AN INTERVIEW WITH NICK ADAMS ABOUT COMEDY, RACISM, AND LAUGHING IN TRAGEDY.
TOF: Can you do a quick intro of who you are and what you do?
Adams: I’m a Los Angeles-based sitcom writer. After years doing stand-up, I wrote a nonfiction humor book, Making Friends with Black People. That got some attention and got optioned a few times. It also got me a manager. I wrote some spec scripts and went out on meetings and started getting work. Perfect Couples. Two seasons on New Girl. Men at Work.
Right now is “staffing season” when people are deciding what writers to hire for the new fall shows, so I’m meeting with potential show runners about potential jobs.
TOF: As a comedian and comedy writer, how do you see comedy playing a role in protest and social change?
Adams: I can’t say enough about how proud I am of The Daily Show and it’s legacy. Colbert, Wilmore, Oliver. I have no idea how much real effect those shows have had on the ballot box, but I do know that their open mockery of the most vile and divisive aspects of the right and left was long overdue. I feel like all that stuff greased the wheels for people like Hari Kondabolu to just say straight up, “Yep. I’m a socially conscious stand-up comedian.”
To be fair. The Democratic and Republican parties are both fucking clown shows. So, there is such a wealth of material to choose from.
TOF: How do we laugh in the face of tragedy? Should we?
Adams: I wrote three jokes at my mother’s funeral. Obviously, I didn’t whip out a notepad and start chuckling to myself. But I was still doing stand-up then, and it was such a habit to me I didn’t even think about it. I just made the observations. Worked the wording out in my head. And then filed them away for later. I was crying like a baby five minutes later. I know in my heart my mother would have appreciated all three of them.
TOF: Do you feel pressure to make jokes about current events, when sometimes you want to be pissed?
Adams: No. I probably would feel more pressure if I was still getting on stage all the time. I think people are getting much more comfortable with celebrities of all types, including comedians and comedy writers, also having a serious side. I can absolutely make jokes mocking the ridiculous state of affairs that’s going on with police in America. But do I have anything funny to say about Tamir Rice not being buried yet and his mother living in a shelter? No.
TOF: As a black man, what are the pressures you feel in your business?
Adams: The numbers are what the numbers are. There aren’t that many jobs. And there are even fewer jobs for writers of color. I’ve never been on staff with another black writer, so I’ve adopted a sort of “lone emissary” mentality. I try to keep it real as diplomatically as possible.
It’s changing. People have been so slow to come to grips with the idea you can’t expect to win by just going after white, 18–35 year olds.
TOF: What would be different if you wrote Making Friends With Black People today? Could you?
Adams: In the book, I boldly proclaimed that we were years away from a black president, so there’s a significant re-write there. I’ve just got significantly more political as I’ve gotten older. So there would be much more of that stuff.
TOF: How has the climate changed in writing, talking, joking about race?
Adams: I think it’s just broadened and diversified. Here’s an example. When white people write ridiculous, racist shit for Asian characters — which is ALL THE TIME — it pisses me off for two reasons. One, it’s ridiculous and racist. Two, it’s just shitty, cliched writing. America is home to thriving Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese, and Korean communities. Instead of doing a little more thinking and writing and coming up with an interesting unique character, you just find an excuse to put a pretty young Asian actress in a schoolgirl outfit. What a waste.
TOF: Can you joke about race and racism today, or are things to volatile?
Adams: Always. Never.
There is something really fucked up going on in the world at pretty much every second of the day, so if you wait for things to get less volatile, you’ll never write a joke.
Jessica Williams and Jon Stewart juxtaposing The White House Correspondents Dinner with the riots in Baltimore was pretty great. I like her a lot. Jesus Christ, she and Trevor Noah both have a big opportunity to move the needle for years to come. I can’t wait to see what they do.
If I wrote down every person who I thought was doing a shitty job joking about comedy, my computer would blow up.