Tackle-Turned-YouTuber Spice Adams Is the NFL’s Latest Crossover Star
Most football players don't find a second career in comedy; Adams did
This is Life After Football, a series that examines how current and former NFL players, coaches and executives are building a legacy beyond the gridiron.
It’s a Thursday night, and Anthony “Spice” Adams is in preparation mode. The former defensive tackle best-known for his time with the Chicago Bears plays numerous fictional characters on social media, from the passionate basketball savant Cream E. Biggums to the know-it-all senior with a flair for style, Oldhead. On this particular night, Adams is wearing his impersonation hat. He is going to perform on the Verzuz After Show with comedian Affion Crockett.
Verzuz is a popular battle series featuring two producers, artists or songwriters dueling on Instagram Live to see who has the better catalogue of hits. Both Adams and Crockett follow up Verzuz with a comedy postgame of sorts where they hop on Instagram Live and impersonate the two artists that battled earlier. Adams has to watch the Verzuz battle and then immediately compose a costume and personality that can at least pass for the artist he’s spoofing.
When DMX and Snoop Dogg held a Verzuz battle in July, Adams took on the role of the Yonkers MC. “DMX is bald-headed,” Adams tells InsideHook. “I needed to find a cap to make myself bald-headed. Then I looked on Amazon and I saw something that kind of looked like my skin tone, but by the time it reached my front door, it was completely off. I wore it anyway and it looked ridiculous. I think that was what made it so funny.”
After retiring in 2013, Adams never saw his rise to social-media star coming. His forays into #content were then nonexistent, though when he was with the Bears, teammates Chris Harris and Earl Bennett thought he was funny and urged him to join Twitter. “I just couldn’t see it,” says Adams. “I was trying to get them to explain it to me, you just put your thoughts on this Twitter and people respond to whatever you’re thinking at the time? I was like, ‘Man, this is stupid.’”
When Adams became a free agent in 2012, he created a video called “Stuff NFL Free Agents Say.” After Adams created the videos, he crowd-sourced his teammates for thoughts and received good feedback, so he released it and it ended up being a viral success. Adams didn’t play in the NFL again, but he continued to make videos related to his post-NFL experience. This included his retirement announcement at a local White Castle in 2013.
Soon after, Adams began to expand his range beyond just his own story as a retired NFL player. He got more creative, developing new fictional characters, many of whom are inspired by previous experiences in his life with family members at family gatherings. “I always try to make everything relatable like a lot of the people I do,” Adams says.
“The Oldhead character reminds people of their uncle, their granddad or their dad,” he says. For Cream E. Biggums, Adams takes it back to his days playing basketball at the park as a kid. “You’ll see a guy like this in every court,” says Adams. “Always an old-school guy with a lot of confidence who probably played in high school or maybe middle school, who just really can’t play, but really does not lack any confidence. You’ll see this guy in every gym.”
All of these personalities are born out of Adams’s natural ability to entertain. That desire to make people laugh developed during his childhood in Detroit, where he grew up an only child. “I like entertaining anyway, being as I was an only child growing up,” Adams says. “I always felt like I had to entertain people so they would want to come back around. I didn’t have any brothers and sisters.”
Adams learned to shoot and produce his own videos through trial and error. He watched countless YouTube how-to videos for Final Cut Pro and green screening. A major reason for that was time. “I sat down and forced myself to learn how to edit these things because if you shoot these videos and you send them to somebody, that’s going to take time,” he says. “A lot of the videos that I create, I have a really good turnaround time and I try to make everything relevant and built towards what’s happening right now.” When it comes to creating concepts for videos or skits, Adams inverts the traditional planning timeline. He thinks about the ending of a video first. Next, he focuses on the middle, and caps off the editing process with the beginning.
After his playing career, Adams hosted the local cable show, Inside the Bears. His talent manager, Eddie Pietrucha, had seen Adams on the show and believed in his ability. “It was very obvious now what is clear to everyone that he had a charisma, a personality and a talent that was unlike anyone else,” says Pietrucha.
A mutual friend set Pietrucha and Adams up, and Pietrucha knew right away that the former player was meant for something beyond the traditional post-retirement media career.
“I knew right then and there [in our second meeting] that he didn’t have a career as a traditional football analyst,” says Pietrucha. “Sit behind a desk, in a suit and talk about techniques, and formations and all sorts of things. That was never going to be his path. His path was going to be on the entertainment route, but he was charting new territory and there was no idea how long that was going to take.”
Adams has showcased his range as an entertainer, co-hosting ABC’s American adaptation of The Great British Bake Off. He’s also acted in small roles on Comedy Central’s Detroiters and HBO’s Ballers. As of this writing, he has 1.9 million followers on Instagram and his reach on social media platforms has led to brands like Electronic Arts, Gillette and DraftKings working with him.
Outside of his credited reach, there are also countless posts of Adams’s memes, videos and GIFs floating around the internet without his name on them. Chances are you’ve seen his face online in some way, even if you don’t know his name. The famous meme where Adams is mysteriously plotting behind a tree in a yellow suit was used by Justin Bieber while Bieber was promoting his latest album on Twitter. Adams laughs at the impact of that shot considering how it came about. He was in the middle of a family photoshoot with his wife and four children when an idea popped into his head.
Adams had a yellow suit in the trunk of his minivan — Adams also has everything from a sword to wigs in the trunk — and decided to use it for additional photos. He told the photographer to take some photos behind trees and the rest is Internet history. “I don’t even know what my caption was,” Adams recalls. “But I just put it out and then within a couple of weeks, a random person was just like, ‘This is me waiting for summertime to pop up.’ And it just went crazy after that.”
Celebrities regularly share clips of Adams. He recalls a couple of years ago attending a Kevin Hart tour show in Chicago. After telling one of Hart’s fellow comedians on the tour that he would be in attendance, he was invited backstage for the VIP after party.
“My wife and I, we were just sitting there and I get a tap on the shoulder.” Adams remembers. “Somebody handed me an envelope. So I got the envelope, opened it up and it says you’re invited to the VIP party after the show. And there were these stickers you could put on. So I looked at it and I was like, ‘Man this is fake. We’re going to show up and there’s going to be a Kevin Hart impersonator.’”
Eventually, Adams realized that the invite was real, and converged with Hart and his team. Adams was shocked when Hart introduced himself by saying one of Adams’ popular phrases from the Oldhead, “Whatcha Say Nah Chuck.”
For Adams, it was a moment that portended his potential as an entertainer. “You got this supreme megastar who actually sits down and watches my videos,” he says. “And I thought that was really dope. It was just a dope experience because I just went to the comedy show to laugh, joke and go back home. I didn’t have any plan on going backstage and meeting Kevin Hart.”
Adams’s in-house operation has been able to withstand COVID-19. He’s able to film his own skits either alone or with a very small camera crew if he’s working with a brand. The camera crew will arrive at his home, wipe down their equipment and shoot. “It hasn’t been seamless,” notes Adams. “But I think everybody understands what’s going on and we have to protect ourselves and be safe out here.”
When it comes to the future, Adams has a few projects in store. He and Pietrucha started No Plan Productions. The name was inspired by Adams’s own experience entering the entertainment world. He had no plan when he started creating videos, and he wants that same phrase to guide his future as a content creator. Adams has no specific goals or expectations. He’s just enjoying the ride that his new career has taken him on. “Ultimately, I just want to entertain,” he says. “I don’t want to overthink anything. I just want to entertain and provide for my family, so whatever that looks like, I’m all for it.”
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