Interviews with Adam Sank & Exiene Lofgren
A brand-new stand-up gay comedy series Gaylarious, featuring the funniest NYC LGBT-friendly comedians, is about to debut. It will take place at Broadway Comedy Club (Red Room), 318 W 53rd St., on Thursday, January 28, at 8 p.m.
The show features comedians Adam Sank, Exiene Lofgren, Emma Willman, Veonica Mosey, Michelle Slonim and host James Michael Angelo from the NYC Pride Rally. Tickets can be obtained at gaylariousstandup.eventbrite.com or at the door.
I was fortunate enough to be able to sample some of the humor when I had conversations with Adam Sank, a hysterically funny, openly gay comic who was featured on NBC’s “Last Comic Standing,” “The Today Show,” Fox’s “Laughs,” VH1’s “I Love the 2000s,” CNN’s “This Hour” and truTV’s “World’s Dumbest Criminals,” as well as “Live From the Stonewall Inn.” I also spoke to Exiene Lofgren, who has performed all over the world, as well as on “The Ricki Lake Show” and as a regular guest on Sirius radio.
You are standing on the stage and no one is laughing. What do you do?
I think if that happened I would have quit a long time ago. Sometimes you have a great set, and sometimes you have a set that’s not so great, but if you’re not getting any laughs, you should hang it up. You should pick a different career. I get laughs, I’d say, on 90% of my jokes, 90% of the time. I can live with the 10% that don’t.
Do you do gay jokes or straight ones?
It depends on the audience I’m performing for. I have always been an out gay comedian. Regardless of what I’m talking about or who I’m talking to, that’s my perspective, but if I’m doing a show for a gay audience, like the album I just put out that I recorded at the Stonewall Inn in front of an entirely gay male audience. Then it’s really gay and really dirty. A lot of dick jokes. That’s what gay guys like. If I am performing for, let’s say, a Jewish organization, which I have done also, I am still a gay guy, but the stuff is a lot more family orientated. I just want to make my audience happy. I’m a total people pleaser that way, so whatever they want from me is what I try to give them.
What made you decide that you were funny and to go into comedy?
I was one of those little kids who did musical theater when I was eight years old. Like every gay little boy. I wanted to be a musical star. It was my dream growing up. I did that all through college, and then I just stopped performing for 10 years. One day when I was 33 I woke up and said, I’m not happy with my life. I was a TV news producer. I was working for Fox News Channel. I said, this sucks; I need to get back on stage. I had always been a fan of stand-up, even though I never did it. It just felt like something I could do, ‘cause I’m a writer. I was comfortable being on a stage in front of people, and I thought, let me just try this. I had a feeling it would be right, and it just was.
Tell me a little bit about Gaylarious.
I am one of several comedians that will be performing that night. As far as I know, we are all LGBT, except for maybe Michelle, who I think is simply gay friendly. As you can tell from the title, it’s going to be a rather gay show, probably the majority of a gay audience. I think it’s going to be fantastic. Broadway Comedy Club is a great space. It is right in the heart of Hell’s kitchen, so it is kind of ideal for a gay comedy show.
Do you have a favorite comedian?
Growing up my idol was Joan Rivers. She was so fearless, and she was always the person saying the things you aren’t supposed to say. She was very transgressive, and particularly the fact that she was a woman saying these outrageous things really appealed to me. When I was a little gay kid I actually wrote to her and asked her for an autographed picture, which I got. I taped it in my bathroom and had it there for years. I think my parents were a little concerned that that was who I was looking up to. I got to meet her a couple of times, and she was just a sensational person. She was someone who never slowed down and never stopped being outrageous. I like different types of comedians, because I get something different out of them. I like Bill Maher. I think nobody does political humor the way he does. He is just so sharp, and I agree with everything he says on his show. I love Kathy Griffin, because she is an incredible storyteller, and I respect her ability to take things that have happened to her in her life and turn them into comedy. That’s very much what I try to do. I wait for funny shit to happen, and then I get on stage and try to tell it in the funniest way possible. Mario Cantone I think is a brilliant actor and comedian. Actually, he’s kind of underrated in both mediums. I just saw him off Broadway; he is really a wonderful, versatile actor. He’s great. He is just a great guy. Amy Schumer I think is fantastic, and again has something important to say. She is probably the greatest feminist comedian of all time.
Next I had an oral parley with comedian Exiene Lofgren, who was also extremely funny and gay as well.
How long have you been doing stand-up comedy?
Fifteen years professionally.
What is it that you enjoy most about being funny on a stage?
I like the audience the most. They are just your biggest teachers. There is no school for comedy, no matter what you do. It’s just throwing yourself in the fire, and they help you find the truth of who you are. It makes the joke more real.
So what do you do if no one laughs?
You move on immediately to the next joke.
Do you have a preference of a type of audience you like to perform in front of, straight, gay or otherwise?
It doesn’t matter, but I have noticed that gay audiences have changed over the last 15 years. It’s a lot less politically correct, and that’s what feels good, and they’re willing to take a joke. Especially the young audiences, they like the women, they like the drag queens, but when it comes to a man, they are like, “Darling, we’re all funny.” You’re quoting “Mommie Dearest,” while I’m writing jokes. I came up in the straight clubs, and I’ve also learned your own kind is always the one to critique you the most. Roseanne Barr tanked in front of women for years, and it was the other crowd that helped her become more balanced. So you do have to perform in front of straight audiences, because, one, they pay better. If it’s a specialty show, the gays will tell you to do it for the exposure, and I’m like, where am I going to get exposed? It’s not that you get more exposure in the straight clubs, but yet you do because the other comedians talk about you.
So what have you been up to all these years? Where have you performed?
I’ve been lucky enough to perform all over Europe. England is my favorite place. I always say I love any country where I look like I have a tan. I have performed for the military, and I have performed for gangsters. In the end what I love about performing for people outside of my comfort zone, who I wouldn’t hang out or even think that I could hang out with them, [is] it took me several years to realize that if I tanked and they weren’t homophobic, that I just sucked. That was a sense of freedom. They were really giving me the chance to be the comic. When your jokes in another country take off, it’s awesome.
When you perform, do you engage in audience participation?
Well, I spent a lot of years hosting, and that has really helped me read audiences. … The more you host and are in with an audience, it’s easier, because you know how to read the audience to the point where you can look at a couple on a date, and you can figure out how long these two have been together, are they married. I’ve had jobs where you can just observe, but comedy has allowed me to observe even further, because you want to get rid of all of the obstacles. You still want to get those laughs even when doing new material. If it’s not working, you need to change it up. Some people have a problem with that, but I don’t, because they are still my jokes, I wrote them, I’m proud of them. I’m always willing to perform in front of any crowd that’s willing to listen, laugh and not stay on your cell phones.
What do you do when that happens? People are always texting.
Yes they are. … They think they aren’t bothering anyone, then I say yes, you are, because you have a Samsung 4, and the glow is emanating everywhere. We can see your fingers on Tinder, and you’re swiping left too many times, which makes you look like a bitch. I have seen people on Tinder in my audience, and they haven’t found a match yet in New York City? Expand the mile radius; maybe you need to leave the borough.
Are you married?
I am widowed. He passed away from cancer about four years ago, and I do bring that up on stage. The comedy community came very much to my aid on this one. That was to a comic and a gay man, wonderful, especially when I think of all of the friends I’ve lost in the ‘80s and ‘90s who got pushed aside. That didn’t happen to me. To see the gays get married is bittersweet. I had my marriage in Holland long before America. More importantly, the audiences have changed. The fellow comics have changed, so therefore it allows me to be more of the comic, and I am able to talk about my marriage and being a widow, just as any straight comic can.