “Nothing will ever replace a live comic and a live audience in a nice space…that’s priceless,” says Greenberg.