By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
He’s West Seattle through and through: Schmitz Park Elementary, Madison Middle School, West Seattle High School, Seattle Lutheran High School, West Side Presbyterian Church. His mom and dad live in the same house they owned when he was born almost 26 years ago. He has grandparents living at The Kenney.
But instead of the neighborhood once dubbed New York Alki (by-and-by), home for Adam Cozens these days is the other New York – his home base for an intensive push to make a living by being funny, through standup comedy.
This isn’t a story about “local boy becomes famous” – not yet. But he’s working hard to try to get as far as he can. Right now, he’s on a holiday visit, home in West Seattle – not strictly a vacation, since he and friend Dartanion London are producing a show tomorrow (Wednesday) night at Comedy Underground in Pioneer Square – with other West Seattleites on the bill, including emcee Marty Riemer and fellow comedian Alex Meyer.
On one hand, this is one of more than 200 performances Adam’s doing this year, seeking out every opportunity imaginable to hone his humor.
On the other hand, this one will be special and maybe a little nerve-wracking – with even the grandparents in the audience. And it’s polishing an additional set of skills, since he’s helping produce the show as well as taking a 20-minute (“maybe half an hour,” he admits) performance turn.
Adam is the first person who’ll tell you he’s not famous – not making a living through his craft yet – he has a part-time gig as a “manny,” keeping an eye on two tweens in the afternoon. Perfect hours to not conflict with his comedy, he explains cheerily.
So, the cliche’ question goes, what’s a nice kid from West Seattle doing on the East Coast in front of a microphone almost every night? Like the night this was recorded last month (the note on his YouTube channel page says the crowd mikes were “off”):
Adam traces the comedy bug back to acting with West Seattle theater groups in younger years. He remembers working with Ada McAllister in grade school, “when I really started loving being on stage and doing comedic roles.” He performed in West Side Presbyterian productions too. And after graduating from college in California, he says, “I really wanted to do something in entertainment, and I started working in PR for film companies (and others) through the process of promoting other talent, actors, comedians … I thought, if I’m good at promoting, then why am I wasting my energy on (somebody else)?”
Once he decided to jump in, he moved from comedy writing to standup. And after a year back in West Seattle – spurred by a job layoff – he moved out to New York “to force myself to get into it. … if I was in a place where I could only get onstage once a week, that wouldn’t work.” He admits he moved to New York sight unseen – former classmates from Seattle Lutheran offered him a place to stay, “so I took them up on it.”
So why New York, instead of L.A.? “I went to college in L.A., saw it for four years, liked it a lot, but it was something I’d already seen.”
From there, he started with open mikes. Eventually, on to bars and clubs – the level where he says he’s at now – “the lower end of working at clubs,” he qualifies: “It’s so hard to get into clubs – there are so many great comedians who are there, guys from Saturday Night Live, for example, and even when they’re done with that show, they stick around the city and do standup, which makes it harder for (others) to get in … But I’ve been able to watch some amazing comedians.”
Making a name for yourself requires a lot of motivation – and relentless effort: “For the last two years, I’ve been getting up almost every night somewhere and really grinding. Sometimes I’ll wake up, and be lazy, and not want to do anything, and then I’ll realize – well, I could be doing nothing anyway, I could be living with my parents and not paying rent … but (in New York) I’m paying too much rent (to goof off)!” And then, off he’ll go.
Toiling night after night, wondering when “the big break” will happen? Adam’s honest, and realistic. “It may never come – but then again, it really depends on what you consider to be ‘making it’. I’m starting to get paid for doing standup, which is great. As far as ‘kind of’ making it … I’m not going to stop now, but I would be able to sleep well at night knowing what I’d already done, because I followed a dream and accomplished it. Obviously I haven’t gotten a lifetime achievement award yet” – he laughs – “but I think I already have in many ways made it. I moved out there and followed my dream, worked alongside some of my heroes, gotten compliments from guys I’ve been fans of, guys who took me on the road and asked me to open for them … But if I want to pay my rent, and have a wife and family and everything that I want, it may never come. I think I have the perseverance and talent to make it happen, but I know guys way funnier than me who have been in it 15 to 20 years who are still struggling.”
Adam is more than aware that it could just come down to a quirk of fate, or being in the right place at the right time, for having a comedy career catch fire – “what’s popular at the time, what’s influential at that moment.” But again, he reiterates, “It really just depends on your definition of making it. If you aspire to be Jim Carrey or Jerry Seinfeld, there’s a good chance you’re not going to reach that level … but there are thousands of people making a living doing comedy, some you have never heard of, great comics who got hired to write on shows behind the scenes, like (David) Letterman and Conan O’Brien. There are a lot of opportunities to make a living doing this.”
And there are many styles of comedy. When Adam posted in the WSB Forums about his upcoming show, we asked about his style – which he describes as “clean.”
So what does that REALLY mean?
“With few exceptions, I never swear onstage … it’s pretty family-friendly. I’ve got nothing against guys who are more vulgar – some of my favorite comics are really racy and crass, and I was when I started too. I preferred to have the crowd gasp rather than be silent – I was terrified of silence, so I’d write offensive jokes more than anything else. I’d prefer to get offstage saying I made them pay attention. But then I think my trip to Seattle last June changed it completely for me.”
That’s when, Adam says, he thought about his dad Paul Cozens “and the comedy he raised me on – he would play Bob Newhart and Steve Martin records, Garry Shandling, Richard Lewis – they just touch on mature subject matter … I talked to some people who said generally, if you want to get work right now, it’s better to work clean, you can work corporate rooms, private events … And it’s just kind of what I felt more comfortable doing. I was raised in the church, I have a big background in working with youth, a couple summers with the West Side Presbyterian youth group … There are great people who are ‘inappropriate’ comedians, but just for myself, I like to work clean.”
Even though, he adds, it’s harder to write clean jokes than dirty ones. “I think it’s made me a much better writer. It’s more of what I’m actually thinking (is funny) as opposed to what I think (the audience) will think is funny.”
Tomorrow night’s show at Comedy Underground is not the only stage turn he’s taking during his “vacation” – but it’s the biggest. (He did standup at Bamboo Bar and Grill on Alki one night last week.) And producing the show, he says, has been an adventure. “I’ve always had an interest in producing, but most people do it weekly or monthly – this is a one-shot show for me and so we got the room for the 30th, and we started getting some guys we like.” Among them, Alex Meyer, whose first year at Seattle Lutheran happened to be Adam’s last year there; emcee Marty Riemer is “another West Seattle connection.”
His planned half-hour, or so, set will be among the longest he’s done in a while – “In New York, there are so many comics, most spot times are five to 14 minutes; most longer ones are outside the city. But I’m going to do 25 to 30 with newer material, which I haven’t done in this order before … I know all the stuff, just a matter of keeping it in the brain.”
Maybe not as easy as it sounds. Toward the end of our conversation, we wander into the topic of neurological challenges that Adam says he conquered after childhood, including ADHD. He had trouble in school, both with some academics and some classmates, and was homeschooled for his last year of middle school, to reboot, in a way. He says he hasn’t found a way to work all that into his comedy yet but perhaps someday he will; in the meantime, he says, it’s something he’s very proud of – and doesn’t try to hide. The fact he’s living so far from home is even something of a minor miracle, he suggests, noting that his parents Molly and Paul may not have been so sure, when he was a kid, that he would be OK enough to strike out on his own like anybody else.
Now, they’ve even seen him onstage: “My parents saw me for the first time last year. It wasn’t the most amazing set i’ve ever done but it wasn’t bad.” Not only will they be in the audience tomorrow night at Comedy Underground, so will many other members of his family, he says. “I’d prefer to be in front of people I don’t know!” he laughs, a bit nervously.
He’s about to mark his two-year anniversary of moving to New York, but still hasn’t done all the “New Yorky things” – “I just went to the top of the Empire State Building for the first time (earlier this month), it was amazing … The first time I saw Rockefeller Center, I was just walking by. And Times Square – it sneaks up on you. Then I immediately ‘became a New Yorker’ and hated it!” (Said affectionately, of course.)
When you talk with someone toward the end of a year, it’s hard not to discuss something resembling resolutions.
“I’m hoping for more road work in the next year,” Adam says. “Hopefully I’ll see more of America, going to do some general traveling too, and setting up shows along the way – just trying to get better, get onstage as much as I can. By the end of the next year, I’d like to make great headway in … not necessarily paying all my rent but getting closer to what direction I ultimately want to go in.”
Here’s the official flyer for Adam and Dartanion’s show tomorrow night (as originally posted in the WSB Forums) – he gave us a glossy-paper copy, declaring, “It’s actually a photo – developed in West Seattle!”: