Written by Mark Talaga
Sitting in my office, normally reserved for my therapy clients, I prepare for their arrival. Nate Dufort and Adam Peacock were on my short list of Detroit-based comedians whom I hoped to interview. Serendipity, being the coquettish sprite that she is, had similar plans and before I could send out an email requesting an interview, they sent one to me. Adam and Nate, co-creators of the comedy/horror podcast My Neighbors are Dead, an improvised show where comedians play lesser known characters from famous horror movies, want me to interview them.
About what, I’m not yet sure. I suggest we meet in my office because of its centralized location, but I suspect my unconscious intention is to give myself home field advantage. Both Adam and Nate are comedy juggernauts, pillars in the Detroit improv scene, and, frankly, I don’t want to come across like a nervous high-schooler writing for the ‘Kid’s Beat’ section.
Adam, the host of the podcast, arrives first. He is likable and unassuming. We chit-chat and, soon after, Nate walks in. Nate, the show’s producer, is Adam’s complementary opposite. Where Adam is more reserved, Nate is purposeful and exudes intensity. Nate is the goal-oriented Bert and Adam is the go-with-the-flow Ernie. I’m a Carrie.
After quick introductions, I waste no time asking them what it is they want to say.
Apparently, this article I wrote about Pj Jacokes from Go Comedy! had a big impact on Nate.
Nate: “I don’t even know if Adam knows this, but I reached out to you after I read that article because as much press as we’ve received, we don’t get to talk about, or people aren’t interested in, our roots here in Detroit. I feel like that has laid the groundwork and the map for every single thing that we do now. Because we’re a podcast, for the most part, people think we’re region-less.”
Adam: “Absolutely. We usually don’t miss an opportunity come back home and show some love.”
Born and raised Michiganders, Adam and Nate have an allegiance to their home town and they want their fans to know it. It isn’t until later in the interview that I grasp their ardent determination to broadcast this seemingly trivial piece of information. I asked why, after spending years working the scene in Chicago, they returned home.
Adam: “At least for me, there’s something kind of inspiring about being back home. Nate and I have known each other, God how long? We were together when Second City Detroit was downtown. Coming home reminds yourself why you’re doing this. To be around things that inspire you, it’s kind of refreshing.” (laughs)
Nate splits his time between Chicago and Plymouth. However, both Nate and Adam left Michigan when Second City Detroit closed. Soon after, they accepted employment at Second City Chicago. Adam continued on as an actor and Nate shifted roles towards producing and directing.
Nate: “I had a great run producing in Chicago. Adam had a great run as an actor there. But then it came to its natural conclusion. We started talking to each other, talking about what we wanted, and it’s how the podcast was born. We’re in our mid and late 30s here and so we asked ourselves, ‘What do we want?’ The one thing that we said, above anything else, was that we only want to work with people we like.”
Avowing their motivation marked a beginning for Adam and Nate. It served as an origin point to their podcast, certainly, but also an inauguration in how to replant their deep roots at Second City. At the time, Nate and his producing partner were running anywhere from 105 to 110 performances a week.
Nate: “It’s impressive on paper, but it’s a nightmare to do and you realize, ‘Oh, I’m completely losing a little bit of myself.’”
Nate loved the work and his capabilities as a producer are without question, however, he started to feel a pull to do something else. Adam had a slightly different experience.
Adam: “When I was understudying on Main Stage in Chicago for Tim [Robinson], I wasn’t doing my own show, which Tim never let’s me forget (laughs). However, I’ve certainly had a few moments during those two and half hour sets of performing to truly feel like I was doing the thing that I’m supposed to do. It’s like freedom. A pretty remarkable freedom.”
Those few moments were precious to Adam, though not exactly enough. The mild malcontent Adam and Nate felt had nothing to do with Second City as an employer, it was more about becoming aware of something within themselves.
As Nate began to burn out and Adam was sampling a taste of what gave him meaning, a connection between these two comedians coalesced. They decided to create something that scratched their proverbial itch: My Neighbors Are Dead.
Nate: “The podcast wasn’t actually the original thing we had in mind after moving on from Second City. Adam was coming to me pitching tons and tons of ideas. Most of which, because he’s not a producer, made me think, ‘Great. That’s a million dollar budget.’”
Adam: (laughs) “I just wanted to do it! I didn’t know you had to go about it in a certain way. For example, I wanted to make a professional wrestling belt for something. I thought, ‘Let’s just do it’. Apparently, they’re like $5000 to make! I don’t have $5000 to throw at a wrestling belt.”
Adam: “Yet. I don’t have it yet.”
I could see why these two work so well together. Nate’s budgetary sensibilities act as an mainstay to Adam’s ideas as well as a telescopic sight aimed at the future success of the podcast. What makes this duo click, though, is that Adam provides something extremely valuable to Nate.
Nate: “Adam is constantly reinventing and reimagining our creative relationship. He also makes sure that this project is one of the most important things on his docket because it is on mine. I’m really invested, not about the time and energy, as much as it is emotional energy, expectations and hope.”
Nate admits that he handles about 80% of the work that goes into making this podcast a reality. All of the backend tasks (sound design, production, editing, etc.) that make this medium look and sound so professional, electively falls on his shoulders.
This is where Adam’s ability to bring creative energy and focus reinvigorates Nate. It protects his greatest vulnerability: burning out. The balance that’s created is passed on to the audience as they listen to a novel, polished podcast that constantly evolves.
Adam and Nate’s partnership brings to mind another famous Detroit duo: Tim “The Toolman” Taylor and Al Borland.
No, of course not. I’m talking about Tim Robinson and Sam Richardson. You may know them better from their Comedy Central show The Detroiters. Nate examines their journey.
Nate: “Tim and Sam – two best friends pitching a show together. Two of the funniest people on TV, but still have so many hurdles at every point on the corporate food chain that are going to deter that goal. The thing is, I don’t think those gentlemen have any doubts of what they’re capable of doing.”
Nate says that in some ways, Tim and Sam must follow a similar philosophy to Adam and him: engage in a selective worldview where you ignore the possibility of failure.
I begin to wonder how much Detroit’s comedy scene played into developing that mindset. When I ask them, Nate and Adam swing their focus back to their time coming up together as improvisers.
Nate: “We had our playground at Planet Ant where we could do almost anything we wanted and there wasn’t really a burden of ticket sales. We’d get notes from artistic directors or from Margaret Edwardtowski, very much the matriarch of the community, but for the most part it instilled in us the idea of ‘keep playing until you think it’s funny.’”
Adam: “Everybody was very supportive and giving with their time and talents. It didn’t feel, and I could be wrong, cutthroat. That wasn’t the vibe here. Everybody was excited to be doing things with everybody.
Nate: “We asked for the things we wanted and we got them. In improv and in our art, it was one of the few places we could. That’s why we put in the hours. Improvising in Detroit was the one place where we were rewarded for being ourselves.”
Slowly, but surely, the fog around their intention was clearing. Their reason for contacting me, their reason for creating My Neighbors are Dead, their reason for choosing each other; all of it centers around paying homage to their time, and the people, here in Detroit.
The funny thing is, both Nate and Adam feel like they aren’t properly conveying what it is they want to say. Nate offers an abrupt interpretation of their time with me.
Nate: “There’s no article here, but it was great meeting you.” (laughs)
Adam: “This has just been fun to hang out for an hour!”
Their struggle to say something meaningful to their fans and to the city that gave them so much spikes their anxiety. Of course, their analysis is pre-mature. Because what they want to say isn’t in their words. Not exactly. They model the message through their friendships. Not only to each other, but to the cadre of performers they’ve met and played with over the years.
Their return to Detroit is really the return to those who gave so generously of themselves. Choosing to only work with people they admire recreates what it is that made their time in Detroit impactful. At the same time, by having close, talented friends join them in the studio or up on stage at live shows, they are giving back.
Second City, a massive feather affixed to their careers, could not give them what they needed. Not fully. They had to admit they wanted more and “more” meant enveloping themselves amidst an ideal community of comedians. They give similar advice to the next generation of improvisers.
Nate: “Find the people you trust. Find the people that make you laugh and don’t let go. We’re not changing the world, but we’re doing something that makes us laugh. It’s easy and you can do it better than us.”
Adam: “I’m learning as I get older all the ‘Hang in There’ cat posters are right (laughs). They’re all true. All the love songs are true. All the other crap is right. You should be so lucky to find people you click with, not just on a professional or artistic level, but on a personal level. I consider myself very lucky. Find those people.”
Once they took a step back from their work as comedians and asked themselves what they really want, the solution presented itself. Simply create a gravitational platform that pulls the important people into it’s orbit. This is what allows these two enough runway to launch their work into the air, towards the unknown. To Nate and Adam, the destination is irrelevant, because their craft is packed with the people they love.
Visit My Neighbors are Dead or listen with Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Google Play or wherever you get your audio.