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Adam Sank on Last Comic Standing and performing at nudist retreats

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This show has been postponed until September 24: Adam Sank is a nationally renowned comedian who has appeared on Last Comic Standing and VH1's Best Week Ever. In June, he debuted his one-man cabaret show Mama, I Want to Sing Showtunes: A One 'Mo Show to sell-out crowds. Sank is coming to the Denver Improv on Wednesday, July 30 in September. Westword caught up with Sank to talk about everything from transcending an audience's labels to performing at nudist retreats.

See also: Aparna Nancherla on Totally Biased, Australian crowds and avoiding the dregs of Twitter

Westword: Is this your first time performing in Denver?

Adam Sank: Yeah. I actually haven't been to Denver since I was a teenager. We used to take family vacations to Colorado to ski and visit friends who lived there. I remember it being an incredibly beautiful place, but I have never performed there or been there as an adult.

Over the course of my research, I've read a few articles that ask you about performing in the nude. As much as I'd like to find another angle; that's just interesting. Are you still doing those shows?

Oh, the naked shows?


Ok, so here's how this started. Well, to answer your question; yeah I have another naked gig coming up in August out in Malibu, for this group called California Men Enjoying Naturism. Or "C-MEN" for short. Yuk yuk. But it first started when I was contacted by another naturist group --naturists are nudists, I didn't know that until I started performing for them. So there's this group called the Gay Naturists International, and they have an annual retreat in the Poconos Mountains in Pennsylvania. They contacted me five years ago and said "would you come perform for us?" I do a lot of gay events, obviously. They said in their initial email "you don't have to be naked, but our crowd would really appreciate it." So I was a little torn, and I didn't know how it would go. That first year, I wound up doing a sort of comedy strip-tease. I was wearing clothes at the top of the set and every time I got a good laugh or an applause break I took off an article of clothing. I timed it so that for the last two minutes of the show, all I had left was a sock on my dick. And then when I said "thank you, goodnight," I pulled the sock off and ran offstage. They only saw my peen for like, a second. And they loved it, I was the most popular comedian they've ever had there according to these little surveys that they fill out. So they invited me back next year. And I thought "oh great, now I have to top this?" So the second year, I came out in tear-away pants and was naked basically from the first second. The four times I've done it since then, I've just been naked.

I heard about another nude show, that apparently happens in someone's living room?

Once I started doing those, Daniel Nardicio, who's a big gay events promoter in New York suggested we do a naked comedy show here in the city. But, you know, there's no comedy clubs where you can get completely naked. So he did a private event, which was basically in a living room, and we did two of those that went pretty well. They sold out and I managed to find a few other comedians who were willing to do it. Then we did it again at the Ice Palace on Fire Island. This year, the Gay Naturists International aren't having their retreat because the campground wasn't available, so I thought this would be my one year off where I didn't have to get naked, but then I was contacted by CMEN, which is the west coast group. So I'm doing it again.

So, most of the time at those events, the audience is naked too?

They're 100 percent naked.

That's got to make it a bit easier. Just by the law of averages, there's no way you've got the weirdest dick in that room.

Oh yeah. Maybe the smallest, definitely not the weirdest. The weird thing about those events is not the performance. For me, it's the mealtime. People are naked the whole time.

Unpleasant spills can happen.

Yeah, I wake up for breakfast, it's 7:00am, I haven't even had coffee yet, and there's a ball sack staring me in the face. Granted, I'm sort of used to that, but not in a cafeteria setting.

Yeah, but it's got to be strange up there, right? They can see you and think "oh, so that's the dick all these jokes are about?"

I have to say, it adds a whole other element to standup. It's kind of the most vulnerable you can be onstage. You're never more vulnerable than when your dick's out, stark naked, and they can see every piece of cellulite, every fold and imperfection on your body. You can't hide at all. For the first couple minutes, it's terrifying, and then it's strangely liberating after that. There are physical comedy bits that I do all the time that are so much funnier when I'm naked. I do an impersonation of John Travolta getting a message that goes over completely differently.

Well, that's just verisimilitude. Travolta was probably naked when he came on to his masseur.

Exactly. God knows how many pictures there are of me floating around the internet with my ass cheeks spread open as I'm imitating John Travolta getting a massage, but that's just the price you have to pay to be an entertainer. Just to be clear though, I will not be performing naked at the Improv.

No, they have pretty standard comedy club rules, I'd imagine. I don't want to sell our readers a false bill of goods.

I'll be baring only my soul.

So you were on Last Comic Standing?

6 years ago.

Ok. How was that experience, and do you bother following the most recent version?

To be completely honest, I can't watch the show. I just don't need to watch all these people that I see all the time at comedy clubs. Look, it was national TV exposure, and certainly at the time it was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to me. I was on for a total of two minutes. If you add up all of my airtime, it's two solid minutes, which is a lot of time on NBC. I was a little disappointed by how little it did for me. I thought that at the very least, there'd be all this internet activity following my appearance, but I actually only got about 47 Myspace friends out of it. It was 2008, and Myspace was still a thing. In New York, it made a difference. People were asking me to headline more than they had been before because I had a sort of legitimate TV credit. I'm not going to lie: it was hugely disappointing that I didn't advance further than I did. They only showed 10 seconds of my set on the air, and I know my set went great. A producer had also told me that she loved me and I basically had this thing in the bag, but then I never heard from her again.

That's worse, when they plant that seed of hope. If it never grows, it can never be dashed away.

Right? That's the biz. That's happened so many times. I feel like that's the nature of being a performer, whether you're a comedian, or an actor, or a singer. It's having these shiny objects dangled in front of your face and then snatched away. It's happened to me at least a dozen times. You just have to have a thick skin, and not taking anything personally. Realize that when it's your time, it'll happen. Until then, there's nothing you can do but keep putting it out there, keep working as hard as you can. and be as funny as you can.

Do you think it's reductive to have your material reduced to such short clips? A lot of the videos on your website run longer, most of you jokes seem like there's no way to edit them without losing some context.

I definitely don't tell one-liners I try to structure it though, so that even my long bits have a laugh every few seconds. You don't want a 10 minute bit that only gets a laugh in the 10th minute. That's a failure. Part of what happened Last Comic Standing, they really played up the fact that I was gay, and they sort of only showed you the gay jokes I told. Granted, there's a lot of stuff in my act about being gay. It's who I am, it's part of my life. Even if I tell a story about a boyfriend, it's not specifically a gay joke, but you'd know that I'm gay from hearing it. The few comedy blogs that wrote about me after the episode aired were like "oh, here we go: another gay comedian whose entire act is 'look how gay I am.'" And I thought that was unfair. First of all because, again, that's all they showed. If a black comedian gets up there and talks about their experience, nobody says "oh, they're just trying to get laughs from being black."

Well, assholes say things like that all the time about any minority comedian.

Well, there are those sort of hacky comics that we all know. For instance, if I got onstage and really minced around and acted effeminate when that's not actually who I am, it would be fair to criticize. But I'm just a guy who has shit happen to him and talks about it. The fact that I'm gay informs a lot of my stories, but the joke isn't that I'm gay. The joke is whatever the joke is, you know?

Do you come across a lot of people being reductive like that? Has it gotten better at all in the last few years?

I think that with anyone who's ever seen a full set of mine, I won't run up against that criticism. In general, no matter what you are, male or female, black or white or Asian, gay or straight, when you get onstage, there's a few seconds where the audience is trying to figure out. They go "oh, this guy's Chinese, or this guy's really fat and he's going to talk about being really fat. We put people in boxes, that's just what humans do in all areas of their life. The challenge is to break out of that and be a full 3-dimensional person to them. When you establish that you're more than just the sum of your parts, the audience kind of relaxes and forgets about labels.

So, you mentioned doing a cabaret show earlier, and you have a one man show where you sing. Have you incorporated that into your act at all?

Well, that's very new. I grew up doing musical theatre, and my first love was singing. I thought I was going to sing on Broadway when I was little, but it turns out I wasn't good enough. This past year, I auditioned for and was accepted into the New York City Gay Men's Chorus. It's not something I ever expected to do, but so far it's been a blast. I've had a great time and its become a wonderful social and performing opportunity for me. So I was doing that and I thought, you know, why not write a show where I can do both comedy and singing, and combine it into one. So I got the idea of telling my life story from the very beginning through the current day. Cabaret style. We did twice in June, both shows sold out and we're doing it again in August. I must say though, cabaret is quite a different animal from standup. It's a totally different kind of focus when you have to stick to a script, even if it is my script. I can't do crowd work, or add a new tag. I have exactly 60 minutes to tell a story that takes 60 minutes to tell.

Including song breaks.

Yeah, I have to hit my marks, and switch mics. It's really difficult. I have a whole new respect for people who do musical theater every day. It's exhausting. It makes standup look like a walk in the park.

Follow Byron Graham on twitter @ByronFG for more mildly amusing sequences of words.

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