Delivering a punch line is hard work. Saying things in the right way to provoke laughter is not easy. Comedic actors definitely have their work cut out for them. That being said, writing something that makes people laugh can be even harder. Ottawa born and Toronto based comedic actor and writer Adam Niebergall knows this better than most.
After discovering a passion for acting in high school drama classes and the improv team, Niebergall continued his dramatic studies at Queen’s University. After graduating and moving to Toronto, he took writing classes at the world-renown Second City.
“I got into writing because I was really inspired by what people around Toronto were doing with comedy and I wanted to find out what my point of view would produce compared to theirs. People like David Dineen Porter, who lives in LA now, working as a writer on The Late Late Show, or Tom Henry and Chris Locke, who are both stand ups in Toronto, were inspirations,” said Niebergall.
Niebergall also formed a close friendship with Roger Bainbridge and the two formed the sketch comedy group Tony Ho.
“I especially loved Roger’s writing, obviously I’m such a weird fan boy of my friend Roger, but he really made unique stuff and had great ideas and I wanted my writing to be my own version of that,” he said.
Niebergall is now an award-winning writer and actor after winning a Canadian Comedy Award in 2015 as a member of sketch troupe Get Some. Get Some also won Toronto Sketchfest Best of the Fest that year, as well as Best of Fest at Montreal Sketchfest in 2016.
“For me, my writing surprises me. Whenever I feel like I’m really getting somewhere with my writing I feel this sort of meditative quality of peace, and I’m pleasantly baffled at having no idea where it came from. You live your everyday life as yourself and you know who you are, but at least for me, when I write I feel like ‘…who the hell am I? I didn’t know that stuff was in there’. I like that feeling a lot,” he described. “What I like about writing comedy is making really complicated emotions. I love the idea of making someone laugh but also feel something else. It’s such a neat idea to me that someone can laugh and feel sad at the same time, or that you can laugh and feel confused at the same time. I want to write comedy that you might think about later. Either there was a visual or a joke or a concept that stayed with you and you can’t shake it and hopefully it makes you feel weird.”
Despite his success, Niebergall still acknowledges the challenges that writing can bring. He believes there are two challenges that all writers need to overcome.
“You have to maintain your confidence when you’re stuck with something and you have to try and figure out how to fix it or you feel unmotivated and you can’t think of what to write,” he said. “You also have to let go of things you love when you’re writing something. Often the kernel of an idea that got you so excited to write something is ultimately expendable when you’re nearing the final product or it doesn’t work anymore and you have to get rid of it. It’s really hard to do for me. I feel like it happens almost every time for me so I’m getting used to it.”
Niebergall definitely overcomes these challenges. Rodrigo Fernandez-Stoll, a producer and writer who has worked with Niebergall, describes working with him as working in a “joke factory.”
“Adam’s a complete dream to have on the production team, and brings a creative drive to the process, that not only makes everyone around him work hard, it gives us all a trust in one another. Adam not only works well professionally and with full attention to detail, he also makes sure we work efficiently,” said Fernandez-Stoll. “I’m thankful to know such a good writer, actor and all around great guy.”
Daniel Beirne, an actor, writer, and producer known for the award-winning television show Fargo, has known Niebergall since high school, and describes him as a pleasure to work with.
“Adam is a joy to have on set, both with his humor and his ease of performance. Adam comes prepared, and is always ready even after long hours of work and waiting. Adam makes other actors feel at ease thanks to his ability to make them laugh and feel comfortable, and by extension increases the overall workplace atmosphere to one of joy. Adam brings thoughts and ideas to his characters and process that strengthen the project as a whole, often in unexpected ways,” said Beirne. “His surprising approach, although often quite funny, comes from a very honest place, and it makes for extremely compelling viewing. Adam is naturally unique, and he uses his craft to enhance that uniqueness, to bring about a singular performer, who will go far.”
Niebergall’s writing credits now extend to two comedic short films Japan and Wanda that were both nominated Canadian Comedy Awards. Japan was also selected for LA Comedy Shorts Fi Festival and won the Laugh Sabbath film festival at NXNE in 2014.
“Making Japan and Wanda were both very hard work really taxing because we wanted to make spotless, professional impressive looking movies with almost no budget at all,” he described. “Luckily we had great help. Henry Sansom was a miracle for us because he had unbelievable camera equipment and he was willing to work with a really small crew to shoot them both. Same goes for Rodrigo Fernandez-Stoll. He helped us produce both movies and we couldn’t have done it without him. Also Morgan Waters and Tim Moore who have cut our movies beautifully for us.”
Despite all of his success, Niebergall still finds the criteria for great writing to be mysterious.
“I wish I could make a formula or something. My process changes all the time. I know that I really get going when I feel like I’m making the weirdest possible idea I can write that still feels honest somehow or relatable. I’m inspired to be so damn weird but still really engage your interest,” he concluded.