Comedian and Radio Host Talks Reinvention, Guest Wish List, and Opening For Roseanne
Adam Sank is the absolute definition of reinvention. After years as a standup comic, he is wrapping up his career with a show at The Stonewall Inn on January 10th in New York City, which is being recorded for an album, “Adam Sank’s Last Comedy Album,” which will be released by 800 Pound Gorilla Records sometime in 2019.
In a complete career pivot, Sank now hosts his own podcast The Adam Sank Show and has been able to sit down with guests like comedian Bianca DelRio and actor/activist Wilson Cruz.
I caught up with Adam to talk about his storied comedy career, what it's like hosting his own podcast and what singer-songwriter is at the top of his guest with list.
INSTINCT: So you’re hanging up the comedy life for good with your final show; tell me about what brought you to that decision?
ADAM SANK: There are a bunch of factors that went into it, but the short version of the story is, I’m old as fuck. (I’ll turn forty eight on Feb. 23.) I’ve had a blast doing stand-up, but it just feels like it’s time to hang it up and try new things. I don’t want to be that sad, unknown seventy five-year old comedian doing midnight check spots at the club in exchange for barking in tourists. I’d like to get out while I still feel funny, and while there are still people who want to come see my shows.
What are some of your best memories of doing stand up comedy? What lessons are you taking from life on the stage to the next phase of your career?
Probably the highlight was opening for Roseanne at Comix (NYC) in 2007. Which is kind of sad, now that she’s such a racist, batshit crazy Trump supporter. At the time, I was opening for one of my heroes, and it felt like such an honor. I got to hang out with her in the green room and chat about our lives. Plus, I made the crowd laugh really hard. That’s not easy when you’re not the guy they bought tickets to see.
In terms of life lessons, I guess the main one is just to roll with the punches. Doing comedy for fifteen years, I’ve had every possible thing go wrong you can imagine: You show up, and there’s no microphone. There’s nobody in the audience. The MC gets your name wrong when he introduces you. The club goes out of business the night before you’re scheduled to headline. After a while, I just developed a kind of Zen attitude about everything: I can only control what I can control. The stuff I can’t control, there’s no point in freaking out over. Just breathe and keep moving forward.
You were a frequent guest on The Derek And Romaine Show when they were on Sirius OutQ, and then onto their own exclusive channel, and you’ve spun off into your own podcast, making you the unofficial “Maude” of the Derek And Romaine family. What sparked stepping out on your own?
Maude? I’ve always seen myself as more of a Weezy Jefferson. In terms of the podcast, they offered it to me, and of course I took it! I adore both of them, and they’ve built such a large and loyal fan base over the years. I’m thrilled that they were so generous as to hand me a little piece of that and let me fly on my own.
What has it been like having your own voice on The Adam Sank Show? Any favorite guests so far? And anyone on your wish list?
Honestly, hosting a radio show has been my dream job since I was a little kid. When I was ten, my friends and I used to make parody radio broadcasts — you know, like soap operas and news shows — on my cassette tape recorder. They were always filthy and very politically incorrect. I’ve also been a massive Howard Stern fan since I was fourteen. Radio and podcasting — it’s just such an intimate medium. There’s that voice in your ear, and it feels like someone’s talking directly to you. I feel like I can reach far more people via the podcast than I ever did doing live stand-up shows. It’s been a blast for me.
Favorite guests would definitely be the people I've regarded as icons for years or decades: Alison Arngrim from Little House on the Prairie, Glenn Scarpelli from One Day at a Time, Scott Lowell and Peter Paige from Queer as Folk, Bianca del Rio, Suzanne Westenhoefer and Wilson Cruz. I mean, I love these people! They have impacted my life. So to get to joke around with them on the podcast like we’re old friends — it’s just surreal.
In terms of my wish list, I’d give anything to have Jay Brannan on the show. He’s one of my favorite singer-songwriters, and he’s also totally hot. But he’s very mysterious and shy; he almost never does interviews. So I’m not holding my breath. Other dream guests would be Billy Porter, Mario Cantone, Alec Mapa, and, of course, all the Broadway divas — Patti, Bernadette, Audra, Sutton etc. I also think it would be really special to have Larry Kramer on, although I’d probably be a nervous wreck interviewing him.
What have been some of your favorite aspects of podcasting and getting to find your own voice and showcase it?
I guess the best part is that I can make it anything I want. Derek and Romaine have given me complete freedom in terms of programming the show, booking guests, creating content and so forth. Before I became a comedian, I worked for years as a TV news producer. So that’s how I approach the podcast — like I’m a journalist, and I’m bringing stories to people that I find funny or interesting or important. So one minute, we’ll be doing a story about a drop in HIV rates, and the next minute we’re talking about how guys’ dicks get bigger during the summer. The show is a perfect reflection of my sensibilities. I can go from serious to ridiculous on a dime.
Politically you are very vocal and very outspoken on your feelings; where do you think the LGBT community should go from here in today’s political climate?
I think for decades, gay people — especially white gay men — saw our struggle as separate from the struggles of other marginalized communities. I know I was guilty of that myself. But what I’ve come to learn — and I now believe this to my core — is that all our struggles are linked. Homophobia, racism, sexism, transphobia, anti-Semitism, Islamaphobia… they’re all just different reflections of hatred and straight, white, male, Christian supremacy. We cannot survive unless we all stand together. So I have no time for gay people who are racist or transphobic or sexist or bigoted against any oppressed group, you know? I mean, there are gay Trump supporters! What the fuck is that? Trump and Pence are not our friends. They will crush us if given the chance. So queer people — especially white queer people — have to resist and fight all forms of hatred, not just the kind that directly impacts ourselves. And that means opposing a border wall. It means supporting trans people in the Military. It means supporting the Black Lives Matter and #MeToo movements. It means seeing the big picture and fighting for social justice-period.
What inspires you as a performer? And what do you think the next incarnation of Adam Sank might be?
I’m most inspired when I see people being honest and vulnerable in their art. There are a lot of funny comedians out there, but the ones who inspire me are people like Tig Notaro. She takes her pain and her trauma and turns it into something that is both poignant and incredibly funny. Jay Brannan does that with his music, as does Rufus Wainwright. My favorite all-time comedy special — it was released as a movie, actually — is Julia Sweeney’s God Said Ha! It’s about what happened when her brother got cancer and moved in with her, along with their parents. And then she herself got cancer! It makes me howl with laughter and sob every time I watch it. That’s what inspires me — when I’m moved to strong emotions by someone else speaking her truth.
My next incarnation? Listen, I’ve been telling everyone this: I’m not retiring from performing — just from stand-up. I’d love to do a play. I mean, I should probably write one, but what I’d really love is for someone else to write it and then cast me in it. TV, movies, YouTube series… if anyone thinks I’d be right for a role, I am here for it. Of course, I’ll continue doing the Adam Sank Show podcast. I’m always looking for ways to push it creatively and to appeal to a wider audience.
It’s the 50th Anniversary of Stonewall this year; what gives you the most “pride”?
The fact that LGBTQ people are survivors, but we’re not victims. We haven’t just survived against brutal oppression — we’ve somehow thrived and distinguished ourselves in every arena, and we’ve done it with style and tremendous humor. Larry Kramer has a great quote: "I love being gay. I love gay people. I think we’re better than other people. I really do. I think we’re smarter and more talented and more aware. I do, I totally do.” I know it’s not PC, but I believe that too.