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Adam Newman on Making It in Comedy, Missing Music and Why He Keeps Track of All His Shows

A musician who played in local bands Coulier and Just These Dudes, Adam Newman graduated from UGA in 2005 and, seemingly on a whim, decided to move to New York City to tell jokes. A decade later, the now Los Angeles-based Newman is enjoying a fruitful career as a comedian and actor, releasing two albums, 2011’s Not for Horses and 2015’s Killed, and appearing on shows like CBS’s “Late Show” and HBO’s “Silicon Valley.” This week, Newman returns to Athens to record his first one-hour TV special (free tickets are available here). He recently sat down at his computer to chat with longtime friend and fellow comedian Luke Fields about how it all happened. [Gabe Vodicka]

Luke Fields: You left Athens for New York. You left New York for Los Angeles. How many times per week do you get asked, “How long are you in L.A. for?”

Adam Newman: Ha! Constantly. There are so many comedians that came up together in New York but now all travel so much and only see each other at festivals or shows a couple times a year, that whenever we do see each other, the automatic response is, “How long are you in town for?” I think if no one knows where you live, it’s a sign you’re doing well!

Luke, we’re not going to pretend we’re not friends for this interview, right? Let’s let the people reading know that we go way back. Our bands played together. We’ve toured together. We’ve stayed up until 5 a.m. playing guitar together. Let me ask YOU a question: How much did people make fun of me when I left Athens for New York to be a comedian?

LF: Man. I don’t know if “making fun of you” is the right way to put it, but we were all definitely very confused. Stand-up wasn’t as “cool” then as it is today. Back then, there was almost no support network for comedy in Athens. There is now, of course, but you’ve got to move to Atlanta to get consistent stage time. So, more than making fun of you, we all just didn’t understand you were going somewhere that you could actually work at this. We assumed we’d see you again in six months. So, yeah, we made fun of you a lot, I guess? Shows what we know. Do you feel like the classic comedian dichotomy of moving to New York if you wanna get good or Los Angeles if you wanna get on TV is still valid?

AN: Yeah, generally, probably. There’s still more stage time in New York, and there are more opportunities to act or sell a TV show in L.A. for sure. But I have also seen people who developed into great stand-ups in L.A., and people who have sold TV shows in New York. Some people get big on the internet without having anything to do with New York or L.A. Although, after they hit, they generally move to New York or L.A. I did the thing you said, and it feels to me like that’s how it still works. So many other cities have great comedy scenes now (Atlanta, Denver, Portland, Austin, etc.) that I would argue you don’t necessarily have to move to New York to get good anymore, but eventually you do need to move to get seen by nice people who can help you get jobs.

LF: Do you ever miss being in a band?

AN: I don’t miss lugging big amps around, but I do miss playing loud with buds. I miss band practice, and working together to make an album, and setting up a tour together. Yeah, I miss it. Thanks for bringing that up. Now I’m sad. I still play guitar a lot. And I’m always looking for ways to incorporate it into my set without just being a funny song guy. I wanted to do a bit on this special where I do some fun things with the “Home Improvement” theme song, but ABC wanted $17,500 for the rights to use it. Luke, can I borrow $17,500? If I quit stand-up after I tape this thing, would you form a Faith No More cover band with me?

LF: I could loan you like one-tenth of that. My video-game cover band is doing alright. So find nine more dudes who aren’t living paycheck-to-paycheck, and they can help fund you, and THEN all 11 of us might be enough people to form a proper Faith No More cover band. I’m singing “Midlife Crisis.” Did you listen to the new FNM album? I thought it would suck. It doesn’t.

AN: I’ve been too afraid to listen! If you say it doesn’t suck, I will listen. If it DOES suck, we’re done.

LF: How bad would things have to get for you to move back to Athens? You can always come back. They always come back.

AN: I think the question is how GOOD would things have to get! I don’t want to live in L.A. or New York forever. Athens is my favorite place. I would love to be successful enough that I don’t have to audition for things anymore and I could live wherever I want. Just a phone call to my Athens home: “Adam, they want you. You’re filming in L.A. for a week, then you can go home.” But on the flip side, if I ran out of money, I’d probably come back and see if Wuxtry is hiring. Or Flagpole! Do you guys need a funny guy to do a weekly column on butts or something?

LF: Gabe? Do we need that?

Gabe Vodicka: In journalism, we refer to it as the butt beat. And yes, we do.

LF: I know you’ve kept track of every single stand-up set you’ve performed. I lost track around my 200th. What numbers are the sets going to be for the special?

AN: I’m a little embarrassed that I still do that. Sometimes I want to stop, but I’ve been doing it for so long, it would feel like something’s missing if I didn’t jot down the show number when I got off stage. It’s become a little OCD routine. Also, if I get nervous or stressed before a big show, it’s nice to be able to remind myself exactly how many times I’ve done this. Anyway, barring any cancellations or additions, the special tapings will be shows 2,620 and 2,621.

LF: I’m astonished that you didn’t say 69 and 420.

AN: Do those numbers have some significant meaning or something?