Comedian McQueen Adams, aka McQueen, leaves the stage amid two kinds of applause: some of it a screeching thrill from having seen the first strike on new artistic ground, the rest of it a confused and hesitant murmur teetering, at its worst, on hostility. But if you ask Adams, that kind of unclaimed acreage is exactly where he wants to be.
“I haven’t seen anyone doing anything like it, so I could be the pioneer of this whole new movement — epic soundtrack plays,” he said.
He’s right. A McQueen show is similar to almost nothing, coming out of a shrinking left field to smack his spectators with a welded mass of comedic absurdity, electronica, voice-over videos and impersonations. By the time the bewilderment settles, there’s the feeling that it was either a hilarious hallucination caused by a YouTube overdose, or a smartly veiled jab at the current state of American culture washing over you. And it’s exactly that kind of fuzzy understanding of McQueen that has left audiences salivating for more, either for an explanation or for more excitement from seeing the unseen.
It’s vague if it was design or creative wandering, but McQueen seems to have struck gold by exploring comedy from strange angles, diving across categories as a type of oddball a la Andy Kaufman, Tom Green or Andy Milonakis and into the elusive realm of originality in the process. His shtick perhaps works best with Millennial audiences, who find the content topical and the target well deserved as McQueen takes aim at our insatiable craving for pop culture and social media while not excluding himself from the shame. Rather than lifting himself above the audience in a blur of finger-waving self-righteousness, McQueen is right there alongside us, equally guilty and just as embarrassed by the stupidity but finding new ways to laugh at the guilty pleasure we find in all things silly and meaningless.
But he’s easy to write off for that reason, too, to label his act as cheap nonsense and leave feeling like the joke was on you, and maybe it was, but the greatness of McQueen is in not knowing for sure. He prefers to bring his audience into unfathomable, yet fun worlds where red-haired celebrities like Conan, Prince Harry, Chewbacca and Ed Sheeran come together in impossible scenarios to sing about ginger Corvettes, or where frozen food cartoons argue over who slept with Justin Bieber. Believe it or not, it’s actually weirder than it sounds.
“My act is like those fever dreams you would have as a kid when you were really sick,” explains Adams, “A world where anything is possible and nothing quite makes sense. But it’s funny.”
Adams got his start as a stand-up comic and voice actor, working comedy clubs and on TV shows like Nickelodeon’s “Kappa Mikey” and various radio programs. But like most innovators, he found his niche after failing to fit into colonized territory and deciding to seek out vacant spaces instead.
“I was doing shows in NYC and LA, and I didn’t have the passion for it,” recalls Adams. “I could do impersonations, so I could get away with being unmotivated. I never wanted to be the ‘best’ at stand-up. I loved performing, but I just didn’t have the drive to be one of those guys who did seven shows a night.”
After developing a cast of characters, music and video templates and a handful of sketches alongside collaborator and LIARS drummer Julian Gross, Adams was able to take a rough draft of his act on the road by joining tours with various bands, including the almighty Radiohead and its crowned king of strange, Thom Yorke.
“It put me in a position of figuring out how to do what I wanted to do live,” says Adams. “Being around bands like Radiohead and having friends who were successful musicians allowed me to experiment and figure out how to transfer the pacing of a comedy show into a multimedia show.”
Now in the middle of a three-month East Coast tour, Adams will record his debut live album, “Fever Dreams,” in June and complete work on his web series before embarking on a college tour in the fall. As far as life on the road, Adams seems OK with it.
“When I have a good show, an hour feels like 10 minutes, and when it’s not clicking, it’s the other way around. (If) the crowd is willing to come along for the ride and accept that my mind is a playground of oddities, then I like looking out into the audience and see people getting lost in the world I’m creating,” he said. “The other thing is you get to meet some really creative and interesting people when you are on the road. Jack Kerouac was on to something.”