Making Friends with Black People: An Interview with Nick Adams

Making Friends with Black People

Comedian and writer Nick Adams wants to be called Black . . . not African-American.  “Once you get into hyphenating based on continent of origin,” he wonders, “where does it stop?”  For a thought experiment, Adams offers the conundrum of hyphenate marrying hyphenate: “My as-yet-unborn children might have to suffer through form after form listing themselves as Native-American/African-American American.”  If you must hyphenate for him, Adams suggests that “Dallas Cowboy-American” or “TiVo-American.”

“Hilarious book-writing-American” would work well, too.  Adams is the author of a brand-new tome, Making Friends With Black People (Kensington).  Funny, provocative, edgy, socially aware, and not beholden to anyone else’s perception of correctness, Adams lets loose on a wide range of topics . . . including Ebonics, Justin Timberlake (“I have heard video game sound effects that are more soulful than his music”), white rappers, Black politicians, and of course, the N Word: “Can’t we have it to ourselves?  Damn!  Black people don’t get to be president, and white people don’t get to use the word nigger.  Can we just call it even now?”

After spending a few years writing for TV, Adams got the idea for this book while living in Los Angeles.  “I was bored and frustrated with my ‘career’,” he explains.  “My agent had the courage — or insanity — to believe I could do it, and now it’s done.”  To further vouch for his agent’s courage and/or insanity, let me offer the full disclosure that she also represents me.

Recently, I asked Nick Adams a few questions via e-mail.

MZ: So I guess I should not refer to you as “dog” during this interview, huh?

NA: I don’t have a problem with it as long as you don’t spell it “dawg.”  Then I’d be forced to move your email address into my Spam folder.

MZ:  I found your book to be an entertaining and provocative blend of tongue-in-cheek and from-the-hip.  You certainly don’t need me to tell you that there will be some (many?) who don’t get it and misread your style.  Have you gotten any interesting reactions yet?

NA: I think I have a fairly specific point of view and style, and I’m sure there are going to be people who just plain don’t like it.  And that’s fine.  I didn’t write the book for them.  When I was working on the book, I kept telling myself that there was an audience for what I was doing.  I think there are way too many sacred cows in the world now.  As long as what you’re doing isn’t mean-spirited or pointless or unfunny, I see nothing wrong with taking a shot at something or someone.

MZ: In light of the recent anti-Muslim cartoon affair, where does “freedom of speech” fit in when it comes to humor?  How far is too far?  Is there a “too far” in comedy?

NA: To me the biggest questions you have to ask are 1. Is it funny?  2. What’s the intent?  The first one is obvious, but the second question needs some explanation.  If your intent is to be mean-spirited or to make a point, you’re setting yourself up for failure.  One of the disturbing trends in standup right now is the white comic who isn’t afraid to be “un-PC.”  So you get a lot of white people doing racial shit that isn’t funny and seems like the only intent is to shock the audience.  Lenny Bruce did not die so some Waspy motherfucker from the valley can use the word “beaner” on stage.  Every jackass white comic in the world thinks that they’re Sarah Silverman now. 

MZ: Who are your influences?

NA: Wow.  Love/hate that question.  I love it because I love talking about comedy.  I hate it because I think that if you say you’re influenced by someone, people assume that you’re putting yourself on that person’s level.  Having said that, here goes: Obviously, I worship at the altar of Richard Pryor like everyone does and should.  To me, however, George Carlin is the G.O.A.T. in terms of standup because of his quality, quantity, and the subject matter.  I always loved how Carlin could be incredibly intelligent and insightful one minute and then rip off a few fart jokes just because.  Dick Gregory is incredibly underrated.  For a black man to stand there in a suit and tie and do charged racial and political material at that time was a huge giant leap forward.  Nobody tells a story like Cosby.  I remember when Himself would come on HBO and I would tune in, even though it was scrambled and I couldn’t see what he was doing, and just listen to it over and over.  Someone who I think doesn’t get enough shine is my man Franklyn Ajaye.  The downside to Richard Pryor blowing up was that every black comic was expected to be the “crazy nigger.”  And that wasn’t/isn’t Franklyn’s thing.  He’s the “witty, college educated” nigger.  And I don’t think Hollywood knew what to do with that.  For my sake, let’s hope they’ve learned their lesson.

MZ: I remember seeing Eddie Murphy on Letterman a zillion years ago when he first hit it.  Dave asked him what he was gonna do with all the money he was making and Eddie wondered if he asked young white stars the same question.  “I’m gonna buy me a big hat,” Murphy snickered with a Buckwheat-like accent.  So, Nick, what are you gonna do when your book outsells Harry Potter?

NA: When my book outsells Harry Potter?  Hmm, I’m going to. . . .

  • Visit Amsterdam . . . for the umm . . . architecture.  Yeah.  That’s it.
  • Wait until Bjork tours again, then follow her from city to city filming a documentary that chronicles her African-American fans around the world.  I call it, Black Fans of Bjork.
  • In lieu of having a Pryor-esque, Martin Lawrence-esque flame out, I’ll hire someone else to become addicted to drugs, divorce their wife, get busted with a gun, etc. and then tell me all about it in vivid detail.  Then, I’ll use that material in my act.
  • Donate a huge chunk of money to my alma mater, Wake Forest University, with the stipulation that it ensures any of my male children both admission to the school and a roster spot on the basketball team.
  • Two words: trampoline room.  I dreamed about it as a child, now it becomes a reality.
  • And, of course, give some back to the community.
Nick’s book, Making Friends With Black People, will be released in March 2006 . . . but can be ordered online right now.

Mickey Z

Mickey Z. is the author of several books, most recently 50 American Revolutions You’re Not Supposed to Know: Reclaiming American Patriotism (Disinformation Books). He can be found on the Web at