Adam Carrolla talks standup comedy, Dwayne Johnson, football metaphors
Adam Carolla made his name as a radio broadcaster who co-hosted the popular syndicated program Loveline (which spawned a multi-season MTV version as well), which led to a stint as the on-air replacement for a departing Howard Stern. He's parlayed that success into his immensely popular podcast, The Adam Carolla Show, which was a pioneer of the format and remains a top selection on iTunes. But he's branched out beyond talking into a mic -- he's also co-written and starred in a feature film, worked on a slew of television programs, and penned a bestselling book, In 50 Years We'll All Be Chicks. He's also recently embarked on a series of standup comedy shows, which will bring him to the Varsity Theater this Thursday for a pair of performances, the first of which sold out long in advance. City Pages caught up with Carolla via phone to discuss his transition into yet another new comedy medium, why standup is his version of pro wrestling, and why he wants to change his name to Dwayne Johnson II.
How long have you been doing the standup tours?
Fifteen months, sixteen months. Getting near the year-and-a-half mark.
Why standup after all these years?
Really, honestly? Money. Somebody said, "Hey, wanna make some money doing standup?" and I said, "Yeah, all right." It's kind of like asking what makes a guy who got cut from a football team look into pro wrestling. I had the body for it and somebody offered me some money for it, so what the heck?
If you talk to the Rock--Dwayne Johnson--or Goldberg, they'll tell you, "I was playing football and I got cut or injured, and next thing I know I got into wrestling." And the next thing you know they're pretty good at it. I got cut from my football team and I was like, "Eh, maybe I'll try some wrestling."
So what was your football team?
The football team in this metaphor is the radio, and the wrestling would be standup, and I'd be Goldberg. Actually, let's make me the Rock, he's a little younger.
You know you've arrived when they do that thing where they say, "When I act, I'm Dwayne Johnson, but when I wrestle, I'm the Rock." "When I sell vodka I'm P-Diddy, but when I act I'm Sean Combs." I want a second name.
What would your second name be?
I would go with Dwayne Johnson II, just to confuse things. Just to disappoint the kids when I go to speak at their junior high school.
I remember hearing you say on Loveline, many years ago, that you never got into standup because you didn't want to repeat jokes. Is that still a problem for you?
About the first year I went through standup, I said, "I don't wanna repeat this stuff," so we'd start every show with 20 minutes or half an hour of What Can Adam Complain About, and people would just shout stuff out. Or I'd interview celebrities onstage. I realized at a certain point, if you're doing two or three shows a night, this is grueling, you can't just make up a new 90-minute show two or three times a night. Also, you never quite get it down because you don't hone the material.
At a certain point I just thought, "Why don't I allow myself to do what every other comedian on the entire planet does in an act?" What I did as a sort of compromise is, I got about 10 different vignettes, like 15- to 20-minute vignettes, and we'll just shuffle the deck every night, like a band that has too many songs. That way it'll never feel to me like I'm just standing up here repeating itself.
Are you enjoying standup?
There's a version of it where you're traveling and flying coach and staying at crappy hotels and doing two shows a night at crappy little clubs somewhere outside of Atlanta. And there's a version where you're coming into big theaters and selling out the place and staying in nice hotels. That version is no big thing, it's easy.
Does prostitution suck? If you're a junkie streetwalker whose pimp beats the shit out of you, then that sucks. But if you're a super high-end call girl and you're going out with politicians and making few grand a night and Richard Gere is feeding you strawberries in the bathtub, then that's nice. There's definitely a better version of it.
Do you have a specific process for writing standup bits?
No, it's all just talking. I do the same thing.
I recently got a new car. I get into the car and it's making the seatbelt-on chime, and I'm like, "All right, all right." [The seatbelt warning light] doesn't know if you're in your driveway or on the Autobahn doing 150 miles per hour. Then it starts going into this rapid-fire ding ding ding ding. All right with the fucking seatbelt. So I put the thing on once it goes into its epileptic rapid-fire chime.
I put it on, and then I pass a big billboard that says, "Click it or ticket," and I thought, do we really need this billboard? There's a deafening sound going off inside my car. Do I still need this other reminder when every car made in the last 30 years has a placard that lights up and a tone that never ends? If all pants came with a gong that went off until you zipped your fly, would we really need to spend millions of dollars on a campaign that said, "Zip it or lose it?" Would that be a necessary campaign?
Did you enjoy the movie-making process in The Hammer? Is that something you'd like to do again?
It was real tiring, and we didn't have much money or time to do it, so it was taxing. But it was creatively interesting and I would definitely recommend it. It should definitely be one of those things where, as a creative type, you'd want to check it off your list. There's no money in it, and there's nobody asking me to do another one. I would definitely do another movie if someone asked me, but no one has ever asked.
At some point, I will raise some more money and make a second film. At some point. I'm just not financially or emotionally up to it yet. Hey, if I hit the lottery I'll semi-retire, stay home, get fat, grow a beard, write books, and churn out charming, funny indie films that nobody watches. But when people do watch it, they go, "Hey man, that was good, but how come nobody watched that?" That's what I'll do when I have a whole bunch of money. For now, seeing as how I don't and I have twins, I'll focus on doing a couple cable shows and a podcast and the standup.
I called Loveline back when I was in college, like a decade ago, and I wanted to tell you that Dr. Drew totally misdiagnosed the problem, and you got it pretty much spot-on.
What was the problem?
I was dating a very religious girl for a long time, and even though she was pretty liberal she was pathologically afraid of sex for a long time. Dr. Drew kept insisting to me that she'd been molested and saying I was part of the problem, and you said something like, "Look, she's been very sheltered and she's new to this, and she might just have to date you for awhile and get it out of her system and then the next guy she dates gets laid right away, which sucks for you."
When was that?
In 2001, I think? Bob Guccione was the guest.
Let me write that down. I want to mention that to Dr. Drew, be sure and rub that one in his face.
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