Getting Sweaty With this Year's SXSW Comedy Keynote, Impressionist James Adomian
The pervert's guide to Slavoj Žižek
By Rod Machen, Fri., March 10, 2023
James Adomian is no stranger to SXSW. The famed impressionist has delighted audiences for years with his renditions of Jesse Ventura, Bernie Sanders, and even Austin's own Alex Jones. Now he's embodying the essence of Slavoj Žižek for this year's comedy keynote. Wait, Slavoj who?
Let's just let Adomian answer that himself.
This question is going to be asked at the show. In fact, the whole show might be spent trying in vain to answer this question. Slavoj Žižek is a celebrity philosopher. He's probably the most famous person who calls himself a philosopher. And he's accomplished, he's published. He's in thousands of movies and videos and constantly doing live events that are filmed and put on the internet. But also, he's a real character. He's Slovenian, and so there is an obscure Eastern European accent. And yet, most of the time [he's] speaking English with slight effort and yet fluently.
And he sputters and spits, and he has wild gesticulations, and he's constantly flop-sweating. And his political orientation is kind of like a revival of [Jacques] Lacan and [Georg Wilhelm Friedrich] Hegel. Some of it starts to sound comical. "I was raised a Communist and then a fervent anti-Communist in my youth. And now, once again, I am a Communist." And so he's pingponged around the political ideology available to him. He vaguely occupies an Adbusters orientation on the political spectrum.
He's known for bringing up high-important topics and then illustrating his points with pop culture and so forth. He had the series The Pervert's Guide. And so he's always bringing up some concept of geopolitics or philosophy as applied to the current-day political scenario in Europe or around the world. And then to illustrate it, he'll be like, "My God, Madonna, let's unpack this." There's a lot of people who don't know who he is, but people who know who he is adore him. People think he's kind of a clown. That's one of the critiques of him, is that he doesn't really get very deep into the academic discussions, that he's kind of an entertainer. So to me, that's more important than being a great academic. And he's funny. He's self-aware and funny, and also he's funny in a way that he doesn't understand, probably. And I love the idea of a public intellectual.
And I'm going to test myself because I have to have a big, stupid mustache and beard glued to my face with a flop sweat. And I have to be wet. And when I've played him before, I've artificially wet myself, like pour water on my head before I go onstage.
This is going to be the longest I'm going to be onstage as Slavoj Žižek, so I'm going to have to see if the stage makeup will hold for that long and under that kind of stress. Because I really do get into a sputtering frenzy when I play him where it's just nonstop. When you're making fun of him, you have a way of maybe continuing to talk for five minutes straight. And it has been very fun to do, in short bursts in L.A., in the last year.
I've known about Slavoj Žižek for years, but to answer your original question, I don't know who Slavoj Žižek is. I experience this phenomenon, and it's a filter or a lens through which I can interpret the world. I'm giving you the academic bullshit speech, which is ... It's like the swamp he lives in. And I think it's a concept that needs to continue to be unpacked. And yet it's a forceful enough phenomenon, this Žižek phenomenon, that it even echoes into the simulacrum of South by Southwest comedy and the stage of Esther's Follies.
James Adomian at SXSW
ŽIŽEK vs. ŽXŽW: My god, what is this polycrisis? (a comedy keynote in twelve volumes)
Fri 10, 8pm, Esther's Follies
The Comedian’s Comedian With Stuart Goldsmith w/ James Adomian (live podcast)
Mon 13, 4pm, Esther's Follies