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Interview: Adam Ray

Interview: Adam Ray
Cory Anotado

The co-host of Separation Anxiety on TBS talks about the show, the oboe and Pat Sajak.

Adam Ray is a comedian and actor, best known for his role in the Sandra Bullock buddy cop comedy The Heat. He also co-hosts a comedy podcast called About Last Night. I sat down and talked with Adam about his role in TBS’s upcoming hidden camera trivia couple amalgam of a game show Separation Anxiety, premiering March 8 at 10 PM. For those of you who are more sensitive to these things, there is some grown-up language bandied about a bit in this interview.

Adam, thank you for taking the time to speak with me today.

Cory, how’s it going?

It’s really… it’s OK. Not gonna lie. It’s only OK.

Oh, man, I appreciate your honesty.

No problem.

You’re not fluffing up how you’re actually doing! Good.

Thanks for sitting down and talking with us. We’re really excited about Separation Anxiety because I’ve never seen a show quite like this in one package. I’ve seen about four different shows with little pieces of each of these things, but never put together in such a solid package.

I consider myself a pretty big game show guy, too. I didn’t really realize that until I went to a taping of The Price is Right my sophomore year of college and rushed onto the stage during the Showcase. One of the 20 guys that I went with in my fraternity who was guaranteed to get on—because that’s how it works, if you with a group of more than 20, then one person’s guaranteed to get called to Contestant’s Row.

(Editor’s note: according to a source inside the show, at the time Adam rushed the stage, it wasn’t a written rule that large groups were guaranteed to come on down. Law of averages, though. Anyway.)

Our buddy got called at the very end, so he only had one shot. We were bummed out about that, so we were like, “How can we make this a memorable day?” Our buddy was like, “You should rush the stage during the Showcase.” I was like, “I don’t know about that.” Then he’s like, “Haven’t we had a lot of whiskey?” and I was like, “You’re right!” And then I rushed onto the stage. Did the robot behind Bob Barker and sat in the winner’s Escalade. It was a memorable day for sure.

So, that love for game shows made me very in-tune for how different this was. Definitely, it was the reason why I wanted to audition for it, because I’ve known Iliza [Shlesinger, host of Separation Anxiety] since we both started stand up, she’s always been one of my favorite people to be around and she’s obviously created quite the brand so I knew if she was attached, there would be obviously a good chance for it to be successful.

Most game shows are 30 minutes and you don’t get to know the contestant as much as I feel like you really should. The more you know about them and can get a chance to care, you’re going to get emotionally invested in their stakes. That’s what this show does brilliantly. You know, it is cable, so it is a little edgier than what you’d expect, which is what I think people want in most game shows. I would love for Pat Sajak to drop the occasional f-bomb, but he’s just not going to do it.

[laughter]

On this show, it’s like, for sure that happens a few times. For sure there’s envelopes being pushed always, but in good taste, because there’s a fine balance between having too much comedy that you pull the stakes out from under the audience, but enough to where you don’t see it coming. The guys who created the show did a great job of setting up those boundaries and also letting us do our thing. If I wasn’t able to feel comfortable completely being me on this, I don’t think it would’ve worked as well for me or for the show.

It’s interesting you mention that, because the whole guise of the show is that you host an Internet game show that doesn’t actually exist. You get to be you, but what kind of challenges did you have in keeping this massive charade under wraps for your contestants?

I think the biggest challenge for me was being able to keep the whole facade that my show was a show, and basically that means I couldn’t stop talking. For close to three hours, three times a day, I had to just keep up the illusion that the show that these people thought they were on was a show. I had this earpiece in that Iliza is communicating with me through to use me as her puppet for any sort of comedic moments that she thinks should happen. She throws suggestions at me and I run with them. I’m listening to her for my cue for when to insert us as part of the equation for the show. For the time in between, most times, it was five or ten minutes. There were times where it was 15 to 20 minutes. It was a lot of vamping. Thank God I’ve been doing a podcast for three years, and stand-up for nine. I’m comfortable vamping in certain situations.

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Also, once I’ve realized how crucial to the believability of the contestant having no clue that there was anything else happening outside of that room, it was a no-brainer. I treated my stage as if it was a real show. So, since I operated from that mindset, then it made it a lot more fun. Obviously, I wanted to have moments that they would hopefully feel bad they couldn’t cut away to, because they were on the main stage.

Having a six-person audience in that tiny Internet game show stage helped a lot, and a little bit of a crew, because it gave me a little bit of an audience to play to other than just the contestant. It was fun to utilize all those parts as well. That was definitely the most challenging, to do my own thing. Sometimes, you would get so locked into that, having so much fun, and Iliza would come chattering into my ear: “Hey, this is the real fucking show. Now you gotta do this.” Oh yeah, that’s right.

Sometimes, you just go, “I don’t have to figure this out.” We rehearsed for three weeks, which helped. You just kinda go, “I just have to make this work. I expect to not be bad at this.” Hopefully, America agrees, otherwise I will move to Belgium and start my career as an oboe player.

Can you play the oboe?

Uh, I played the clarinet until the 6th grade, and then I quit because I think I knew, even at 12, I was like, “oh, you’re not going to do anything with this and girls do not get off on guys who play the clarinet.” Shots fired; I know Kenny G. I think Kenny G plays the oboe. My point exactly: I don’t think there is a famous clarinetist. If there is, I would love to know the name of that person, meet them, and apologize.

Separation Anxiety Iliza Shlesinger & Adam Ray On Set Portraits

I’m thinking about the past few game shows that have premiered on television— Easiest Game Show Ever on Pop, Monopoly Millionaire’s Club, Celebrity Name Game—the main theme that’s going on with all these shows is that comedians are taking the helm as an emcee. In the 70s and 80s, you had traditional emcees, like Dick Clark, Bob Eubanks, people who worked their way up in a news/radio career path. Why do you think that game shows now are moving toward comedians as taking the helm? On Separation Anxiety, there are two comedians taking the helm of  technically two different shows. What makes the comedian a vital part of game shows today?

I think comedians are more relatable as human beings, first of all. You look at the Dick Clarks and the Chuck Woolerys, they’re really good at being hosts. To me, old-school game show hosts aren’t real people. I guess they pride themselves on being charming and sweet, but they always say the right thing, and it’s just safe enough, and they always know when to cut to commercial… I never felt like watching them to see any crazy, raw moment, you know? I think that’s because it was so much about the game and they just needed a host to be a talking head with a couple of nice dimples and a cool suit, and bring their own flair, obviously. Bob Barker is probably the greatest host of all time, but to me, I really became a fan of him as I got older and saw how old he was. I loved him because I loved the show, you know?

I think what comedians bring is just an extra level of personality, of quickness. Traditional game show hosts are so locked in a pattern of doing the same type of jargon and verbal speech patterns as far as, “Oh, I say this, then I cut to commercial then I say the thing…” With our show, there’s a lot more freedom to be you. You know, I’m sure Chuck Woolery was not that guy when he got off stage. Iliza and I were very much us during the whole shoot of the show, and I think that’s what TBS was banking on and why they picked us. They wanted to capitalize on the point of views and comedic sensibilities that we’ve honed in on at this point, and hopefully add that onto a great game and really have something special.

07/26/2015 TBS Marketing and Public Relations Separation Anxiety ep 101 TBS Techwood Studios Atlanta, GA ph: E. M. Pio Roda / TBS, Inc.

Comedians just have another layer of… I don’t want to say “humanness,” but like, bravery? Courage? Willingness to make a fool of themselves, and to just be in the moment and to just push things a little bit. That’s why, being on cable, we have that advantage. Comedians are just trained to handle more situations. Other than Marc Summers, who I’ve gotten to know, who started in stand-up, I don’t know about any of these other hosts. Pat Sajak has probably never been heckled at 12:45 at The Comedy Store in front of 9 people. I think just having that type of back story, that makes you a better, more relatable host. That’s why I was able to vamp for so long with these people, because I’ve been in situations on stage in comedy shows around the country where I’ve had to make something out of nothing, or just deal with obstacles. I think that makes you more prepared. You’re talking from` a more interesting place.

Couple more quick things. One, Kenny G plays the saxophone, not the clarinet. I fact-checked you.

Oh snap. You weren’t gonna let that slide.

Nope. And, um, famous clarinet player? Benny Goodman, from the 30s.

Oh my God. Benny Goodman. But, to my point, when was he famous?

1937.

Yeah, there you go, man. Well over 70 years. I would need a famous clarinetist from like 1986 for me to give any sort of validity to the fact that that instrument pulls pussy. A trumpet, for sure. Cellists, too.

One of the things that are going under-appreciated with Separation Anxiety, as far as I can tell, is that Iliza Shlesinger joins a very elite group of female game show hosts. Elayne Boozler, Betty White, Kim Coles, Meredith Viera, Jane Lynch, Brooke Burns, Anne Robinson. What it is about Iliza that makes her perfect for hosting a game show, and this game show?

What I loved about her from the moment I met her was how direct she was, and how she looked me right in the eyes when we talked and when we made jokes, and she was very connected, right off the bat, before we really got a chance to thoroughly get to know each other. She’s like that with her audiences when she does her shows, she’s like that with the contestants on this show, she’s like that with people she deals with. You’re gonna get good results that way, dealing with someone who’s just locked in all the time.

Unit imagery of TBS's Separation Anxiety photographed in Atlanta, GA. Photo by John Nowak/TBS

She had her show, Excused, a dating show she hosted before this. I was telling here, “That show is so perfect for you.” I don’t think she hosted anything up until that point. I’ve always had the stance of, up until the last few years, of comedians hosting stuff: if they can be themselves and not just be a talking head, doing gameplay and reading cue cards, then they can really shine and it’s an amazing platform to build fans and show what they can do. And she did that incredibly on that show, because it was quick banter that she does, and being charming and being good at talking to people. You know, she’s talking at people when she’s doing stand-up, but she’s got a very conversational likability to her that you feel like you’re just hanging out with her.

I like to think I have a similar quality which is why we fit well for the show, because we just like people. So, that helps and it comes across when we’re talking to contestants. We both generally get invested in a lot of these contestants, and we’re really bummed when some of them didn’t win, and it made our weeks when some of them with some of these incredible backstories won some sweet cash.

Iliza’s kind of a rare breed of comic where she’s… it is a men’s club, and she got success early and I think had to really prove herself moreso, because of that, and she’s one of the hardest workers I know, one of the smartest people, but she’s never faltered in staying true to what her brand is and what her voice is. You do that, and you hope that the business recognizes that, and goes, “Oh, cool, that’s who you are, that’s what you do.” That’s pretty rad that people are starting to pick up on that. Now, we can insert that and hopefully capitalize on that.

I’m glad you brought up the point about it. As much as you don’t want to acknowledge something like that, a female host a game show… when I first heard that, right off the bat, that it was Iliza, I was super pumped, even before I knew what the show was.

Yeah, same.

For a show branching out and not going male, but then knowing her and seeing what’s she done before hosting-wise, I was like, “Oh man, I don’t know what that show is, but it’s going to be dope and I know her and I know she doesn’t take crap.” It honestly made me want to be more involved when I heard TBS, which I’m a big fan of, they were trying to rebrand, and once I heard what the show was… oh yeah, I could fit in and add something, it’s pretty rad. Definitely, it’s a really big deal that hopefully we’ll get a little more attention than what we’re expecting, you know, because it’s not a male hosting yet another show

Separation Anxiety is a game that’s really predicated on you liking the contestants and cheering for the contestants. Jeopardy, you have a collection of people you can cheer for or against… even a solo game like Millionaire, you can easily cheer against someone if you don’t like them. But Separation Anxiety requires, I think, that you like your contestants.

Totally.

So I think it’s good that someone like Iliza who’s very personable can take the helm on this show.

Yeah. I think, again, we both genuinely… as much as Iliza says people frustrate her, she genuinely cares and especially when you get going on these shows, and you meet these people and you hear these stories and you want to root for them. I think that’s a great thing this show has going for it.

Also, what other shows do you see that have hosts that are hugging the contestants and chest-bumping with them? Especially on my show, which I guess there’s more leeway with that, because everyone thinks it’s an Internet game show. I think Iliza and I both do a good job of getting really genuinely pumped for them. When the audience sees the host take that much concern for the contestants’ well-being and status in the show and winning, it makes you care more. Most hosts read the card, this and that, “oh cool, you won!” Sometimes they don’t even high-five or they give you a weird half-hug.

I thought of Sajak when I said that. I think that’s my second or third shot at Sajak already.

Shots fired.

Even Trebek… the hosts are so removed. The Price is Right, even. Bob Barker would announce the winner, and they would run immediately—maybe they would run to Barker, but they would run immediately to the prize. I think it’s pretty rad that we’re able to facilitate more of an emotional reaction for the audience than a lot of shows allow.

This is something that I’ve noticed talking to a lot of different game show hosts. As a game show host, and you count at this point, there’s a propensity sometimes to ingest the information that you’re repeating out to the world. Have you learned any cool pieces of trivia from your time hosting in Separation Anxiety?

Oh yeah, for sure. Almost every question was a new piece of information, sadly. I feel like I know a lot of good pop culture trivia, and sports for sure. There was a question about a type of drink that also sounded like a type of dress. There was one where it was asking… it really stumped the couple. On what dollar bill was a certain president… Man, everyone there. Maybe… was Andrew Jackson on the $20?

Jackson’s on the 20, yeah.

I remember specifically it was one of the trickiest ones to maneuver through and the couple… I don’t think they got it. We spent an abnormal amount of time trying to allow them to figure it out and having producers in my ear throwing me tidbits to try to coach them in a way, but not too much because you have to be careful to not be the reason they get it or don’t get it.

Yeah, there were questions like that that made me go, “Oh, there’s so much shit I don’t know.” But I get that all the time anyway because I have twin 6-year-old nieces that are constantly asking me things. Little pop quizzes, like, what sound does a zebra make? And I’m like, “How the fuck do I… why would I know that?” But now I feel like an idiot, so thank you so much for that moment, just because you’re curious of an animal noise that you’re never going to need the answer to other than just being a sponge for the world right now.

Again, that’s another facet of the game that our team that created those questions like. It’s another level of commitment to the show that I think will separate it from other ones. You know, you’re watching at home, rooting for these contestants, but people love to play along at home, and so many of these questions are like, I’m reading them and also trying to figure them out because they were that good. I had to remind myself, “Hey, man, you’re hosting this, you’re not sitting at home with a joint trying to solve these questions.” I hope that I can do that when it premieres.

07/26/2015 TBS Marketing and Public Relations Separation Anxiety ep 101 TBS Techwood Studios Atlanta, GA ph: E. M. Pio Roda / TBS, Inc.

Thank you for taking the time to talk to us. I’m really looking forward to this. This is such a unique show for a variety of different reasons, that it definitely deserves a good, hearty shot. So, I’m excited to see if it takes off.

I really appreciate you saying that. I love that you feel that way, especially coming from somebody who loves game shows. That’s definitely a good sign if you’re enjoying it and thinking it can make a splash. Now, you just gotta hope that people watch and get into it, right? I guess that’s how this works now.