Interview by Carl Schreck
The past two years have been good to Adam Carolla. After CBS Radio dropped his LA morning show in February 2009, the former co-host of Loveline and The Man Show promptly moved his base of operations to a garage in Glendale, CA, and launched a free podcast that became an immediate Internet phenomenon. Liberated from FCC censors and radio producers eager to get to the weather, the podcast gave Carolla an unfettered venue for his lengthy, extemporaneous and often obscene rants about everything from the War on Drugs to peanut allergies to the sociological implications of drinking Sanka coffee.
Named the top audio podcast at the 2009 iTunes Rewind Awards, The Adam Carolla Show has helped the comedian build a nationwide grassroots network of fans. The show, Carolla’s people say, is downloaded some 200,000 times daily, and his podcasting network was set to notch $1 million in advertising for 2010 – an impressive achievement in the embryonic business of podcasting.
Using his podcast as a marketing platform, Carolla – who claims to have read only two books in his entire life – also managed to debut at No. 8 on The New York Times Best-Seller List last November with his book In 50 Years We’ll All Be Chicks, a collection of comic riffs and musings on his Southern California childhood and early years as a carpenter and manual laborer drifting through a series of minimum-wage jobs.
Carolla is one of comedy’s most unique observers of the national malaise. His portrait of America depicts a nation plagued by low-grade depression and insidious bureaucracy. An atheistic free-marketeer with some hawkish views on national security, his politics are hard to pigeonhole. He reserves equal disdain for the welfare state, political correctness, and the moral crusaders who would ban gays from getting married and prevent a guy from smoking a joint after a long day at work. It’s a guiding philosophy that can be simply summed up as: “Do what makes sense.”
The America you describe in your podcast is one gradually descending into insanity and inanity. Where did we go wrong?
We didn’t tell certain folks to shut the fuck up and get out of the way. It’s essentially halted progress – you can’t build that bullet train to Vegas because there’s some indigenous grasshopper that you’re going to displace. Back in the old days, some baron would say: “Fuck that grasshopper, we’re building this railroad.” And it got built. And some grasshoppers got smashed, but we kind of forgot about it, and the good of the majority – being able to get from one place to another – just sort of outweighed the grasshopper. Now the grasshopper has a publicist, and they’re going to get some Grasshopper Roots Foundation behind them, and some Indian’s going to cry, and the thing’s gonna get held up in court and it’s never gonna happen. If one kid is allergic to peanuts, just build a school for kids who are allergic to peanuts – and their hypochondriac parents. The solution is not to remove peanuts from school, it’s to remove the one kid who’s allergic to peanuts. It’s the exact opposite of every good World War II movie, where the grenade drops into a foxhole and one guy dives on it and saves the whole platoon. Now everyone would argue over whose turn it is to dive on it, and then they’d all go up.
Your vitriol is largely reserved for low-level public- and private-sector functionaries – airline representatives, traffic cops, meter maids, building-code inspectors. Aren’t there more menacing fiends out there?
There are always going to be your dictators of banana republics and your serial killers, but they’re supposed to be dicks. Building inspectors aren’t supposed to have an attitude. Guys who work behind the counter at that piece of shit called United Airlines, they’re not supposed to have attitude. Cops aren’t supposed to have attitude – not when they’re dealing with noncriminals. Of course Mussolini had an attitude – the guy was a dictator! And Saddam Hussein is supposed to have an attitude. But the chick over at Alaska Airlines who’s telling me that I gotta go back to the gate to get my bag because no one told me there was a gate check – she should drop her fucking attitude. She’s a peon. And so is the United cunt. And so is the meter maid. You guys drop your attitude! When you can get an army behind you – and an arsenal behind you, and some mustard gas, and a wacky beret – by all means.
You know, Kim Jong-Il can go out and shoot 18 holes of golf and just tell his caddy: “Uh, I got a 19 for the day.” And the caddy has no fucking choice but to write it down. But you people are making $28,000 a year and have a fucking GED. And you should drop your fucking attitude.
Yeah. I mean, it’s ridiculous. ABC News does some fucking experiment every two years where they take some spent uranium and put it in a UPS box and then send it from Tikrit through the port of Los Angeles. And it ends up on an 18-wheeler going through downtown LA, because we don’t have the money for detection equipment – yet we spend billions of dollars eradicating pot every year.
Obviously, pot is not an issue. Methamphetamine is an issue, but politicians never want to make a distinction between the two drugs – or any drugs. Just: “All drugs are drugs, they’re all bad, they’re all illegal, they should be eradicated, and our kids shouldn’t be exposed to any of them.” And we all know pot is really nothing and that there are many more drugs – including alcohol – that cause much more damage than pot. I found out about five years ago that we spend more money on pot eradication than we do on methamphetamine eradication, and I fucking almost threw up in my mouth.
I just heard of this news anchor in Washington, DC, who got fucked with because he had a pot plant in his backyard. It’s total insanity – what kind of country are we living in? You wanna grow a pot plant, grow a fucking pot plant. The government has much bigger fish to fry than some news anchor and his fucking pot plant. Everybody who wants to smoke pot should have a pot plant, and the government should not be involved with it in any way, shape or form unless the person does something when they’re intoxicated.
Pot shouldn’t be treated differently than any other vice. I like to drink; I like to have a cocktail at night. And I like an Ambien and a cocktail, too, on rare occasion. But if I get in my car, now we got an issue. As long as I’m sitting at home in my den watching Sports Center, then we don’t have an issue. Maybe my liver has an issue, maybe my doctor has an issue, maybe my wife has an issue – but me and society, we don’t have an issue.
Alcohol seems to be your drug of choice. Do you unwind with marijuana, too?
I like pot, [but] pot got too good; it got too powerful. All the stuff that makes it to the centerfold of your publication, the stuff with the purple hair, those weird sticky crystals and stuff on it – it’s too goddamn good now.
And something happened to me where I needed a different kind of buzz. Because when I had nothing and I just drove a beat-up pickup truck and lived in a crappy apartment and literally didn’t have a penny to my name, I wanted to get stoned just to, like, escape … you know, just get baked and crank up a Boston album. And at a certain point, I had kids and a wife and a house and multiple mortgages – you know, a pretty goddamn big nut to cover every month. I knew I’d be on Jimmy Kimmel Live in a week, and the Tonight show after that, and Dancing With the Stars, and I realized that I would get stoned and just kind of think about it. Like, “Jesus Christ, you’re going on Dancing With the Stars? Who are you? What are you doing?”
My life became too much and too surreal. Get really good and baked and realize you have to make $100,000 a month to cover your nut and you’ll not have a good high. So at a certain point, when I got some notoriety – and don’t get me wrong, it’s still fun to eat a pot brownie on occasion – I started realizing that to drink the red wine and drift off into this weird kind of numb slumber and not think about the next show, the next appearance, the next obligation, or who’s gonna pay for the goddamn private school for my twins, and just drift off and watch some St. Elmo’s Fire on cable – I started enjoying that buzz more. It was sort of a “Who cares?” buzz versus an “I’m gonna get high and really think about all this shit” buzz.
When did you first realize you had a talent for extemporaneous monologues?
I’d been doing it for a long time, but I never thought of it as a talent.
My friends, or family, or teachers, counselors, whoever – they wouldn’t permit me to go on long, rambling, even funny riffs. Someone would tell me to shut up or get back to work, or “Who cares?” or “Quiet down!” or “So what?”
It’s weird now, because I just got back from the House of Blues in Vegas, and there’s 900 people sitting there who want to hear 90 minutes of my shit. I couldn’t find anyone who’d sit down for 90 seconds of it in high school. Whatever one of my famous jags would be – pick your favorite one – I wouldn’t get 45 seconds into it without someone saying, “I don’t know! Who cares? Let’s order!” Or my parents just sorta sitting there kinda numb, clearly not listening. Or my buddy Donny just going “Huh?” or “You’re blocking the TV set.”
Nobody ever said “Write that down” or “That’s a good one!” or “You should do this for a living.” It never came up. So this weird gift, in a world that looks at it as a liability, is no fucking gift at all.
Is a podcast the ideal venue for your creativity, more so than radio or television?
Yeah. TV is too fast – there’s no room for anything long-form. Radio is fine, but you have a program director who’s probably dumb. The only thing dumb people know is “Hurry up, hurry up!” So my life kind of went from “Shut up!” to “Hurry up!” And now, when you do this, you can do it super long-form.
How did your manual-labor days prepare you for your current career?
A lot of time left alone with my thoughts …. You wanna free up your mind? Turn off the TV, turn off the Wii, turn off the computer and do repetitive manual labor. Literally pick up a shovel, go out in your backyard and dig for nine hours without so much as a fucking radio or someone standing next to you. Just dig. Believe me, you’ll get to thinking – no ear buds, no podcasts, no iTunes, no Best of REO Speedwagon. I would have jobs where they would drop me off in a parking lot, and there was a huge mound of dirt the size of a Winnebago on one side, and on the other side of the parking lot was a big roll-off dumpster with the doors swung open. There was a two-by-12-foot ramp that went up it, a flathead shovel and a wheelbarrow. I got dropped off, and they said, “Hey man, don’t leave until you get this mountain of dirt into that roll-off dumpster.” I started at 7 a.m., and by 5:30 p.m., I made my last scoop and went home – all for $7 an hour. There are no flat-panel monitors, no checking your BlackBerry. You’re just alone and got nothing to do but think.
It’s sort of like being imprisoned with your mind – and a fucking shovel. What we’re doing now is just sitting around staring at YouTube, staring at Funny or Die, staring at ESPN, staring at Wii. And we’re basically just taking a tour through someone else’s museum. And I don’t know how much art you create when you’re just constantly walking through someone else’s museum.
I never wrote down a joke. But I was left alone with my thoughts – that’s for goddamn sure.
You were a lousy student with, you say, indifferent parents. When did you become so industrious?
At a certain point, after being a nonachiever for so long in my life, I finally started to accomplish some goals, and it became sort of intoxicating. And then I started kinda wanting more.
I spent the first 30 years just wasting my life. I was put on this earth to share stories, and tell jokes, and entertain people, and try to make them think, and come up with ideas, and design architecture, and work on cars. I was really just put here to do these things – I don’t mean by God or anything, but those are my callings. And I spent the first 30 years listening to teachers who told me I was dumb – and, you know, digging a ditch. I’m not Ernest Hemingway or fucking Mark Twain, but if you asked someone who knew Will Rogers what Will Rogers did for 15 years, and he said, “Oh, they gave him a shovel and he sat in the dirt and dug a hole,” you’d say: “Well, that seems like a waste. Shouldn’t he have just been sitting around and writing down sorta funny -isms about society?”
“Nah. He just sat alone, with ranchera music blaring in the background, digging a hole for $8 an hour.” That’d be kind of a waste, wouldn’t it?
Now, I’m not saying I’m Will Rogers, but that’s my thing. I like ideas – I don’t like digging holes. And so, eventually, it was like I was making up for lost time. It was like, “Holy shit! I’ve sat around rotting in classrooms, rotting in shitty houses, rotting on job sites – just sitting and fucking rotting.” And then I realized, all of a sudden: “Whoa – I got stuff to talk about!” And so I started doubling down.
Multitask while shaving. I’m six-foot-two – and Dr. Drew told me that urine is sterile.