SALEM — Adam Mamawala, a 25-year-old comedian from Hoboken, N.J., was named one of the 30 funniest comedians under 30 by Funny or Die, a popular comedy video website.
He describes himself as confident, which is evident from the fact that he joked his way to the top of the New Jersey Comedy Festival in 2007. Mamawala is booked solid on a college circuit that will include a stop at Salem State next Thursday, Jan. 24, at 8 p.m. in Veterans Hall at Ellison Campus Center. Mamawala recently spoke to The Salem News about his career.
How would you describe your material?
I characterize myself as a story-form comic, meaning a lot of the material I use is derived from experiences I’ve had in my life. There’s lot of observational humor, with a couple of impersonations mixed in, although I’m doing less of that.
Whom do you impersonate?
I’m probably best known for an impersonation of Barack Obama, although I try not to get political, because that can be polarizing.
How does it go?
He speaks very well, but he takes three times longer to say something than any other human being. I ask somebody to take out a cellphone or stopwatch, to see how long it would take me to say something speaking normally, then I say it at the rate he would say it. He can make anything he says, make anything sound cool or intelligent, just by having it come out of his mouth.
When did you start performing?
I’ve been performing for a little over seven years. I started as a freshman in college, in January of 2006, on a whim, more or less on a recommendation from a friend. Then, my junior year, I won a New Jersey-wide contest to find the funniest college comedian in New Jersey. I got through to the final round, it was me versus 30 people, and I wound up winning.
What did you win?
The grand prize was $1,000, a free trip to Cancun and a spot at a comedy club in New York City.
What did you study in college?
I studied communications, with a minor in Italian, which I haven’t used a lot.
When did you start to realize that other people find you funny?
I went to a Nets game — formerly the New Jersey Nets, now the Brooklyn Nets — and the whole game I was making smart comments about the game. At one point, my friend Tim said, you sound like you’re doing standup comedy, you should write this down.
Was it challenging to get onstage at first?
I’ve always been very confident. I went to a comedy club in New Jersey, and it was well-received, and then from that point forward, I got more confident onstage, my style and stage presence started to develop. I realized I had a knack for that, from the standpoint of knowing how to be comfortable onstage and engage the audience.
What comedians did you like growing up, and whom do you like now?
I grew up with parents who were into comedy, more so in terms of television, and I grew up watching a lot of Monty Python, a lot of Seinfeld, Cosby. A lot of the greats were instilled in my brain early on. As I got to high school and got my own taste in comedy, I liked Chris Rock, Dane Cook, Dave Chappelle, Louis C.K.
How do you develop your material?
My process is not like everybody else. Some comedians are so prolific, they’ll wake up and say, I’ll write for three hours. My process is, anything I see, hear, observe, I write it down immediately. Even if I don’t know whether it will turn into anything. Then I take that amorphous idea onstage, and figure out what the punch line is onstage.
That takes courage. Don’t you break into a sweat?
There’s a time and place for that. I live in Hoboken, and I go to New York and do open mike shows. That’s what’s so exhilarating and frustrating about comedy: It’s a profession where you have to accept failure. If you want to be a good comedian, the only way to do that is to get up and fail at it.
Most of your gigs seem to be at colleges.
The majority is colleges. It’s definitely difficult trying to get into the club scene in New York because of the sheer number of comedians. But colleges pay a lot better than clubs do — every college, no matter how big or small, has a student activities board for bringing in entertainment.
Is your material directed just at college students, or do you try to reach a broader audience?
That’s something I’ve been very conscious of. When I was starting out, a lot of stuff I wrote just naturally pertained to being in college. But you have to realize very quickly, you’re writing for more than one demographic. I write material that would work anywhere.
How many colleges did you appear at last year?
In 2012, I was at 49 colleges across 24 states and also Canada. This stretch right now is the busiest I’ve ever been in by far, with 35 more colleges to visit just this spring.