It’s easy to get excited about James Adomian. The Omaha-bred, L.A.-based comedian is a gifted improviser and impressionist, always a joy to watch (and listen to) as he disappears into various characters at the flip of switch. His slot during The Grawlix show at this year’s Bridgetown Comedy Festival, for example, found him sailing through an extended bit as the Sheriff of Nottingham, prowling the crowd with a glass of red wine while he begged (in his best, most deliciously gay cartoon-villain voice) to surrender Robin Hood or face execution. It was a stunning and utterly hilarious showcase of his talent. He’s also been known to slip into bull’s-eye impressions of Jesse Ventura, Vincent Price, Sam Elliott and George W. Bush at a moment’s notice.
To most people – at least those outside the L.A. scene – Adomian is just a finalist from Last Comic Standing, so Low Hangin Fruit is meant to exhibit all sides of the man. As such, it feels petty to complain that his straight stand-up material doesn’t always gel around his jaw-droppingly accurate impressions. But it’s true.
After hearing Adomian do so many characters on various Comedy Bang Bang shows, it’s almost a shock to hear so much of his “real” stand-up voice, which sounds like a particularly gruff, peppy Paul Rudd. He begins the album with some trifles – an easy but relatable jab at Facebook’s ubiquity, some complaints about the inscrutable dialogue on Game of Thrones – before cutting into the core material, which finds him draping luxuriant impressions over the skeletal frames of an idea. “Ass for a Face” and “Breathe Until the Spirit Exhales You” are just excuses to hear his excellently schlubby Paul Giamatti and confidently insane Gary Busey, but they’re so worth it. The humor exists as much in Adomian’s sharp theatricality as the absurd content, even as the jokes unfurl a bit past their logical length. And Adomian is a pro when it comes to relishing the unkempt edges.
Whether he’s casting Ron Paul as a Jimmy Stewart-like populist (“He has Viking opinions and Leave It to Beaver delivery.”) or nailing the pervasive “gay villain” voice (Imagine the Decepticons screaming at each other backstage at a drag show.) his vocal aim is true. He exults in old-timey accents and characters lifted from classic Hollywood movies, but he also channels sports announcers and political buffoons. The range comes in handy when he dives into “Openly Closeted,” in which he rattles off a list of outdated (and fake) euphemisms for “gay,” his mustache-twirling accent selling it perfectly. He also playfully follows up the question, “Are there any more gays here tonight?” with “Is there anybody here in the closet? Thought I’d check.”
There aren’t many openly-gay male comedians out there, especially compared to the many gay and gay-friendly female comedians, so it’s refreshing to hear him take the material head on (so to speak). His descriptions of different types of gay bars should ring particularly true to anyone who’s visited a few – especially when invoking the weirdly apologetic names of small-town ones (Rumors, Scandals, etc.). But Adomian never feels like he’s pandering or trading in stereotypes, even when he smartly exploits them (see “Football Season” and “Straight Beer Ads”).
If this sounds potentially limiting, it’s not. At least for people who place more value on humor than politics. The true test is whether or not the observations would be funny on paper, regardless of who they’re coming from, and they are. But the wheels tend to loosen when Adomian gets riled up, not because his aim is off but because he occasionally loses himself in the repetition and volume, seemingly under the spell of his own voice. The thrill of experiencing Adomian is that he could go off in any direction at any time, but it doesn’t always make for cohesive comedy.
A couple bits feel tacked on, like his “Bushsteps,” which serves as a quick excuse for a George W. impression. There’s cleverness to spare, but Low Hangin Fruit would have benefited from some judicious editing. Still, there’s so much old-school showmanship that it feels like a neon-ringed billboard for Adomian’s raft of talents: “Come for the impressions! Stay for the seven-minute hidden track about opening for Joan Rivers at a South Florida casino!” And let’s not forget the album title, a self-deprecating nod to Adomian’s material as well as a goof on his homosexual prowess. It’s a rough chuckle that would make any Eighties road dog proud.
Since Low Hangin Fruit is a dizzying mash of old and new voices – all coming from the same person – it’s no surprise it doesn’t always hang together. But when it does, it captures the talent and spark that has lately put Adomian on the lips of so many comedy insiders. (Please get your mind out of the gutter.)