A 21st Century Renaissance Man
Some comic actors are just people that do funny things on TV and in films. Then there are comic actors that are so much more.
They blur lines, take risks, embrace challenges, are not afraid of being misunderstood or even unliked, and most of all are not defined by any one thing that they do.
Adam Pally is one of those.
He made his bones doing improv on stage. He was arguably the most popular cast member on two adored sitcoms. He has been the star of several shows and films. He popped up in a Marvel film that made over a billion dollars. He has also become infamous for his incredible talk show appearances. And he’s a modern fashion plate. He can be both funny and serious.
In short, he can do it all.
Adam Pally is a Renaissance man for the twenty-first century.
The Sauce Is Hot
Pally started his career on stage.
As a member of Upright Citizens Brigade in 2002, Pally formed a partnership with two others, Ben Schwartz and Gil Ozeri, to create an improv group under the name of Hot Sauce.
Pally later said, “Literally every minute of our lives was at that theater” and that he, Schwartz, and Ozeri were “just inseparable at UCB, writing sketches and putting shows up every Friday night.”
Here they are in 2007:
As the careers of all three have exploded so too has the interest in those Hot Sauce shows, which have been described as:
“popular and crowd-pleasing improv shows that offend many improv purists since they frequently edit scenes after four lines, tag each other out with no regard of scene integrity or social boundary, and shamelessly make references to their own show as it is occurring. They are also hilarious.”
In May, 2022 Hot Sauce reunited on the Comedy Bang Bang podcast. The episode began with a (mostly) straightforward interview before devolving into the strange, slightly irrational comedy that they prefer.
A Redditor recently compiled the few archival items still available from the Hot Sauce days that now feel like a found time capsule.
Prolific and Eclectic Actor
As an actor, Adam Pally is both prolific and eclectic, with a string of a credits that defy not only typecasting but even easy categorization. He has “broad range and impressive ability to morph” into various characters with a “rare creative combo platter of smarts and humor.”
His first big TV break came with a few appearances on Californication, but he truly came to prominence as a member of the ensemble on Happy Endings.
Pally portrayed Max, a gay man that eschews most stereotypes in his uncouth manner and sloppy attire. In other words, a “straight dude who likes dudes,” who became the “most relatable, offbeat, and compelling gay character on network television.”
In other hands, Max would be a waste, but “blue-eyed and always ready with a killer smile, Pally invests Max with a precocious likability that makes viewers melt.” His work in the show’s third and final season was even recognized with a Critics’ Choice Television Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series.
Unfortunately, like Arrested Development, Pushing Daisies, and others, Happy Endings was a critical hit and beloved by those who watched it, but was never able to attract the large viewership that networks demand.
From there, he moved on to another adored but underappreciated show, immediately becoming “the best addition to The Mindy Project,” whose “relationships and chemistry with the other cast [members] have been fundamental to the series.”
Both shows allowed Pally to bring his “prickly charm” – a mix of everyman relatability and slightly unhinged humor.
Pally would later describe Happy Endings and The Mindy Project as “two critically-acclaimed and spottily-viewed shows,” and that his “nickname in the television business is 0.8,” referring to the shows’ low Nielsen ratings.
Since then, he has continued to work nearly nonstop.
On TV, he’s been all over, from portraying a member of a late rapper’s entourage (Champaign ILL) to parodying Donald Trump, Jr. (The President Show, of which he was also executive producer) to time traveling through the past (Making History) to a galaxy far, far away (The Mandalorian where he infamously punched baby Yoda), not to mention numerous voice credits including BoJack Horseman, Crossing Swords, and DuckTales.
Some things didn’t work (Indebted was the attempt at an Everybody Loves Raymond jackpot) but some other things just weren’t given enough time to work (Making History was a great combination of a “high concept gone silly”). Next up he is co-hosting a travel show on TruTV called “101 Places to Party Before You Die.”
In the film world, he’s done, in his words, “small part, big movie,” such as his appearance in Iron Man 3, where at least one website dubbed Pally’s Gary the cameraman as the “most relatable Marvel character,” and as Wade Whipple, a police officer, in the two recent Sonic the Hedgehog films.
Even the critically-savaged Bad Grandpa generated $100 million at the box office. He has balanced these with smaller films like Slow Learners, Most Likely to Murder, and more.
Through it all, he’s never lost his love for strange and even uncomfortable humor. He will “do things that might offend people,” like his controversial speech at the Shorty Awards and his work with Funny or Die, most notably, the time he joined Ozeri and others for a bit where they live-streamed a fifty-hour marathon of watching every episode of Entourage in a row.
It has not been a linear or predictable career path by any means.
We want artists to take chances, to challenge themselves and the audience, but we also understand when they decide to do that network sitcom gig that could make them a billionaire.
Regardless of whether its a wacky comedy or worldwide blockbuster, Adam Pally is always sure to imbue it with his “goofy charm.”
Perhaps surprisingly for a comic actor, Pally has become an unlikely style icon. His looks have been analyzed and praised by GQ time and time again. It’s difficult to define his look, but it’s a combination of upscale streetwear and relaxed professional, influenced equally by the worlds of hip-hop and fashion (and the intersection of the two).
A peak into his closet shows beautiful threads from Supreme, Brain Dead, Fear of God, Kith, and much more. A known sneakerhead that likes to wear classic Jordans to interviews, he also gave the sitcom dad a style makeover.
Pally once described his “sweet spot” as “showing up on The Tonight Show wearing BAPE and a Cuban link chain when [you’re] 55,” so we can all look forward to that in fifteen years.
Legendary Talk Show Guest
Speaking of late, Adam Pally’s talk show appearances are legendary and we are lucky that we are able to savor and watch them over and over thanks to the magic of YouTube.
For his first appearance on Conan in 2012, he wanted to make a good impression, so he wore a black tuxedo. Naturally, he did not want to disappoint the next time he was on, so he wore a different costume, this time dressing up as a Buckingham Palace Beefeater. From there, he dressed up every time, the outfits becoming more ridiculous with each subsequent appearance:
- a combination of Abraham Lincoln and The Mask
- Fat Batman (a/k/a “Fatman”)
- “Snaredevil” (Daredevil with a snare drum but actually Deadpool)
This is how legends are made.
His classic appearances extend far beyond Conan, however.
He once showed up to Jimmy Kimmel Live! in a giant hamster ball, told James Corden how Robert Downey, Jr. texts him in the middle of the night, and recounted to Stephen Colbert the story of how he asked out Jennifer Lopez.
Another interview that may fly under the radar is one of the times he sat down with Pete Holmes. When asked by Holmes how it is being a parent of young children, Pally immediately responds, “Ugh, it sucks.” Later, he adds, “Any parent that has not thought about killing their child is a fucking liar,” to which his own father can be heard laughing in the other room.
Every (honest) parent will not only understand but empathize.
The Soup Is Hot [The Greatest Hour in TV History]
Of course, no mention of Pally’s late night talk show appearances – or his career at all – is complete without revisiting his epic single night hosting The Late Late Show that has taken on mythical proportions.
In early 2015, after Craig Ferguson had ended his run as host of The Late Late Show but before James Corden began his tenure, CBS had a series of guest hosts fill in. On the final Friday of January, two days before the Super Bowl, it was Adam Pally’s turn to host. He brought his comedy partner Ben Schwartz to be his sidekick (the final link, Ozeri, was also scheduled to join but couldn’t travel due to weather) and the two endured nothing but bad luck:
“A blizzard hit New York the night before and brought a substantial chunk of New York to a halt. The guests had to be frantically replaced. CBS flew Pally out from Los Angeles in a wretched coach seat. They were set up in Charlie Rose’s news studio with no audience to assist via laughter. The crew was not especially pleased about any of it and, according to Pally, hated him.”
Some of the best comedy comes from conflict and there was plenty of that for Pally and Schwartz to bump up against, but the reality is that it was the background against which they did their thing. They just bantered and tried to make each other laugh. “It played out kind of like a public access show hosted by the funniest people you know.”
I have referred to it as the greatest hour in TV history. The episode, which has been lovingly described as “a train-wreck,” has been the subject of oral histories, pleas for its release, and anniversary celebrations that I immodestly take credit for since every year I send out a tweet reminding the world of what transpired on the evening of January 30, 2015.
In his opening, Pally confronted the fact that he was not nearly as famous as the previous night’s host, Regis Philbin, and that the network airing the show was not directly in his wheelhouse:
“I’ve never been on CBS before. I don’t even really watch CBS, but I do have two living Jewish grandmothers and a father-in-law all over 60, so someone related to me is always watching this network.”
The next day, it began to make the rounds on Twitter. It generated buzz and was shared and retweeted over and over. Then, it was gone. Someone would post it again and, seemingly immediately, it would disappear.
CBS constantly scrubs it from the internet. YouTube won’t even allow the full video to even be published publicly (I’ve tried); I used to post it DailyMotion every year but it would be ripped down in less than an hour so I gave up.
Of course, like an overprotective parent, making something so illicit has only increased its lore and the desire to watch it – the Streisand effect. It is quietly shared on Twitter and Reddit, like when underground tapes would make the rounds via word of mouth:
“Back in the day you would record weird shit off of like 1:00 in the morning public access, or like weird shows that run. You put it on a VHS, and you pass it to your friend and your friend would go crazy for it. Your friend would pass it to another friend. I always thought this was kind of a version of that…like, ‘What the fuck? Did you guys see? What the fuck just happened?’ Then people started to copy it and send it and pass it around the internet almost like what…happened with those VHS tapes.”
It has become an artifact of twenty-first century pop culture.
It was a unique, strange, hilarious, brilliant, unrepeatable hour of TV. Just like its host.
Protect Adam Pally at all costs.
Christopher Pierznik is the worst-selling author of nine books. Check out more of his writing at Medium. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, Fatherly, Hip Hop Golden Age, and many more. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter. Please feel free to get in touch at CPierznik99@gmail.com.