When Adam Devine was 10 years old, he was run over by a cement truck. He was biking to the convenience store with his friend to go get some Big League Chew. And when he went to cross the street, he got hit by the 32-ton vehicle. Taken under the first two tires and spit out.
He couldn’t walk for two years. He had to have 26 surgeries. He missed half of sixth grade and when he returned to school, he was in a wheelchair for a long time.
That’s when he started being funny.
“Joking about it became my way to defuse the situation,” Devine recalled. “If people were picking on me, I was better at making fun of them than they were at making fun of me. I realized, ‘Oh, comedy is a powerful thing. People are drawn to someone who has the confidence to be funny and take control of a situation.’”
In some sense, it’s like Devine has been frozen in time ever since his accident. The brand of humor he’s come to be recognized for feels like that of a teenage boy. On “Workaholics,” the Comedy Central show he created with Blake Anderson and Anders Holm, he has a kind of pubescent manic energy — always yelling, pulling pranks, partying a little too hard. He has a similar vibe in this weekend’s “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates.” In the comedy, which marks his biggest film role to date, he and Zac Efron play brothers whose antics have ruined so many family events that their sister asks them to find respectable dates to her wedding in order to tame them.
“I feel like I’m perpetually a 14-year-old boy,” Devine, now 32, acknowledged. “I look back at my life and I’m like, that was probably the most pure, fun time of my life -- when you were with your friends laughing so hard that snot is coming out of your nose. That’s what I’m trying to keep going until they’re like, ‘It’s time to grow up. Put a suit on.’”
He was sitting with a beer in the green room of the Hollywood Improv, the first place he worked when he moved to L.A. from Omaha. While his friends were heading off to college, he decided that if he really wanted to break into comedy, he needed to get a job at the famous club. Most of the time, he only answered phones and checked the list at the door. But he was surrounded by comics — Chris Rock, Dane Cook, Dave Chappelle. One night, Adam Sandler came in and invited him to smoke a cigar at a place next door on Melrose Avenue.
Sandler had always been one of Devine’s heroes — him and Will Ferrell, “guys who created their own opportunities, wrote their own movies and starred in them,” he said. Even though he’s currently on three television shows — “Workaholics,” which will soon head into its seventh season; “Adam Devine’s House Party,” another Comedy Central series that spotlights emerging comedians at, well, house parties, and “Modern Family,” as Sarah Hyland’s love interest — “from the beginning, the long goal was to be in movies.”
His first major role came in the “Pitch Perfect” movies, in which he played Rebel Wilson’s eccentric boyfriend Bumper. That enabled him to score a small part opposite Robert De Niro in “The Intern” and, along with his “Workaholics” buddies, he is filming a movie together for Netflix next year about three maids whose hotel is taken over by terrorists.
So for a dude who doesn’t want to grow up, he seems pretty on top of things.
“Responsibility was never the issue,” he insisted. “I work hard. It’s when people work hard and then they don’t have fun. Like last night was the premiere of ‘Mike and Dave.’ And my friends and I closed down the bar. I had stuff to do all day today, but you just suck it up and go and do it. I don’t want to be the type of person that’s like, ‘I’ve gotta pack it up! It’s a big day tomorrow!’ Yeah, it’s a big day tomorrow, but it’s also a big night tonight.”
Of the guys in the “Workaholics” crew, Devine is the only one who isn’t married and raising kids. He has a long-term girlfriend, 24-year-old actress Chloe Bridges. But he no longer lives with Anderson and Holm and their beloved kegerator.
“He is still kind of fulfilling his childhood dreams,” said Holm. “He built a batting cage on the roof of his new house. I think he used it like, 10 times or something, but that box has been checked off. I’m doing the same thing, but my dream was to drive a Volvo.”
Which isn’t to say Devine is always acting like the Tasmanian devil.
“He can definitely be low-key,” said Jake Szymanski, who directed “Mike and Dave.” “It’s not like every time you hang out with him you’ve got Chris Farley in the middle of a sketch at your house.”
Still, he definitely knows how to channel that guy — the one who, as the filmmaker puts it, “takes it to 11 too often.” That’s why Szymanski wanted to give him the part. He liked that Devine felt believably crazy, but in a likable way — like he knew how to throw a good rager, but no one was going to get hurt at it.
He also proved to be a strong foil to Efron. One of the running jokes throughout the film is how much less good-looking and successful Devine is than Efron. Nearly all the young ladies the brothers interview as potential wedding dates would rather go with Efron, and the woman Devine ends up taking — played by Aubrey Plaza — is repulsed by the idea of sleeping with him.
“I’d yell out lines to Aubrey, and sometimes Adam could hear them,” said Szymanski. “Once I suggested she say that Adam looked like a funhouse-mirror version of a better-looking dude. Adam heard and referenced that to me later, and I felt bad. He was like, ‘That funhouse-mirror thing? I was like, ‘Damn, that’s right. It really made me look at myself.’”
Devine insists that the jabs about his looks — a recurring theme in many of his roles — don’t actually cut that deep. Efron is, after all, “stunning.”
“I don’t know if I’ll ever get People’s Sexiest Man, and I think Zac is on the short list for that one,” said Devine, finishing his beer. “I tried to get in shape for the movie, and Zac saw how hard I was working and he’s such a sweetheart, he, like, slowed down his workouts. He stopped working out, basically, to have me catch up a little bit. I don’t think it worked, really, but it was pretty sweet of him to do.”
In a few weeks, Devine is heading to film his first romantic comedy, with “Baywatch” star Alexandra Daddario. Holm is excited for his friend about it. “Hopefully,” he said, “people will get to see another side of him than just, like, the zany friend named Mondo.”
Devine is excited too, but he admits it’s still a challenge for him to tamper down his high energy.
“Pure sincerity is a little harder for me,” he said. “Not undercutting something with a joke. It’s something I’ve been working on. You don’t want to paint yourself in the corner where you’re always the crazy, wild party guy. I’d love to have a career like Jonah Hill. He’s still the funny guy in dramatic movies — he had those big teeth in ‘Wolf of Wall Street.’ And I’d love to do stuff like that. To be able to do more dramatic movies where you show some range and then also do big comedies with your friends? That would be the perfect life.”