As regular readers of this column know, the main focus of my life is music.
However, before that pursuit evolved into the lifestyle it is today, my dream was to be a stand-up comedian. Around the age of 12, the titans of comedy began to change my view of the world — my view on our language, perceptions and expectations. I began putting a face on the phantom moments of the human experience that live in our subconscious.
However, being alone on a stage with no instruments or fellow humans is terrifying. Just armed with spears of thought, you hope are strong enough to slay the audience. It’s eat or be eaten.
The thought of attempting it is too nerve-wracking but thankfully, others are called to sharpen their tools — people like local comedian Adam Cagley. At the age of eight, he began acting in dinner theatre in Lancaster and by age 10, was acting commercially.
During his 20-year career, Adam has appeared in many shows and movies, including “Shameless,” “House” and “Phil of the Future.” He has since shifted his focus to pursuing stand-up comedy and is regularly featured at Flapper’s Comedy Club in Burbank.
Last Monday, I caught his virtual show with “The Writers of Conan O’ Brien.” Afterward, we had a lengthy, two-part conversation about the craft of comedy and performing during the time of COVID.
Jesse Davidson: What motivated the transition from acting to stand-up?
Adam Cagley: I was an actor for a long time with the idea that I wanted to go to film school and become a writer/director. I went to film school a couple times and directed a few things. When you break it down to my core, my biggest passion and drive is comedy. There’s not a whole hell of a lot I take seriously (chuckles). It was a switch in my head one day. Acting requires people to tell you, ‘You can do it.’ Film-making requires a lot of money and a lot of people to tell you, ‘You can do it.’ In stand-up, all I need is a room and a microphone. It’s the same concept as film-making. I’m telling a story and talking about things that matter to me. I’m just turning them into jokes.
JD: That’s a good point. You can paint a whole picture with just words and direct the story in the moment.
AC: That’s why I like my bulldog mac and cheese bit so much. It’s such a strong description that people know exactly what I’m talking about.
JD: (laughs) Yeah. You killed at your show last night. In doing bits about your physicality, body and other subjects, you talked about them from a personal perspective — a fresh take on familiar topics. It’s interesting how you direct those experiences through jokes.
AC: That’s really the trick. At this point, in the history of comedy, almost everything that’s going to be talked about has been talked about. There almost is no original premise or joke. It’s all about bringing that uniqueness to it. I like to look at things that are common and relatable, as they apply to me, then put that filter on them of, ‘We all know this topic. This is how I see it.’
JD: Right. With music, art, podcasts and content being so personality driven today, that is a smart approach.
AC: It’s a hard thing to find too, honestly. I know a lot of comics that have been in the game a long time that are still trying to find that voice. I’m very glad I was able to develop mine in such a short amount of time. Much of it has to do with my work at Flapper’s Comedy Club. I’m in live comedy 12 hours a day, nine days a week (laughs).
JD: Yep. You have to put in the hours of gigging to discover yourself. Unlike a musician or painter who can stay at home and practice, you have to perform in front of an audience to develop material. When something is killing or bombing in a comedy club, it’s easy to know what works. How can you tell what works through Zoom? Even when you are doing well, sometimes there is a disconnect.
AC: That’s the hard part. In the room, the reaction is more instantaneous. With Zoom, as good as the technology is, there’s still latency issues sometimes. There have been bits that I thought completely bombed but really, I didn’t take a long enough laugh break. The laughs came as I started the next bit. Honestly, it works the same as doing regular open mic or show. It’s just about adapting to the technology.
Cagley will be performing virtually at 7 p.m., March 3 at Flapper’s, in Uncle Clyde’s Comedy Competition. Tickets are $10. For more information, visit https://www.flapperscomedy.com/shows/uncle-clydes-comedy-contest-round-two-week-three/61822/