Adam Carolla is lost.
He's wandering around Boston's Kenmore Square looking for Boston University's Barnes and Noble, where in 15 minutes he's expected to sign copies of his new book. A throng of fans is waiting, but the map in Carolla's hand is proving useless. He stops a local woman, then another. No luck. "Jesus Christ," he says. "These people live here. But they don't know how to get here."
These days Carolla's home is on the Internet. His podcast, The Adam Carolla Show, is the most downloaded podcast on iTunes, with over 2.8 million listeners a month. The show's success follows Carolla's rise to fame on Loveline, the popular sex advice radio program, co-hosted with Dr. Drew Pinsky. For more than a decade Carolla served as the show's comic relief, the buffoon who slipped nuggets of wisdom about life and love amidst rambling yarns about masturbation, urinals and the uselessness of attending junior college.
Carolla's own career began with junior college before he was put on academic probation, then dropped out. He kicked around Southern California working as a carpenter and a carpet cleaner, saving his rare dollars to spend on therapy and improv lessons from The Groundlings, a Los Angeles comedy troupe.
How times have changed. Twenty years later, after Loveline and his Comedy Central hit The Man Show, Carolla is a millionaire, a fact the former construction worker touts with pride on his show. He's also the author of the new book In Fifty Years We'll All Be Chicks, a pastiche of autobiographical reflections and sharp-tongued commentary about the pussification of America.
As he scrambles towards the bookstore, Carolla takes a moment to talk with me about dating, Dr. Drew and whether radio's Adam Carolla really is Adam Carolla.
Kors: I ask that because Stephen Colbert obviously is playing a character, "Stephen Colbert." So, are you you — the complainer, the ranter — or are you playing a character?
Carolla: No, it's me. A heightened version of me. I'm more laid-back in real life. Of course on air I use occasional hyperbole to tell a story. You don't say, "I was mild perturbed." You say, "I was shit-ripped about the situation." Mildly perturbed: that's not really funny. And it doesn't connect with an audience.
Kors: I always thought you were you, but just ... elevated a few comedic degrees.
Carolla: It's hard to quantify. I mean, I don't want to say, "What you see is what you get." At the same time, there are all these people in comedy and radio who are these caricatures, and it starts bordering on pro wrestling. When I say things that sound insane, like only the smartest million people should have the right to vote, well, I mean that. I don't want Bill Gates' vote canceled out by my mom's. [He spits.] Sorry about that. Had to let one go there.
Kors: You sit at your desk, and you complain for a living. Are you my generation's Andy Rooney?
Carolla: [He laughs.] Sad but possibly true. I hope my eyebrows haven't gotten to that point. [Carolla laughs again.] You know, I like that: Andy Rooney. I never thought of that before. And I like his stuff. I'm a big "60 Minutes" fan. Rooney will do, like, eight minutes on a ballpoint pen. It's pretty easy to complain about airplane food, but the strengths and weaknesses of ballpoint pens, that's talent.
Kors: On Loveline you were always ... playfully abusive. You used to say with such pride that you had the dumbest audience in all of radio. Even directly to callers, you'd say quasi-insulting things other people couldn't get away with.
Carolla: Oh, sure. Because I'm harmless. I don't have any ill will or ill thought towards anybody. When people know you're that way, you can say stuff that the creepy guy at your office could never get away with.
Kors: Some of your comments on Loveline really affected me. You talked a lot about dating, when to reveal items from your past. Your motto was: "More mystery, less history," that the reward for getting over childhood traumas was being able to move on, to live a life where those events weren't the first thing you told people about yourself. Especially prospective girlfriends. I think about the number of relationships I probably squashed just by vomiting details of every hill and valley in my life on the first date. Soon as I stopped doing that, my dating life skyrocketed.
Carolla: Ah, well good for you and good for your penis. A lot of people would say, to be truthful is to tell all, every dalliance, every crisis. They might be right on paper, but in practice, it's not a great way to go.
Kors: What did you learn from hosting Loveline?
Carolla: I learned that we're all animals, that we all respond to the same stimuli. If you want to motivate somebody not to have premarital sex, or motivate black bears not to go diving into dumpsters, first you have to think about why they do it. Telling them to stop isn't going to help. There has to be some incentive for them to alter their behavior.
Kors: Did you learn anything, perhaps from the callers, that helped you in your personal life?
Carolla: Eh ... it was a job. It's not like it was two hours of therapy. Though sitting next to Dr. Drew, you do absorb a certain amount of wisdom. The callers themselves ... well, you hear so many horror stories — rape, abuse, incest — you get the same lesson over and over.
Kors: That awful, abusive fathers cloud the mind and lead to kids making terrible decisions?
Carolla: Yeah. Absolutely.
Kors: You're now the father of four-year-old twins. And on your new show, you've spoken so warmly about parenting them. Did your years of listening to traumatized teens talking about their awful fathers motivate you, spur you to make a conscious effort to be a good dad?
Carolla: I don't know how conscious it was. I'd seen enough and heard enough to know that wasn't the direction I wanted to go in. [Carolla laughs.] You have to understand, there's an instinct at play here. When you have kids, you instantly feel that you do not want to do them wrong. Those dads that go off to Florida and start a new life, I couldn't imagine that: seeing my kid once every Christmas, every three years. If I'm gone for six days it feels like too much.
Kors: Did Loveline turn your worldview darker? Do you think there's that much abuse across the country, or do you think it was just the abused who would call in for relationship advice?
Carolla: Doing the show, it can't help but color your world a bit, like being a cop or a probation officer. This is what you see because this is the job. But to some extent, the news does that for everybody. You tune in and hear some crazy statistic like, say, 46 percent of women will be raped by their 30th birthday or some shit like that, and you think, "Jesus Christ, what kind of society am I living in?"
Kors: You used to say, "Books are poison for the mind." Now you've written a book.
Carolla: Yeah. My not reading ... mostly that was me just being lazy.
Kors: [I laugh.] Why did you write this book?
Carolla: Because I was asked to. I wouldn't have thought to write one on my own.
Kors: Growing up, books weren't part of your life.
Carolla: No, not at all. Growing up, I couldn't really read books. I mean, I went to this free-range hippy school, and I never really learned to read.
Kors: Well then let me ask you the most insulting question of all: did you really write this book?
Carolla: Absolutely. I didn't type it. I sat with a guy in my house and talked him through the whole thing. And if you read it, you'll see: it has my voice on every page.
Carolla: I'll tell you, I wish someone had written it for me. But ... it didn't work out that way.
Kors: You left Loveline in 2005. Since then, you've said a lot of kind things about Dr. Drew. Sounds like you guys ended on good terms.
Carolla: We did. Drew is a real "what you see is what you get" kind of guy. And one of the best things about him is that he's a great listener. He wasn't going a million miles an hour in his own head. He did what smart people do: get smarter by absorbing their own environment.
Kors: Kevin Nealon once asked you about your nasal voice. He wanted to know if it came from Long Island roots. You said, "No. It's just a deviated septum and a really bad attitude." Without which, I suppose, you couldn't be Death?
Carolla: Right. Right, that Family Guy gig is nice work. It's a great part, and all I have to do is speak in my regular voice.
Kors: That nasally tinge is iconic.
Carolla: Yeah, I suppose that's true. To think, what would have been a liability in an earlier era is turning into found gold because people hear the voice and recognize me.
Kors: A lot of people reading this interview are where you were 20 years ago, when you were working construction. They're stuck in jobs they see as a dead end, believing they could be somebody without having put that first foot forward. What do you say to them?
Carolla: I say, "Don't put down the hammer just yet." To make it, you have to work within your abilities. They might not have the next great novel in them. And the worst thing you can do is believe you do and tell your foreman to go fuck off. Honestly assess what you can do and even more important, what can't you do.
Kors: That's pretty rough advice.
Carolla: Yeah, maybe it is. I'm torn too because I do want to encourage people. The truth is we're all probably more creative than we realize, except we spend our lives watching TV or reading somebody else's book. We never pick up a brush and stand in front of our own easel. If you spend your life walking through somebody else's museum, you never find out whether you're Rembrandt or not. ... But people have to be realistic, or the dream just drags on. Me, I wanted to play football my whole life, but at a certain point the dream stopped. That's the thing I love about sports: sports force you to quit. You can't pursue your dream till you're 46. When it comes to acting, writing, comedy, nobody ever stops you.
Carolla: I am. But it's mixed, I guess, with a level of understanding. Part of me is surprised when people show up at the book signing and tune into the show. Another part of me says, "Well, this is what happens when you do this for a living."
Kors: You're excellent at branding. You got a lot of great catch phrases: "How dare you," "Good times," "mahalo." Did you set out to create a tagline for yourself?
Carolla: Nah, that just kind of happens if you do it every day. The only line I set out to create was "mahalo" because I needed a line. If I was going to do a show every night, I needed an ending. Otherwise I'd have no out.
Kors: I'm going to be speaking with fellow Amherst grad Dr. Drew in a few weeks.
Carolla: Oh, you're a Lord Jeff, are you?
Kors: I am. You have a question I should ask him?
Carolla: Yeah. Ask him why in all our travels together he never once picked up the tab.
For Adam Carolla and the entire staff of the Huffington Post, I'm Joshua Kors saying, "... Mahalo."
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