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The Boston Globe

Theater & art

James Adomian can’t be pigeonholed

Luke Fontana

Ask James Adomian a standard question, you won’t get a standard answer. The comedian, who plays Johnny D’s Thursday night, is a thoughtful guy. He also enjoys that his act defies easy description. The reason for that, at least, is simple. “I have to entertain myself, too,” he says. “I have to make it interesting for me.”

Adomian could have defined his stand-up comedy in any number of ways starting out. He is politically aware, he does perfect offbeat impressions of people like Jesse Ventura and Gary Busey, and he also has plenty to say about being gay. Any one of these could have been his calling card — that guy, the gay comic, the political comic, the impressions guy. But career concerns come second to what Adomian enjoys doing onstage.

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“I’m more interested in — I was going to say putting on an interesting show — but then when I think about it, it’s more like putting on several interesting shows. I think I’m more interested in doing funny things than calculating how I’ll best be received.”

His eccentricity is reflected in his list of influences. The two biggest are Phil Hartman, the chameleon-like sketch comic from “Saturday Night Live,” and Bill Hicks, the sociopolitical-minded stand-up comedian whose career was cut short when he succumbed to cancer in 1994. Just under those titans come ’90s prank-call phenoms The Jerky Boys and voice-over artist and radio personality Phil Hendrie. There is little stylistic overlap in that group, but that’s fitting.

“I’m aware that people enjoy creating categories that make it easier to digest pop culture or the media or entertainment or whatever,” says Adomian. “But I really have too much to do to fit into any easy category.”

Adomian, 34, started out doing sketch comedy in Los Angeles in the early aughts, studying with the Groundlings as part of their Sunday company and eventually finding his way to the Upright Citizens Brigade. He got into stand-up a short time later, taking cues from Janeane Garofalo, whom he’d seen on TV as a teenager. “She had a very loose and informal style,” he says, “and a light bulb went off over my head, and I said, ‘I could do that someday.’ ”

That’s the stew that is James Adomian’s comedy. He could be talking about how Hollywood creates oddly stereotypical gay villains (citing the Sheriff of Nottingham from “Robin Hood” as an example) and then easily slip into a spot-on Ventura deflecting questions from Sean Hannity on Fox News, and finish with a critique of the media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement (which, he says, always seems to focus on the guy fighting for health care for the pet rat he carries on his shoulder).

‘I’m aware that people enjoy creating categories that make it easier to digest pop culture. . . . But I really have too much to do to fit into any easy category.’

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Adomian’s career path has been a crooked one, taking him from playing George W. Bush on “The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson” to being a finalist on “Last Comic Standing” in 2010 to a variety of podcasts, including “Comedy Bang! Bang!” He’s been on the public radar for years and is often referred to as a “comic on the verge” of stardom. Adomian figures he first heard that label around 2005 or 2006, which he finds ironic. “I guess podcasts and the Internet and live comedy are where people know about me the most,” he says. “That may constantly look like you’re on the verge, unless you’re on a network TV show or something.”

There was a time when doing material about his sexuality would have gotten Adomian labeled “the gay comic,” a label that would limit the scope of his comedy, at least in the public imagination. Things have changed in the past couple of decades, and he notes that he has been openly gay his entire career. There was no coming-out moment for him. That may have cost him in getting cast for certain roles, but it’s a relief in other ways.

“I don’t really have a burden of a double life or a lie that I’m living, which is nice,” he says. “I sort of attract people who are interested in my comedy for being able to talk about whatever I want to talk about and not being ashamed of who I am and not hiding it.”

Now Adomian can be the comic with the informal, conversational style who also does political comedy, addresses his experience being gay, and does impressions. And maybe there will be more like him soon. “I think we’re realizing that gay people are able to do the type of comedy that we just assumed was for straight people over the years,” he says. “Whatever old boundaries there were, which were very real and still have an effect on us, in the way we socialize, I think that’s slowly becoming less important. And it seems like, barring some sort of major catastrophe, it seems like in the future there will be a lot less of that fractured subculture phenomenon.”

Nick A. Zaino III can be reached at nick@nickzaino.com.
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