As a Bernie Sanders impressionist, James Adomian spent much of the past year with starch-white hair fleeing his head in all directions. Onstage, he magnified the senator and former presidential candidate’s floating hand gestures and reached volatile speaking volumes, citing statistics in percentages (and sometimes percentages of percentages) to illustrate each conviction, just as his role model would. On Friday, Nov. 11, Adomian will make his Asheville debut at The Millroom.
Even as hot topics like having “big pickles broken up into their constituent spears” arose, the embodiment of Sanders, whom Adomian publicly endorsed, remained relatively benign. But it came with company: Donald Trump, as portrayed by Anthony Atamanuik. The partnership began in late 2015, when Adomian traveled from his Los Angeles home base to New York City and invited Atamanuik to collaborate on a 20-minute mock debate.
“We had been doing those impressions separately, and I hadn’t even seen his Trump,” Adomian says. “But I heard about it. And I knew, knowing Tony, that it would be the best Donald Trump, because Tony doesn’t hold back any kind of sickness or filth when he does comedy.”
The show was momentous. Within months, three different hourlong “Trump vs. Bernie” specials aired on Comedy Central and Fusion, and the duo completed a 40-city international tour, during which one performance was recorded and released as an album. The Comedy Central debate alone has more than 6.5 million views on YouTube.
Bound by the hilarious disparity of their onstage personas, the two continued their campaign of absurdity into 2016. They monitored the news, incorporated current events into their evolving bit and, aside from writing assistance on one sketch show, created all of their own material. “We’re both trained improvisers, so we made stuff up on the spot every time we did the debate,” Adomian explains. He and Atamanuik did, however, provide questions for moderators, who varied with each tour stop.
It took Sanders dropping out of the presidential race to end the movement, though, in Adomian’s view, it remains relevant to the election. “We were both way ahead of the curve as far as time and content,” he says. “We were doing these impressions before anyone else was. Tony led the pack on how actors would do Donald Trump: wild, crazy, rude, blustering and filthy. And my Bernie Sanders was the only Bernie Sanders impression for months. … A lot of people found out who he was through my impression.”
Adomian further credits his peer with presenting Trump as “a unique danger,” saying: “Tony was the first one screaming that in a comedy sense. … [People] say to Tony, ‘Your impression convinced me not to vote for Donald Trump.’” And, indeed, Atamanuik’s Trump breezed through some brutal comments, like nonchalantly suggesting that his hecklers be waterboarded.
“But it’s over,” Adomian says. “I think we had a fantastic run with Trump vs. Bernie, but there’s a lot of other stuff that I do.”
On that list — alongside media appearances, acting, extensive voice-over work on shows like Disney XD’s “Future-Worm” and Nickelodeon’s “Pig Goat Banana Cricket,” and working toward an original short-cartoon series — is stand-up comedy.
“It will be my first show on the road after the election, so it’s going to be virgin territory for me,” Adomian says of the content for his upcoming performance.
Despite participating in Funny or Die’s Jokes for Votes tour in October, Adomian doesn’t consider the presidential election the pinnacle of civic involvement. So, it’s not as if he’ll be lost for words after it’s done. “Comedy has survived multiple elections,” he points out. Plus, “There’s a lot more to politics than voting. Voting is the easiest, most superficial, least painful, lowest-time-commitment effort of all kinds of political activism. … I like to approach politics from different, tangential angles and roundabout ways as much I like to approach it directly. After the election, maybe it will be the kind of thing where I want to avoid it and talk about other stuff that makes me laugh — social issues rather than strict electoral politics.”
Adomian continues, “Definitely, since I’m gay and I talk about that in my acts, that’s going to come up.” He estimates up to half of his show involves homosexuality but isn’t certain of the exact percentage. “Maybe Bernie Sanders could come down and help me,” he says.
WHO: James Adomian
WHERE: The Millroom, 66 Asheland Ave., ashevillemillroom.com
WHEN: Friday, Nov. 11, 7 p.m., and 9:30 p.m. $16 advance/$18 day of show