Adam Devine Talks Stand-Up, Comedians as Actors and Yelling About Buttholes in Public

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Adam Devine may be best known for Comedy Central’s Workaholics, but even folks who aren’t clued in on Half-Christmas, bear coats and the art of being tight-butthole will recognize the comedian. Appearances in Modern Family and on his own stand-up comedy show Adam Devine’s House Party alongside his big-screen role as Bumper in the Pitch Perfect series have put Devine in front of more comedy fans than ever, and this week he’s quite literally getting out in front of audiences as he embarks on a stand-up comedy tour. We caught up with Devine about the differences between stand-up and television, the weirdness of being recognized and what to expect from his live act.

Paste: So you’re getting started with your stand-up tour this week, can you tell me a little bit about how you feel about stand-up versus the TV and YouTube stuff?

Adam Devine: Well the difference is I don’t wear makeup like I do on Workaholics. I’m makeup free. No blush, no mascara just raw Adam Devine. It’s fun, I love doing stand-up. I started doing stand-up, and I always just had such a good time with it. It’s cool, just you and a microphone and the crowd; being able to talk and interact with them is the most fun thing to do, really. It’s the most rewarding because when you do something on television or in a movie or online or whatever, you still are like, “Is this funny? We think it’s funny! We hope it’s funny.” And then you put it out there and you don’t know until you start reading tweets and stuff. But with stand-up you know immediately: if they don’t laugh, your joke sucked.

Paste: Yeah, it seems like it’s probably a tough thing at first.

Devine: Any comics that say that they never bombed are lying. Or they’re just doing, like, another person’s act and they’re just ripping someone off or something. That’s what’s so cool about stand-up comedy. You have to go through those hard times and you have to do that no matter who you are. As an actor you can get lucky. If you’re a beautiful person, you could just get cast as a beautiful person. And then all of a sudden you’re a famous actor who’s never really done anything, who’s not even a very good actor but you’re wildly beautiful so you’re in stuff. That doesn’t work for stand-up. If you’re good-looking or not good-looking or ugly looking, you have to be funny enough to tell jokes. You have to be engaging and have people like you and laugh at your stuff or you’re not a good stand-up. It takes everyone a little bit—I think it takes everyone at least a solid year before they start to find any sort of rhythm or any sort of, “Oh, this is kind of the stand-up I strive to do—the kind of stand up I like to do.” It takes at least that first year, and that first year’s the hardest because you’re not getting good stage time. You’re getting like, in the back of Chinese restaurants and before the karaoke night starts or in a bar in the middle of nowhere where they obviously don’t want you there. It’s a rough gig, but it is really fun. Especially at the level I’m at now, where people are coming to see me and they like me. It’s a lot of fun and it’s cool to meet all the fans and get to talk with them.

Paste: Yeah, you’ve got a lot of fans out there from Workaholics, I’m sure. Do people just kind of lead off with some of the inside jokes from there? I mean, how often are strangers coming up to you and immediately talking about buttholes?

Devine: I actually talk about that a little bit on-stage. One of the first times I was ever recognized was this guy who just stopped in front of my car and screamed “You’ve got a TIGHT BUTTHOLE, man.” I’m like, what? So then he walked off and I drove away feeling good. Like, I was recognized, that was so crazy I was recognized and it’s from the show. And then I realized that he didn’t say it in the proper context. He didn’t say like, “You are being tight butthole,” or “You are tight butthole,” he said “You’ve got a tight butthole.” So I did nothing to negate the fact that this guy was screaming that I have a tight butthole in public. In fact, I was so pumped that I got recognized for the first time I gave him like a weird, double-backwards peace sign? Like a total douchey move just because I was so excited to get recognized. I was like, “Yeah, man! Tight butthole!” People were walking across the street probably like, “This guy knows the tightness of this man’s butthole, and they’re just screaming about it in the intersection.”

Paste: But then there are probably kids who have no idea Workaholics is a thing, who recognize you from Modern Family or Pitch Perfect.

Devine: Oh totally. With some of my shows there’s a little bit of a disconnect from the Workaholics fans, which are rowdy and drunk and, y’know, my people and the Pitch Perfect and Modern Family fans that are expecting me to be cute and funny or expecting me to sing or something. I go to colleges and sometimes I’ll do a Q-and-A afterwards where people can ask me questions or whatever, and without fail every time some girl will be like, “Can you siiiiing for us?” I’m like, “Only if you will come on-stage and sing with me.” So I have a lot of weird duets a cappella singing with different college students across the country.

Paste: That in itself is kind of a funny aspect of what you’ve been doing recently. I mean, you’re kind of acting like singing’s not your thing but you have Pitch Perfect, which revolves around that. I’ve seen a clip of you singing the national anthem at a Dodger’s game. It’s not like you don’t sing. What’s the deal there?

Devine: I’m not like a real singer. I wasn’t in choir or anything in school, you know? Mostly because I was wanting girls to talk to me and stuff and it seemed like the choir kids weren’t necessarily pulling a lot of chicks. So I was like “I… don’t know if that’s for me.” [Laughs] Yeah, uh. Poor choir kids. No, I just always could sing but I’m not the strongest singer. I have a very limited range. So i sound pretty good in this one range and people are like “Wow! You’re a good singer.” And then if I step one note out of that range, either direction, they’re like “Oh! You’re dog shit!” I’ve tricked people into thinking I’m a good singer.

Paste: Were you into comedy as a kid?

Devine: Oh I loved comedy. I used to watch An Evening At The Improv, which was a stand-up show shot at the LA improv. When I was a kid, my dad would watch it all the time and I remember once, I dunno, it was some comic who just wasn’t that funny. And I’m like, “Man, I could do this.” And my dad’s like, “Adam, you’re a funny kid, but you gotta be really funny to be a stand-up comedian.” And i’m like, “Ohh. Don’t you tell me what I can and can’t do.”

Growing up I would do voices on the radio, I’d call in and do like Chris Farley impressions when I was in middle school and they’d give me free movie tickets and free tickets to concerts for doing it because they couldn’t pay me, because I was only like 13. I was a really big comedy fan.

Paste: And your parents watch your shows now?

Devine: Yeah, my parents are really funny, open-minded people. They love the show and support the show almost too much, where I’m like “Oh, maybe you shouldn’t like that episode. It’s a little weird that you guys love that episode so much.”

We had an episode that the Coast Guard got mad at because the Coast Guard like tracked Ders down and made, we said it was a Code Red and then they poured Code Red Mountain Dew like down Ders’ asscrack and had a dog lick it out, and uh… like held him down. Which is insane. And my mom is like “That was so funny with the dog!” I’m like “What? I thought you were supposed to hate that! You actually liked that?”

Paste: How much of that stuff is actually based on real life, though? You’re pretty close with the other guys on Workaholics, right?

Devine: We used to live together. Well, we didn’t live with Ders because he always had a girlfriend and stuff, but me, Blake and Kyle lived together in the house that we shoot the show in. So it’s definitely all based in reality. I mean it was Kyle’s bachelor party this weekend and we were all together. We hang out with each other quite a bit, and it’s so cool that when we go to work we’re working with our best friends. We hang out with each other 10, 12 hours a day, every day.

Paste: You also have Adam Devine’s House Party, where you pick comedians to come perform stand-up. How do you pick who’s on there—when it comes to your peers, what’re you looking for in a good comedian?

Devine: Well, when I look for new comics to put on the show I want them to be first of all, really funny. That’s the main thing. But then I also want somebody that looks like they have fun. They’re game, and they’re not gonna be snarky and mean. I’m sick of mean comedians. I want people that wanna have fun. And if they are a mean comic, have them be so mean that it’s hilarious. As long as, as a person, they’re fun to hang out with.

You want people that also will be decent actors, that can carry a scene with you, because that’s the other part of the show. A lot of stand-ups have a hard time getting out of the stand-up world and having people respect them as actors. It’s kind of a goal for a lot of stand-ups, that they want to get into acting as well. There’s a weird stigma for stand ups that they’re bad actors, but in fact I find this new generation of stand up comics to be great actors because we grew up with the internet. We’d always have a camera in our faces, whether it be with just our friends just messing around making videos at home. With the technology getting so cheap, the middle class kids like myself, the lower middle class kids, have had a chance to work in front of cameras and get all of their nerves out before they actually move to Hollywood or New York or wherever to pursue their acting dreams. So it’s cool to give them a chance to do both, do what they are comfortable at and good at which is stand-up and do what they may or may not want to do, which is act.

Dacey Orr is Paste’s multimedia editor. You can follow her on Twitter.

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