Comic Adam Sank Returns to the Stonewall (This Time Loving Straight Guys)
Adam Sank left a potentially lucrative career as a television news producer in his early thirties to pursue a career as an openly gay standup comic. Since then he has toured nationally and appeared on several television shows, including "Last Comic Standing" and "The Today Show," VH1's "I Love the 2000s," and many more. He has also guested and hosted at Sirius-XM radio.
Last winter, Sank released his first live album, recorded at The Stonewall Inn, which went to #1 on Amazon's list of Comedy Album Downloads and iTunes New Comedy Releases.
On Thursday, July 14, Sank returns to Stonewall to host "Adam Sank Loves Straight Guys!"
EDGE talked with Sank about his career and recent projects.
EDGE: It's kind of intimidating to interview someone with a degree in journalism from Columbia. But I thought about how there are actual parallels between being a journalist and a standup comic.
Adam Sank: Absolutely!
EDGE: Did you see that transition when you moved from journalism to standup?
Adam Sank: I didn't see it at the time. All I knew was that I didn't want to work in TV news anymore and I was dying to get on stage and do comedy. But now, looking back after years as a standup comedian, I realize it's almost the exact same job. We're telling stories. I only talk about things that actually happen to me. I embellish and exaggerate, which I wouldn't do in journalism, but the goal is to get a laugh. The primary goal is to tell a great story and get something out of it.
EDGE: You can be very political in social media, but you don't bring that to your standup.
Adam Sank: You know why? Because I get so passionate and angry when it comes to politics. I take these issues very seriously. People live and die based on who gets in office. And not just LGBT people, but black people, people living in other countries, poor people. A lot of lives hang in the balance if the wrong person gets into office or the wrong person is appointed to the Supreme Court. I'm too serious about it to ever really find the funny in it. I try to be snarky and use humor to get people to laugh on social media, but really I'm saying, 'Come on, wake up!' I mean, fucking Donald Trump. Really? I've tried political jokes in the past, but it's not my thing.
EDGE: Tell me a little about your family background, and growing up.
Adam Sank: I was born and raised in Summit, New Jersey, the youngest of three kids. Two older sisters. We were one of the only Jewish families in a very WASPy Republican town. We were also about the only Democrats. That, coupled with the fact that I was gay -- although I was in total denial about it -- always made me feel I was an outsider. It was a great town to grow up in, but not for me. They all still live there -- my sisters married and moved back there, my parents are there, my 99-year-old grandmother is still there. But I'm close with my family and even though I joke a lot about them on stage, especially my mother, I really cherish them.
EDGE: How did you ever overcome the fear of your mother hearing your material?
Adam Sank: I was never really afraid. My parents have always had a tremendous sense of humor about themselves and about the world in general. The language of my family is humor. We have the same inappropriate, ironic sense of humor. My material about my family has never been mean-spirited, or intentionally mean-spirited. There are some things I would not talk about because it would be private and it would hurt them. And that is never my intent. I tease my mother on stage the same way I tease her at the dinner table and she laughs.
EDGE: I was thinking more about the talk of dick-sucking and things like that.
Adam Sank: It's really interesting about that because I didn't have the easiest time coming out to them, which was surprising because they had always been very liberal and open to people with different lifestyles. My parents were the kinds of parents who would march for gay rights, but they didn't want their son to be gay. There were a few years when it was very uncomfortable. I think in some ways the standup, even though it came a lot later -- I came out at twenty-one but didn't get on the comedy stage until I was thirty-three -- was somehow very liberating for them. To hear me talk about things in such a graphic way was like letting the boogeyman out. They probably thought if this was the scariest thing, they could handle it. It was just sex. They are not prudes. I think once they heard it, they realized the only difference between gay sex and straight sex was who was doing it.
EDGE: How does it feel to have recorded a CD at what has now become a national landmark and the first U.S. National Movement dedicated to the LGBT rights movement?
Adam Sank: I totally lucked out choosing Stonewall. I sort of knew when I was thinking about recording a comedy album that the Stonewall would be the perfect for a lot of reasons. I liked the way 'Adam Sank Live from the Stonewall Inn' sounded. LGBT people across the country and even the world would recognize what the Stonewall is, even if they had never been there. Also, for a practical reason, it is one of my favorite places to do standup. The staff there is very supportive of talent and they give you tremendous freedom to produce your own shows. It's a great space on the second floor, just the right size for an intimate comedy show. Having it declared a national landmark is tremendously important for the LGBT movement, but it's also the icing on the cake for me as far as the album goes.
EDGE: So much of comedy depends on the visual -- the facial expression or the body language that goes along with the joke. Were you at worried about that, how your comedy would translate to a recording?
Adam Sank: I kind of played with that a little. I don't do a lot of physical comedy, so I knew it wouldn't be a major issue, but there were a couple of jokes that involved a look or a pose and I referenced that on the recording. But it made me realize that I'm really all about the words. That's why I love being on the radio so much. [Laughs] I'm better as an audio medium than a visual medium. I'm not a great actor, but I'm a good talker. I think my particular brand of comedy, which is almost entirely storytelling, translates quite well to an audio medium.
EDGE: I know Joan Rivers is one of your idols. She once said that no topic is off-limits for comedy. In light of all the horrible recent events, can you possibly agree with that?
Adam Sank: I agree 100 percent. I also believe no word is off limits. I think comedy is about intention and finding your target. If your intentions are good and you hit the target, you can be met with laughter and applause and warmth. When comics fail, it's not because they said the wrong word or brought up the wrong topic, it's because they didn't deliver it properly. The execution is off. Let me give you a brief example. I had to do a show in my hometown at the Elks Lodge, less than a week after the Orlando massacre. I started the show by saying, 'Listen, I hate to start the show by bringing down the room, but we've all been through a tragedy recently and I feel I have to address it. [Pauses.] The Beacon Hill Cinema has closed and it's being turned into a West Elm.' And then I held up a candle. The audience went crazy. It was referencing the fact that the one and only movie theater in our town had closed. I was talking about Orlando without talking about Orlando. My intent was to show that this horrible, shitty thing had happened and that I was in pain, but I'm still going to make you laugh and it's going to be all about Summit tonight. And we can all laugh because we are still alive.
EDGE: It eases tension that they could laugh at that oblique reference.
Adam Sank: It gives them permission. I've never been one of those comics who likes making the audience feel uncomfortable. I hate being uncomfortable. I'm not a fan of confrontation. I'm a real people pleaser. I want to make them happy. I don't want anyone to walk out being offended or saying they hated me. That's just not what I do.
EDGE: Has it gotten easier in the thirteen years that you've been doing this for gay comics to go mainstream, or do find that a lot of your bookings are for gay groups and such?
Adam Sank: It's still a challenge, for gay men in particular. The Advocate ran a feature this past week, bemoaning the fact that no gay male comics had crossed over. A lot of us were really pissed off about that. We were saying on our social media, 'Hello? We're right here and maybe if the Advocate covered us, we would cross over.' And they didn't even mention Alec Mapa, who is very successful and makes a mighty good living as an openly gay comic and actor.
The problem is two-fold. I do think the media, both gay and straight, tend to ignore us, for whatever reason. I don't know if it's discomfort with the idea of two guys fucking or what it is. There seems to be a failure to reach out and write stories about us, even in the gay media. The second part of the problem is trickier, and that is that gay male audiences do not like standup comedy. They don't see it as their ball game. They'll go to a Broadway show or a drag show or a concert, but if you ask a gay guy to go with you to a standup comedy show, unless the comic is someone they love, like Kathy Griffin or Margaret Cho, they are not interested. It always has to be a woman and an icon. But they don't want to just go to a club and check out who is there. Straight people do that all the time. Gay guys, if they want to hear someone funny, will go to a drag show. It's a real problem for me because I'm a gay man who wants to perform for gay men, and I think I have something to say to other gay men, but it's hard to get them to show up.
EDGE: Back when I was singing in cabarets, it was the same thing. Gay males, by and large, would not go out and support gay male singers.
Adam Sank: It's very weird. We worship masculinity, we want to have sex with men, we want to have relationships and fall in love with them, but when it comes to entertainment, all we want is women and drag queens. It's very hard to explain that, and it makes it very challenging. My sweet spot, my target audience, is twenty-something women. They will wait outside a show and take a picture with me like I'm fucking Justin Bieber. And older gay men in their 50s, 60s, and up tend to really enjoy me. The hardest audience for me to impress is gay guys in their 20s, 30s, and 40s. It's definitely a challenge. Fortunately, I get to perform for straight crowds a lot and I enjoy that. They are easy. And they find me interesting and exotic, just because I suck dick.
EDGE: Is that how you came up with the concept for your new show, 'Adam Sank Loves Straight Guys!'?
Adam Sank: I actually came up with it because I was thinking about my experience in comedy clubs. When you're a comic and you're hanging out before or after your set, you are mostly with straight guys. 75-80 percent of working standup comedians are straight men. I've spent a lot of time with them over the years, probably more time than I ever spent with them before I became a comic. And I just fell in love with them.
I realized that there is very little difference between straight guys and gay guys. We have very similar senses of humor and the thing we most have in common, ironically, is sex. Gay guys love to talk about sex and straight guys love to talk about sex. They love to hear about sex. They love to hear about my sexual experiences. You have a straight comedian in the room with me and all he wants to hear about is how it feels to get fucked up the ass. I think it's because, by and large, comedians are fairly evolved when it comes to sexuality. No matter what part of the country I'm in, and even if it's a redneck or blue-collar type, they just want to hear every detail about our sex lives.
I've had some amazing times hanging out with straight guys in comedy clubs and just laughing until I wet myself. Some of my favorite comedians of all time are straight guys: Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor, Robin Williams, Bill Maher, Chris Rock, Louis CK. I just love watching them. The average gay guy would not tune into any of that. They think, 'It's not for me.' And I wondered what would happen if I took an entirely straight guy lineup and put them at the Stonewall Inn. They are in the most iconic gay venue on Earth, playing for a mostly gay audience. What would that dynamic be like? Just the idea of it made me giggle so I wanted to try it. It could be a failed experiment, but I think it's going to be an incredible night.
EDGE: I bet they are eager to do it, just for that experience.
Adam Sank: Well, comics are always eager to perform. I was very lucky to get John Fugelsang, because he is in demand all over the country. But he and I are somewhat friendly, and he's doing a favor for me. But, yeah, they are excited about doing it at the Stonewall. He's been there before, and Ryan Shores used to go out to the gay bars in San Diego with me when I lived there. But Kevin Israel and Sergio Chicon are pretty fucking straight. I don't know if they've ever been in a gay bar and I'm excited to see what will happen. And they are exceptionally attractive men, too, and that's not an accident.
EDGE: Okay, final question. On the CD, you say that you are 'terminally single.' You are smart, funny, and attractive. What is the issue?
Adam Sank: That's very kind. God, I wish I knew what the issue was. The main thing is that I'm forty-five. And I think it's very hard to find someone with whom you are compatible once you are forty-five. I always have hope. I met a cute guy on the street today. We were walking our dogs and we exchanged numbers and we're having dinner on Tuesday. I keep the candle lit. My advice to anyone in his or her twenties is, 'Marry the first person you fall in love with. Unless they are crazy or abusive or addicted to something deadly. Marry them and grow up with them.'
I think that's the key to a successful relationship. Once you reach a certain age, that's very difficult because I am who I am and I'm not changing. I won't compromise. Even things like what TV shows you watch. My last serious relationship, all he wanted to watch was Sci-Fi and all I wanted to watch was chick flicks and teenage gross-out comedies and important dramas. It was one of the main reasons we didn't work out. You have to find someone who likes to wake up when you do, go to sleep when you do, take the same kinds of vacations you do. The older you get, the harder it is to find that person. But I have hope!
"Adam Sank Loves Straight Guys!" will be at The Stonewall Inn on Thursday, July 14. For tickets, go to straightguys.brownpapertickets.com. Adam's CD is available at Amazon, iTunes, and GooglePlay. Go to www.adamsank.com for further details.
Watch Adam Sank in performance: