May 22, 2013
This Isn’t ‘Entourage’: Hollywood’s Talented, Ambitious and Broke
Posted on Oct 3, 2010
By Howie Stier
He’s spent a good part of this year working on a stop-motion animation project which went to DVD and for which he was paid $50 a day. He was also given one of discs, which is now on the pile with 30 years of accomplishment. The day a reporter visits, he’s got folding money for a burrito and is elated to have a coupon for a free one. He’s working on a custom painting, made to order for a Craigslist advertiser for $100. A similar work of his hanging in L.A. graphic art gallery Wacko sells for $800. Hickerson looks across his bed out the living room window. “Tomorrow? Tomorrow I’m looking for work. I don’t have a whole lot going on.”
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“The future will be like that film ‘Children of Men,’ except instead of no babies, there’ll be no money,” says stand-up comic James Adomian, opening his set at Los Angeles eatery Taix. The old school French joint—all oak and damask upholstery and etched glass—is hanging in there serving a $9.99 chicken plate du jour and draws the young with nightly alt rock and comedy acts. “I just made a major purchase,” he goes on, flourishing a pair of eyeglasses. And that’s no joke. The comedian went some three months before scraping up enough cash—he’s got no credit cards—for lenses. And tonight, once again, his polished, high-energy act will not draw a dime. At 30, James Adomian is a vet of a Comedy Central tour, was featured on NBC’s “Last Comic Standing” and used to pull down $2,000 per appearance at college comedy nights where his George W. Bush impression, the role he aced in “Harold and Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay,” went over big. “Then it all kind of vanished like Cinderella. I knew it was coming and braced for it but it knocked me over pretty hard.”
Now he is shacked up with six roommates and had to rely on a Hollywood food pantry and a weekly care package of vegetables from his brother to make it through winter and spring. Adomian performs regularly at the improvisation comedy theater The Upright Citizens Brigade (where this writer learned a great deal), which celebrates an existential worldview, that the universe isn’t guided by reason, that it is absurd, and so Adomian is prepared for these days, almost reveling in the downturn. “The silver lining is I look better,” he says, having dropped 40 pounds to a lean 180 as a result of his forced diet, combined with walking around L.A. since giving up his car. “It got broken into, the starter died and it was all a matter of $400 to fix it all. I didn’t have it.”
He is ambivalent about the Internet and its paradox. “We’re all perpetually putting up material on Funny or Die and Atom.com and people are seeing you all the time, but never hiring you. Everybody is expected to work for free or very little.”
But the recession has also inspired Adomian, not just with material but also to undertake an ambitious cross-country, 11-city stand-up tour. “It’s the Breaking Even tour. I’m going to try and keep accounts and see if I end up with something extra in the end, but I doubt it.” He will be performing alongside local comedians at small clubs and bars and will earn a split of the door while shelling out neither agent fees nor for hotels, “except for one night in New Orleans, otherwise I’m on the couch. Being in comedy I’m lucky to know a lot people.”
Prepping for his quixotic tour, he has accepted as his duty the need to address the culprits of our economic malaise in his material. For example, he’s driven to speak of credit card debt and the threats of collection agents. “When the social contract is broken by rich and powerful people, the rest of us should reciprocate. Banks are pulling scams with the law behind them, so morally there’s nothing wrong with not paying debts. Now, that will be disguised in layers of humor, or you’re just preaching.”
And most heartening, Adomian eschews cynicism. “I want to encourage people facing a bleak future to hold their head up high. And if I get a big pile of money, I’ll fix my teeth.”
* * *
“I worked at the largest, oldest talent agency in the world. I was getting fast-tracked when I quit,” a former music biz agent says. “I saw how unstable the music business became.” Within the small milieu of agents who book musical acts at arenas and theaters across the country, everyone knows everyone, and to avoid future conflicts, the agent gets anonymity here. “No one will tell you there’s no money being made. But that’s the case.” Lean and alert, he looks like any other Los Angeles hipster rocker in skinny jeans, and on a recent late afternoon, when talent agents are suited up in offices, he’s at a cafe with the newspaper. Before heading to his restaurant gig to prep for the dinner crowd, he explains to a reporter how the pop music business, from the bands that make the music to the agents who book them, is in disarray.
After putting in his time as an assistant—the lowest rung in the biz—for a couple years, he scored a Hollywood dream job as a junior agent with William Morris. Regularly he put in 10- and 12-hour days booking acts from Christopher Cross to Alice in Chains at colleges and clubs, never breaking for lunch, working phones in his office and spending the evening networking, making connections in order to succeed.
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