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Fellowship of funny

It's comedy by camaraderie on the Just For Laughs tour, where everyone is having a good time

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Standup comedy, by its very nature, is mostly a solo pursuit. It is also, more often than not, a ruthlessly competitive endeavour.

But being part of a comedy tour that features a handful of headliner-level performers can create an unexpected sense of camaraderie, mutual support and a shared sense of teamwork.

"We're all veterans; most of us have been doing this for 20-plus years. We're all in our own groove, and we're all very confident," says comedian Orny Adams, who's part of the Just For Laughs Comedy Tour that stops in Winnipeg on Tuesday, Nov. 12, at the Burton Cummings Theatre. "We're usually doing our own shows as headliners. This is a nice opportunity to come together, do 20 minutes in the show, not worry about carrying the whole thing, and just have a good time.

"Look -- Just For Laughs isn't going to hire unkind comedians for its tour. They're only going to work with nice people. And if you're around nice people and the tour manager treats you well, it fosters a very comic-friendly environment. We know that if we all get along offstage, it's going to be reflected onstage."

Adams, who turns 43 this week (Nov. 10), shares co-headliner duties on the current Just For Laughs tour with Last Comic Standing winner Alonzo Bodden and Canadian comedy star Jeremy Hotz (Ken Finkleman's The Newsroom); the shows are hosted by comedian and Match Game host Darrin Rose, with comic magician/pickpocket Ben Seidman serving as opening act.

Adams, a native of Lexington, Mass., is one of those performers who falls into the category of a comedian's comedian -- a student of the art form whose 20-year career has been driven by a relentless desire to write, rewrite, edit, perform, assess and then rewrite even more, until every joke he takes onstage has reached its most refined state.

"I've always been into writing," he says. "I like the work, so the process of writing is fascinating to me, as is the process of combining words or eliminating a syllable or figuring out if saying something faster or slower will make it funnier.

"As a child, I would alphabetize my Halloween candy. I was always into schoolwork -- in college, I liked studying. And I consider many of these (comedy) bits to be mini-dissertations; I research and get as much information as I can, and then I over-write.

"I have bits that are eight pages long that eventually become one line in my act."

Adams' comedy concerns itself mostly with the frustrations and madness of the 21st-century human struggle -- from the seemingly random placement of letters on a keyboard (and the ridiculous proximity of the "shift" and "caps lock" keys) and the confounding proliferation of iPhone apps to the irksome smugness of that GPS-guidance voice and the ballooning number of overweight kids -- so he has no worries that he'll have to amend his act in order to connect with north-of-the-border audiences.

"If I did, I wouldn't be doing my job," he says. "It's about connecting on a human level, and I think that's universal, so I haven't tweaked a thing.

"I find that the (Canadian) audiences really understand and enjoy comedy; they're true comedy fans. It's a real pleasure to get up in front of them, because they're going to appreciate the nuances of some of these jokes. I find them not as distracted as American audiences; I don't see people checking their phones or yawning without covering their mouths. I think it's just a different sensibility.

"But I do love American audiences, too -- for me it's about connecting with people."

Adams, who appears in the MTV series Teen Wolf and has also hosted the Discovery series Modern Chaos with Orny Adams, first entered the pop-culture consciousness in a big way when he was featured in Jerry Seinfeld's 2002 behind-the-scenes documentary Comedian. The film divided its focus between Seinfeld's effort to create an all-new standup act and relative newcomer Adams' struggle to earn his first comedy-career breakthrough.

More than a decade removed from the film's release, the now-veteran Adams says he remains glad he took part in Seinfeld's project.

"It's kind of a shadow that appears and disappears and reappears from time to time," he says. "I think it's a part of my legacy and who I am, but at this point in my career it doesn't come up all that often. It's still part of me, and I think it helped me to grow in many ways." Twitter: @BradOswald

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 7, 2013 C1


Updated on Thursday, November 7, 2013 at 10:53 AM CST: Video added

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