This Conversation appears in the newest print volume of Gossamer which will be out in a few weeks. Pre-order your copy here.
I don’t love talking about myself. I’m okay doing it, but I always feel the tinge of missing humility. I understand that people would be interested because of my situation, because I’m a known quantity. Interviews don’t just happen, you know? Usually there’s a focus to it and a thing you’ve been out there selling or whatever. It would be a lie to say that you don’t feel some sort of sense of responsibility to perform. I always feel like I have the regret of having to sell myself to someone. I’m always like, “I’m so sorry you have to sit through this.”
My parents were performers. My dad was really young when he had me, and I have memories of him in med school, but before that he and my mom were in a band that would tour the Catskills. It was vaudeville. They would play Kutshers and places like that. My dad would be on piano and my mom would be lying on top of it, singing.
My dad would be on piano and my mom would be lying on top of it, singing.
High school was ’90s suburban New Jersey, so a lot of Phish, a lot of Dead. I was in bands and just all into music. But my high school had this TV studio and as soon as I found that, it was like, “Okay, this is what I’m supposed to do.”
There was this thing called the morning announcements—AM Wired was the actual name—and I felt like it was an outlet to do comedy. There was no one to cast, so I had to perform my own stuff. At the time, I was super into Saturday Night Live and Kids in the Hall and all that stuff that you would watch on Comedy Central when you stayed home from school.
But the best thing about high school was that I met my wife there. We weren’t together for a while, but when we both moved back to New York, it just happened very quickly. We had such a history together. It’s really cool. It’s really romantic.
The best thing about high school was that I met my wife there.
I spent two years at the University of Arizona, where I was really good at getting fucked up. I cut it short because I was like, “I see what I am, and I’m not this.” So I came back to New York and started at the New School and the Actors Studio. I was happy because it gave me an outlet, but I also realized I needed to be where comedy was happening. I think I was ready to take a shot.
I knew the Upright Citizens Brigade from their show, so I sought them out. I don’t even think I was 20. I was interning and taking classes at the old space. I don’t think I’ve been into anything as much as I was into that. I was pretty much there seven nights a week. I just wanted to be part of it.
After going for eight months to just see it, my first official UCB class was in November 2002. I was so scared. There will be a book written about the early years of UCB. I was part of the scene, but probably part of the last waves of the original scene. I feel lucky to even have just been in it.
At the time, a lot of the casting agents for commercials and stuff would go to UCB on a Tuesday night and see you perform and ask you to audition. I started doing that and booked a few commercials. I played the physical embodiment of one of the seven deadly sins, Sloth, in a Verizon ad. I was in a Staples ad with a cat. Some other regional stuff here and there. Then I was the face of Twix for a year.
That let me pay my rent. It let me eat. It meant that I didn’t need to get a job. I didn’t have to do anything other than that, which, thank god, because I can’t do anything. I literally have no skills. I could be at a comedy theater all night, and sleep for a little bit during the day, and go to an audition.
I eventually made a short film with two of my friends who I had moved in with—Dan Gregor and Doug Mand—and Ellie Kemper, another friend of mine. It got picked up by a bunch of agencies, and then they flew us out to Los Angeles to try to sign us. We ended up selling it to ABC. Once that was sold, it was like I was in the pipeline.
I’ve essentially created a business that revolves around me and that cannot be healthy all of the time.
My wife and I were in L.A. for 10 years. We moved back two years ago. I was going to do a play, and my parents were getting older, and we have kids, and our siblings were having kids. I was spending less and less time in Los Angeles proper because of work. We felt like if we didn’t do it then, we would never do it. So we just kind of jumped at it.
I prefer living in New York. I love L.A. The weather, the ease. I think the people are great. I really love it. But I do better here as a person. I’m better when I’m one step removed from thinking about myself every day, or every second of the day. I’ve essentially created a business that revolves around me and that cannot be healthy all of the time.
New York is super anonymous. I feel like I thrive on that. I thrive on being able to go downstairs and just be like one of the people. And New York even makes me feel bad for thinking that I need that! New York would be like, “Who? Who the fuck are you?” It’s not that people make a fuss out of me; it’s more other people making a fuss of themselves that I get caught up in.
I have so many bad tattoos, I’m practically a chef. I honestly don’t remember how many I have. I have a lot, and they’re not great. But I like them. I got my first one when I was 17 in the East Village. It was my Hebrew name, which I also share with my grandfather who I never met. I was in a Jewish pride phase at the time. It’s big and bold, so it looks like I was in a Tel Aviv prison and was the property of some guy named Asa.
My wife has a couple. She has our kids all over her body. We like getting them together; getting scarred up for the rest of your life is a fun bonding experience. It’s the rush of it. Then we go out for a big dinner and get wasted.
This time in your life, when you’re married with children, you don’t really have much for yourself. You’re not “building a family”; you have a family. Everything is there. We’re working hard to find some stuff for us. The rest of our life has been overrun with kids and friends and parents and siblings, obligations, a mortgage, bills.
I have so many bad tattoos, I’m practically a chef.
My cannabis habits have also changed immensely. They keep changing. The other day my son made me remove all the vape pens from the house. He was like, “I don’t like it.” He’s eight. He saw an ad, or someone said something. I’m sure they’re doing “Don’t Vape” ads in school, and he put two and two together that the thing plugged next to dad’s bed is not the extra computer charger I told him it was. So I was like, “Okay. I don’t care. Throw them out.” But obviously, I didn’t throw them out because I needed to live.
I started smoking young. I think 11, maybe 12. Way pre-bar mitzvah. I know that by the time I got to the bar mitzvah, I was a vet. I had a cousin who taught me young, and I was kind of the gateway for a bunch of my friends. High school was the same. I feel like I found my vibe very young and liked it. This is better for me. It’s self-medication in the healthiest way.
I was arrested four years ago in New York. I had other drugs on me, but they stopped me for weed. When they stopped me, they were like, “Hand over that vape pen.” I was like, “No.” Handcuffs.
I started crying instantly. I was like, “There goes everything.” I’ve been arrested for fighting, and I’ve been arrested for protesting, but I’d never been arrested for doing drugs.
It hit the papers before I even got to jail. It’s not fun. But part of it, like anything, was a little freeing.
Anything bad that happens in life, in your mind, you’ve already processed it, right? We’ve all lain awake at night and thought about a parent dying. We’ve all lain awake at night and thought about our spouse leaving us. We’ve all lain awake at night and thought about getting fired from a job. All those things have crossed our minds. So when something inevitably does happen, there’s a little bit of a freeing moment because you’re still alive. You’re still here.
When something inevitably does happen, there’s a little bit of a freeing moment because you’re still alive. You’re still here.
The direct aftermath was miserable. Your name and picture are in the papers. It’s still one of the top things if you google me. I was being followed by TMZ, all that shit. In the distant aftermath, you get a little bit of perspective on it. You become stronger, because you start to go, “Well, I really didn’t do much wrong.” Not that I don’t take responsibility for drug use, but how many people among us can look at themselves and say they’ve never done drugs, or wanted to do drugs?
On top of that, you go, “Well, so, I’ve been in the paper and online and everybody’s talked about me and formed their own opinions about who I am and what I am.” It hurt me because I was embarrassed, but I learned from it and I’m still here. It’s a little empowering.
And then there’s privilege. A large portion of my family is African-American, and while I can pretty much leave my house with cannabis every day, they can’t—or they’re nervous about it. I think about it all the time. It has to be part of the conversation. You can’t just legalize it without expunging, for example. In New York, you have to deal with Rikers before you legalize this stuff.
My wife doesn’t want me to die from vaping, but she also knows that cannabis is part of my life and her life, so she’s basically like, “Figure it out.” So I’ve been going back to flower but, again, I live in New York, so I can’t just walk outside, and I can’t smoke in my apartment. It’s a little restricting. I go to the roof a lot. I have an indica jam I like for sleep, but I’m big on tinctures lately, too.
I just went to Sweet Flower for the first time because it opened right near my old house in L.A. I love new weed tech. I’ve been on these Field Extracts disposable pens. They are amazing, but they’re so expensive. They’re like $75 a pop.
I found the greatest vape of my life in Colorado: the AiroPro. It’s solid steel, and I like the live resin cartridge system better than the STIIIZY, which is what I’m on now. It vibrates like Dosist, but it actually works as a warning for someone like me. When it buzzes, you’re like, Oh, shit, I went too far. The design is perfect, but it’s expensive and the cartridges are only available in Colorado so I obviously couldn’t keep it going.
I try to always be evened out. I don’t want to say that weed doesn’t affect me. It just feels non-humble to be like, “It doesn’t affect me like that.”
I did an Off-Broadway play last year that had a huge amount of dialogue, and I was up there the whole time, like an hour and a half. I didn’t change my habits or anything, and people were like, “How are you doing that?” I feel more scrambled when I have a cold and I take an Advil Cold and Sinus than I do from smoking.
I heard Seth Rogen talk about it one time in a way that I understood. If you couldn’t see, you’d put glasses on so that you can see things clearer. The world is so harsh, and for him, weed keeps it a little easier. I do identify with that quite a bit.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Adam Pally photographed by Meredith Jenks at his home in Manhattan. If you like this Conversation, please feel free to share it with friends or enemies.