Tonight marks the first edition of the Judge Cuts round on “America’s Got Talent,” and in preparation of that we had a chance to speak with someone who will be taking part over the next couple of weeks: Comedian Adam Grabowski. He arrived on stage during the final audition episode with jokes all about Disney movie characters, and quickly won the judges over in the process. For those of you who missed it, you can see show edit of the audition at the bottom of this article.
Our chat with Adam encompassed many different subjects, whether it be performing on the road, why he tried out, fan reaction, and also plans for the next round.
CarterMatt – Let’s start by discussing the reaction. Obviously you’re used to performing in front of people, but what has the past week or so been like?
Adam Grabowski – It’s been really fun seeing the level of support, from both new people and old. It’s been great to hear from people I performed for five years ago are now like ‘oh my god, I remember him.’ It’s fun to reestablish that connection with people.
Where did you first start doing comedy? Was it out in Chicago?
It was in Chicago, the suburbs more specifically.
What’s the [comedy] scene like there? I’m more familiar with it in New York and Los Angeles.
I did some small underground things and filmed it, and then started showing it to colleges and started doing colleges right away. So most of my training was by touring.
Have you found a good level of comfort from going up [on stage], trying out jokes, and seeing what works and doesn’t works for different audiences? You probably know from all of this that doing a joke in say the West Coast may not hit the same way [elsewhere].
Some things are regional; when you’re dealing with colleges, or the younger generation in general, it tends to be more universal because we’re all raised by the internet.
And one of the things you did so well in the audition was went off of something in Disney movies that so many people know. I went and watched the [longer] version of it, and I’m a child of the nineties and grew up watching a lot of those movies. When did you make the discovery that tapping into nostalgia and sort of subversively twisting these things on their head was something that connected for you?
I think one of the most fun things is taking something we all know, and then looking at it for what it is. It’s like when I’m talking about those movies, I’m not making things up … It’s fun to point out obvious things, especially from our childhood, too.
And I think it’s especially fun that you bring up Disney, because I’m sure you know that there are a contingent of people out there who feel like there are all of these hidden messages and conspiracies in these movies anyway.
I do think fairy tales started out harsh and dark, and Disney has toned them down. Everyone has these [crazy] theories, and mine is not even a theory. I’m just telling you what happens in the movie. There’s no theory behind it; it’s just fact. That’s just what the movie is.
In getting into ‘AGT’ specifically, what was the process like for you to decide to go and do this show?
I wasn’t sure if I wanted to, but I have friends who found success in it, so I figure this would be a good challenge for myself to learn and grow.
Was there a nervousness just in terms of having, I don’t know the precise time, like a minute and a half to go up there and do a set? For comedians especially, that’s so hard because you can’t really read the room.
It’s a very difficult format for standup. When I got do a college or when I got do a headlining spot that’s an hour, or an hour-plus. I was hesitant at first, but I figured that this would be a good challenge to see how to handle that.
Did you make the decision early on to do the Disney set, since that is something that you’d done out of the road that people had responded well to?
On the road the Disney set’s like 15-20 minutes. Even the one I put online is condensed to [a few minutes] and this one is condensed even further. They didn’t show all the jokes that I did. I did ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ ‘Peter Pan,’ ‘Little Mermaid,’ ‘Toy Story,’ ‘Lion King,’ and ‘Sleepy Beauty.’ I did six. I did Disney jokes for a while so I thought this would be a nice signature to see if I could stand out.
Was there a disappointment on your end to see the show and see that only so much was shown? I’m sure ideally everyone wants the lengthy introduction, the full act, and then the judges’ feedback.
The little clip that came out was great, and I’m really happy with it. Everyone wants to have a [longer segment], but there are so many people that they have to condense it or not even show some people. So nothing’s guaranteed in reality TV or competitions, but I’m very happy with what they did [show].
You mentioned earlier that you knew some people with experience on the show. Had you reached out to former comedians to get their take on doing this?
I know some more of the variety acts … It’s good to talk to people who have that experience. Like Eric Dittelman is a friend of mine, he’s the mind-reader who went far.
About how long would you say was the actual time you were on stage, or was it all such a blur that it’s hard to even remember?
I think it was like ten minutes. You go out and you talk to them, then you perform and they talk to you after.
This week coming up is the whole Judge Cuts round [which has already been filmed], and I don’t know if they tell you guys when your performance is going to air or if you’re just flying blind into this thing.
Yep, there’s a lot of like little breadcrumbs they leave you, but they’re still figuring out which episodes are airing when.
So without giving away anything that you chose, what was the process like for you narrowing down the material you wanted to go with?
It’s about trying to be memorable and it’s about trying to stand out and connect with people. The process was finding something that I know is really funny when it connects with people. So that’s the goal.
So for you in general, what’s the long-term goal? Do you want to do stadium tours, appear on a sitcom, or do some sketch [comedy]?
I already tour a lot, and I would love to do theaters in addition to doing colleges. I just want to do more and connect more people, because that way when I have a real message, I’m able to share it. When I do my college shows it’s very snake-y. It’s very funny for the first 45 or so minutes, and it’s all for the purposes of explaining things like we’re all human, and that we need to give ourselves a break, and that depression is a part of life. There are ways to work through it. The goal is to continue to do good, positive things that connect with people.
So the goal is to do standup on a larger scale, but then also be able to do projects like television.
Do you like doing the tours and visiting new places frequently? I hear from some people that it can be exhausting and you’re staying in so many different places.
I’ve adapted to it. I’ve done 90 colleges in four months. From January to April.
Oh my god, how are you still standing?
It’s discipline, it’s habit, it’s realizing that each individual night it’s different people to connect with, so there’s nothing else to do but go after it because I don’t know if I’m going to be able to tour forever. I don’t know when I’m 60 if I’m going to want to be on the road all the time.
I learned to adapt. Even when I’m home I still use my suitcase — it’s just in the corner and my clothing’s in it. It’s very difficult to stay healthy out on the road, too. I try to be healthy and maintain my mental health, but it’s challenging.
It’s just so interesting to me, since it’s very much the polar opposite of what I do.
I mean you’re about to connect with people long distance through the site, and I like to do that too, but I also like to connect with people in-person, and there’s something about being able to do that live.
As we start to wind this down, I want to touch on some of what you’ve said about your message. This is a very cynical time, and often even comedy now is very dark and gritty. How do you maintain that sort of positive outlook, so that people who come and see you feel that every time? Is there any sort of secret to that, or is it a natural part of your personality?
It’s a part of my personality, but it’s realizing that it’s not just you having an experience. It’s the people in the audience. When you recognize that, you don’t want to let them down. You want to create something special and worthwhile for them. So a willingness and a compulsion to give people that experience. It doesn’t matter if I’m tired; I’m allowed to forget all the other things that go on in life, and I’m able to focus on the people who are in front of me.
This was a really enjoyable chat, and we hope you liked getting to hear more about the man behind the act.