Clowning on NASA: Impressionist James Adomian on his Bond-villain Elon Musk

Elon Musk‘s plot to destroy SXSW failed last night … for now . …. about all sorts of his projects: SpaceX, Tesla, and The Boring Company, obviously, but …
Clowning on NASA: Impressionist James Adomian on his Bond-villain Elon Musk

AUSTIN, Texas—In 2018, Elon Musk showed up at South by Southwest to inspire humanity. In 2019, “Elon Musk” showed up to destroy it.

“By the way, my accent? It’s correct,” “Musk” told a sold out theater on Friday night toward the beginning of “his” SXSW Comedy keynote, Elon Musk: The Frightening and Awful Future of Humanity. “I’m South African and also Canadian, so I’m evil but kind of shy about it.”

Elon Musk‘s plot to destroy SXSW failed last night … for now …#SXSW2019#sxswcomedy#redplanetredherring

📷: @withreservationpic.twitter.com/Ts6vbMHIvs

— James Adomian (@JAdomian) March 9, 2019

If you’re thinking something looks a little different about Mindy Tucker‘s “Musk” portrait from SXSW 2019, it’s not the choice of sweater. “When I’m doing an impression, I’m most interested in making fun of folks who are already larger-than-life personalities: bombastic figures, figures with giant egos, and maybe bigger blind spots—I love that,” “Elon,” aka comedian James Adomian, tells Ars. “That’s what makes it interesting to me and the audience. I’m not going to be doing a Robert De Niro impression. Obviously, sometimes you do an impression someone else has done before, but you want your own take on it, and that involves finding the craziest thing about them and exaggerating it—that’s where the comedy is. It’d be boring if I didn’t pick big targets.”

Adomian is a veteran of the LA comedy scene, and he’s perhaps better known for his work on Comedy Bang! Bang! or some of his political impressions, like George W. Bush once upon a time or Bernie Sanders more recently (a personality that toured extensively in a much-lauded Trump v. Berniecomedy tour). But about a year ago, Musk tended to be all over the news: the Falcon Heavy launched with Starman, Tesla Autopilot bosses became Spinal Tap drummers, the concept of hyperloops was turning five years old. And Adomian himself was certainly aware of the entrepreneur’s situation given all the “crazy SpaceX rocket launches in LA that surprised and terrified everybody” at that time.

So, while the comedian isn’t sure if he first pulled it out on a podcast or during SXSW 2018 improv sets, he definitely had a new impression ready for the world—one kinda, sorta born out of an old Sebastian Gorka-as-Bond villain idea.

“Elon Musk is one of the most bombastic millionaires, even if his personality is kind of shy, overtly shy,” Adomian tells Ars. “I thought, ‘This is juicy—this is a guy reaching to Mars, running so many companies, getting kicked off of companies, maybe facing penalties for Twitter—which is a level of online few people attain. So I started doing it here and there, depending on how much he’s in the news. And as soon as I started talking about doing SXSW this year, one of the first ideas was, ‘Why don’t we do an Elon Musk keynote? I did a fake Bernie one last year that was popular, let’s do that again but with Elon Musk.'”

One of Adomian’s “Musk” appearances on the podcast, Chapo Trap House.

Thus, Elon Musk: The Frightening and Awful Future of Humanity was born. Adomian tinkered and honed his impression on and off throughout the last year between appearances on Chapo Trap House as “Musk” or by doing the audio book for Scott Dikkers’ parody tome, Welcome to the Future, Which Is Mine. This week at SXSW, the line to get into comedy venue Esther’s Follies for the show started more than an hour and a half ahead of showtime. But once the curtain finally lifted, “Musk” addressed adoring fans for more than an hour about all sorts of his projects: SpaceX, Tesla, and The Boring Company, obviously, but he also tapped into old PayPal war stories and provided updates on things like Neuralink.

Keynote CliffsNotes

Ars was far from the only Musk-curious would-be attendee to miss out, but Adomian happily filled us in on what went down. With real-life Musk having such grand ambitions all the time, SXSW “Musk” obviously needed the same level of grandiose goals for his keynote. As such, in Future of Humanity Musk set out to do a live rocket launch to Mars during SXSW 2019. Without spoiling anything major (Adomian says he had the performance filmed and a full video will be coming soon), “Musk” does things like solve the city’s pedicab crisis with Tesla battery-powered artificial intelligence pedicabs, he talks trash about the SEC, drills a Boring Company tunnel toward the center of the Earth, and the eccentric CEO demonstrates the latest Neuralink technology being developed for the eventual SpaceX journey to Mars.

“He always spins off these ideas, and you’re like, ‘Is this a serious project or did you come up with it at 2am while stoned?'” Adomian says. “So we had him upload his consciousness into a Teddy Ruxpin doll from the ’80s because it was analogue and sturdy enough to withstand very low temperatures in the vacuum of space.”

Like this, but only with Elon’s consciousness.

The show has plenty of surprise guests, too—there are martial arts battles with Alex Jones and musical interludes from Grimes. “She’s this anarchist, anti-corporate, pop punk musical artist, then she starts dating Elon and she now has a song called, ‘We Appreciate Power,'” Adomian says. “‘Being with him isn’t anything I believe in, but here I am—he has billions of dollars.’”

If Adomian’s Musk grew out of a Gorka-done-as-Bond villain, let’s just call this SXSW keynote his Moonraker.

“I was even talking shit about NASA and JPL, which is funny because some of those guys are here in the audience for the 50th anniversary of Apollo,” Adomian says. “Elon Musk is just clowning on them: ‘Congratulations on your blue ribbon at the science fair, guys.’”

More Musk

Ultimately, “Musk’s” 2019 SXSW keynote may be just the start. Despite how high-profile Musk-adjacent accomplishments and companies seem to be, Musk himself is still a relativity untapped personality within the comedy world—SNL hasn’t even tossed his likeness into a skit yet. “Everyone knows who he is, everyone pays attention to him, everyone follows the news about Tesla, or SpaceX, or his crazy personal escapades, but I’ve never seen him made fun of on TV or anything like that,” Adomian says.

If Musk starts growing a Hugo Drax goatee, James Adomian warned us all.
Enlarge/ If Musk starts growing a Hugo Drax goatee, James Adomian warned us all.
Eon Productions

The real Musk’s profile is likely only going to get bigger from here. SpaceX’s recent successful test of the crewed Dragon capsule means a highly publicized partnership to fly NASA astronauts will go forward soon. Tesla’s recent Model 3 announcements may spread those EVs to more consumers. And it feels like every other month brings about a new potential customer for The Boring Company or another Hyperloop concept competition. “I’ll be doing Elon ’til one of us shoots us to Mars,” as Adomian puts it.

Based on Musk’s public track record to date, there will be no shortage of material: viral photos of him smoking weed, submarine proposals to save kids tragically stuck in caves, the routine trolling of government agencies on Twitter. For the impressionist impresario, that situation suits him just fine. Based on his observations, Adomian thinks Musk must have some ability to laugh at himself (it’s likely some SpaceX employee attending SXSW has already caught wind of the “Musk” bits before). And the Musk headspace remains a place the comedian is happy to tinker within.

“Sometimes I have to make fun of people I hate—I didn’t always enjoy doing George W. Bush because it was kind of sickening to put myself in his headspace all the time, but I felt it was my duty to have him blithely confessing to war crimes,” Adomian says. “Then there are people I admire and get to make fun of, like Bernie Sanders. That’s like making fun of your favorite professor as a student—I love you, but I’m still laughing at you.

“With Elon Musk, I don’t know how to categorize him—he’s a historical figure and I’m lucky to be alive at the same time,” Adomian continues. “If I was alive 100 years ago, I’d want to do a Nikola Tesla. When I’m making fun of Elon, it’s mean, and I’m making him look bad, but I’m kind of fascinated by his vision. I’m of two minds: he’s someone that’s sort of shaping our culture at the highest level—science, the future of evolution—and I think he’s someone that makes some big missteps. But I can’t fault anyone for taking moonshots.”

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The AI Nonprofit Elon Musk Founded and Quit Is Now For-Profit

OpenAI, the nonprofit artificial intelligence research organization founded by Elon Musk and Sam Altman — and which Musk later quit — is now legally …

For-Profit

OpenAI, the nonprofit artificial intelligence research organization founded by Elon Musk and Sam Altman — and which Musk later quit — is now legally a for-profit company.

The organization published a blog post on Monday announcing OpenAI LP, a new entity that it’s calling a “capped-profit” company. The company will still focus on developing new technology instead of selling products, according to the blog post, but it wants to make more money while doing so — muddying the future of a group that Musk founded to create AI that would be “beneficial to humanity.”

About Face

With the capped-profit structure that it created, investors can earn up to 100 times their investment but no more than that. The rest of the money that the company generates will go straight to its ongoing nonprofit work, which will continue as an organization called OpenAI Nonprofit.

Musk, who has since left the organization, founded OpenAI with Altman to create ethical, beneficial artificial intelligence to counter the potentially dangerous technology being built elsewhere. However, more recently, the organization built a realistic AI tool that could churn out convincing fake news articles.

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Elon Musk fires back at SEC on twitter

Tesla’s Chief Executive Officer, Elon Musk and the United States Securities and … After SEC legal action against Musk, the CEO has now reacted to the … CEO of Neuralink; founder of The Boring Company; and co-founder of PayPal.
Elon Musk, Tesla, SEC, Stock, Twitter

Tesla’s Chief Executive Officer, Elon Musk and the United States Securities and Exchange Commission have continued their verbal attack amid a settlement dispute which Musk was accused to have violated with a tweet.

The US Securities and Exchange Commission had informed the court to hold Elon Musk in contempt for violating a settlement deal reached last year. According to SEC, the billionaire published a projection tweet that wasn’t approved by his company.

Bua group

Nairametrics learnt Musk tweeted on February 19 that “Tesla made 0 cars in 2011, but will make around 500k in 2019.” Hours later, Musk sent a follow-up tweet correcting the earlier post, disclosing the company will actually deliver just 400,000 cars this year.

“ONCE AGAIN PUBLISHED INACCURATE AND MATERIAL INFORMATION ABOUT TESLA TO HIS OVER 24 MILLION TWITTER FOLLOWERS,” SEC was QUOTED AS SAYING.

Both Elon Musk and SEC in 2018, had resolved to an agreement that Musk must always receive pre-approval of any social media posts with information that’s “material” to shareholders, with Tesla agreeing to establish a board committee to oversee those posts.

In his defence, Tesla said Musk post was based on information the company made public 20 days earlier during its January 30 earnings call with Wall Street analysts, adding that Musk did not receive pre-approval for his posts, but the company claimed that he didn’t need it, a court filing stated.

After SEC legal action against Musk, the CEO has now reacted to the accusation while responding to a tweet from a Twitter user.

Elon Musk tweets, SEC, Tesla

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Elon Reeve Musk is a technology entrepreneur and engineer. He holds South African, Canadian, and U.S. citizenship and is the founder, CEO, and lead designer of SpaceX; co-founder, CEO, and product architect of Tesla Inc.; co-founder and CEO of Neuralink; founder of The Boring Company; and co-founder of PayPal.

About Tesla

Tesla Inc. is an American automotive and energy company based in Palo Alto, California. The company specialises in electric car manufacturing and through its SolarCity subsidiary, solar panel manufacturing.

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78% Of Tesla And SpaceX Employees Express Confidence In Elon Musk’s Leadership

Elon Musk is almost constantly in the news and for good reasons: he is the CEO of Tesla, SpaceX, and Neuralink. He is also the founder of SpaceX …

Elon Musk is almost constantly in the news and for good reasons: he is the CEO of Tesla, SpaceX, and Neuralink. He is also the founder of SpaceX and the Boring Company, a Tesla co-founder, a Neuralink co-founder and was a co-founder at PayPal. As if that all isn’t enough, additionally Musk is the chairman at SolarCity a company founded by his cousins Lyndon and Peter Rive.

Whether the press is covering his frequent Tweets, appearance on the Joe Rogan show, the Tesla Model 3’s ‘production hell’, tangle with the SEC, the HyperLoop technology or related topics, the coverage sometimes skews mostly negative.

So, we decided to survey 1,400 Tesla and 250 SpaceX employees who are also Blind users. The statement we used was: “I am confident in Elon Musk’s ability to lead the company.” Two options were presented for them to choose from — True or False.

Tesla employees, SpaceX employees, the Boring company employees, Neuralink employees, PayPal employees, Openai employees, Elon musk, Elon musk leadership, best tech companies, Tesla CEO, SpaceX CEO, Neuralink CEO, PayPal co-founder

Which one do you think they chose? Contrary to much of the negative news about him, 77.82% selected “Yes”, while only 22.18% chose “No”. The total number of respondents was 284, with 221 positive and 63 negative responses. The survey ran from Feb. 14 – 21, 2019.

The confidence expressed by the Tesla and SpaceX employees in our survey probably won’t stop more negative news stories being published. However, the success of Tesla, SpaceX and the Boring Company has to do with many factors within those companies, and employee confidence in leadership is a significant one.

The stereotype of the successful CEO is a charismatic extrovert, but Musk has called himself an introverted engineer and said he had to practice quite a bit to be able to take center stage and speak to audiences without stammering. Because he isn’t as extroverted and is more soft spoken he doesn’t fit the conventional expectations of what he is ‘supposed’ to be and this might be one of the reasons for some of the overly negative perceptions about him.

Nevertheless, many Tesla customers love their cars and Elon Musk has many fans including some who say he is the real Iron Man.


About Blind
At Blind we’re on a mission to bring transparency to the workplace. Transparency results in voice and voice results in change, often for the better. That’s why we created Blind, an anonymous social network for the workplace. Our user base includes over 50,000 employees from Microsoft, 35,000 from Amazon, 13,500 from Google, 10,500 from Facebook, 9,500 from Uber, 8,000 from Apple, 6,000 from LinkedIn, and 5,000 from Salesforce, just to name a few. With such a large user base of tech professionals, it makes it easy to quickly poll these employees about important and popular topics, such as this.
Image Credit: Maurizio Pesce, Wikipedia, CC BY 2.0

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Musk Reads: Elon Musk Makes True Self-Driving Tesla Prediction

Elon Musk’s tunnel-digging firm missed out on New York City for three reasons, according to a report last week. City engineers identified three issues …

Musk predicts when the self-driving Tesla will be ready; SpaceX gears up for “the biggest change in humanity”; and OpenAI stands on the edge of a new era. It’s Musk Reads #66.

A version of this article appeared in the “Musk Reads” newsletter. Sign up for free here.

Musk Quote of the Week

“I think we will be feature complete — full self-driving — this year”

Read more about Musk’s proclamation here.

Tesla Autopilot
Tesla Autopilot

Tesla

Tesla’s full self-driving mode could be ready this year, Musk claimed during a podcast appearance. The prediction, made during a podcast appearance, follows a similar claim made during an interview with Kara Swisher last November, and a series of big improvements to the semi-autonomous Autopilot mode. However, Musk went on to suggest that the car may require a competent driver at the wheel, placing it in the realm of level three autonomy. Musk stated that a fully autonomous car that requires no intervention may not arrive until 2020. Read more.

What’s next for Tesla: Tesla is now shipping the Model 3 internationally, having enjoyed big success in North America. Musk claimed this week that the company aims to reach an annual production rate of 500,000 cars per year in 2019, up from zero in 2011.

More Tesla reads from this week:

  • How Tesla’s Sentry Mode Uses Autonomy Sensors to Protect Against Intruders. Read more.
SpaceX Falcon 9 coming in to land.
SpaceX Falcon 9 coming in to land.

SpaceX

SpaceX is charting a course to explore other planets, and it makes for some impressive visual spectacles. This week, Musk shared an image of a Falcon 9 coming in to land on a droneship, designed to save money on launches. These savings are being put toward the Raptor engine, aimed at sending the Starship to Mars and beyond. Musk shared video footage and an image of the Raptor engine manifold being cast out of Inconel. Read more.

The firm was also awarded a new contract this week with the United States Air Force, launching two National Reconnaissance Office and one Air Force Space Command mission in a contract worth $297 million. United Launch Alliance won three further launch contracts, one of which covers a 2022 launch for a payload mysteriously dubbed “Silent Barker.” The Air Force previously announced plans to launch a $130 million contract using the Falcon Heavy in the 2020 fiscal year. Read more.

Inverse spoke with Rick Tumlinson, founder of the SpaceFund venture capital firm. Tumlinson, who has testified in Congress for private companies’ involvement in spaceflight, declared the Starship and other sized ships “the beginning of the biggest revolution in the history of humanity, if not life itself.” His firm’s “Reality Rating” has caused a stir in the spaceflight community for ranking private spaceflight players — but it’s good news for SpaceX. Read more.

What’s Next for SpaceX: The firm is expected to start “hop tests” with the test version of its Starship in the coming weeks, delayed due to a storm blowing the “Hopper” vehicle over last month. Musk claims the new design has enabled a faster launch schedule, with an orbital Starship set for unveiling as early as June.

A Boring Company passenger pod
A Boring Company passenger pod

The Boring Company

Elon Musk’s tunnel-digging firm missed out on New York City for three reasons, according to a report last week. City engineers identified three issues with a plan to connect Times Square to John F. Kennedy International Airport: It conflicts with current infrastructure, there are issues around ventilation, and emergency response times may prove an issue. The report suggests the idea of using the car-powered Loopnever left the planning stage despite a more positive receptionfrom San Jose and Chicago. Read more.

OpenAI
OpenAI

OpenAI

The artificial intelligence firm that Musk founded in 2016 may have gone in a less-than-desirable direction. Musk claimed last week that he stepped away from the firm last year because, among other reasons, he “didn’t agree with some of what OpenAI team wanted to do.” It came in the same week the firm took the wraps off a text-generating system deemed so dangerous in the era of fake news that it has chosen not to release it. OpenAI plans to discuss this strategy further in six months. Musk has a broader outline for his vision of artificial intelligence, calling for regulation and attachments to the brain via Neuralink. Read more.

Musk in Pop Culture

Musk may be about to make his Meme Review debut. On Monday, he claimed he had completed filming for an episode of the PewDiePie show alongside guest star Justin Roiland, co-creator of Rick and Morty. Musk is a big fan of Roiland’s show and met the creator in an October 2017 hangout.

Photo of the Week

Tesla starts shipping out 4,000 cars for the European market:

4000 Tesla cars loading in SF for Europe pic.twitter.com/BODbSzo3Fr

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 20, 2019

More Musk reads from this week:

  • SpaceX’s Border-Adjacent Texas Launch Site Just Got Some Very Welcome News. Read more.

The Ultra-Fine Print

This has been Musk Reads #66, the weekly rundown of essential reading about futurist and entrepreneur Elon Musk. I’m Mike Brown, an innovation journalist for Inverse.

  • Sponsor Musk Reads and get your business in front of a brainy, curious audience that’s motivated to make the world a little better tomorrow.advertising@inverse.com.
  • Email me directly at mike.brown@inverse.com and follow Inverse on Twitter @inversedotcom. Follow me on Twitter at @mikearildbrown.

A version of this article appeared in the “Musk Reads” newsletter. Sign up for free here.

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