Before becoming an actor, Don Adams was a stand-up comedian
Image credit: The Everett Collection
Inside every successful comedian lies a serious dramatic actor who couldn't get work. Or at least that is how Get Smart's Don Adams saw it back in 1970.
"Most comedians want to be actors," Adams said in an interview with Ventura County Star. "But they are limited by their physical appearance or size."
Adams didn't have too many setbacks physically; he said, aside from being a bit short compared to other actors. What he did struggle with, he learned to live with. That was the Adams' way.
Adams became everyone's favorite spoofing spy with his role as Agent 86 or Maxwell Smart. He had long hoped to end up in television, and stand-up comedy was one major push in the right direction. His biggest challenge would be figuring it out.
"The big difference between a comedian and an actor is timing," Adams said. "The rhythm of delivering a line is not the same at all. Comedy is a different craft."
Before he was known for Get Smart, Adams was known around clubs in Florida as a stand-up comedian. He was known for his impressions of celebrities and a few other small bits. His writing partner was even comedian Bill Dana, which couldn't have hurt his knack for comedic timing.
Adams said he became a comedian 20 years before he got his role in Get Smart because the field was less crowded. He said by the time he played Agent 86, the stand-up comedy field was overpopulated with hopeful comics. Part of the change was due to television. Stand-up comedians, writers and improvs were now all in demand more than ever.
"There is a revolution going on now in movies," Adams added. "Films are no longer just for beautiful people. They're casting actors who look like everyday human beings. If Dustin Hoffman can make it as a hero, then there's hope for me."
In a 1967 interview with The Akron Beacon Journal, Adams said part of the problem with stand-up comedians of his time period was that comedians weren't changing at a fast enough pace compared to the evolving sophisticated TV viewer.
He said many stand-up comedians still did routines similar to what Milton Berle or Red Buttons did almost 20 years prior.
"Television has almost schooled people in comedy," Adams said. "They've seen 10,000 comedians do 50,000 routines. When you do a routine now, people can beat you to the punchline. You haven't got a chance."
Adams used his wit and quick comedic timing to outsmart Hollywood. He used his skills as a stand-up comedian and applied them to Get Smart, bringing a unique sense of comedy to the series. His comedy experience made the spy spoof just a bit more spoofy.
"If you improvise on your feet while you're acting, you find pieces of business to do," Adams said. "That's usually the funniest comedy. The best of it comes from spontaneity."