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Adam Carolla on podcasting, Bryan Cranston and “tampering” with smoke detectors

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Adam Carolla will find plenty to complain about when he visits the House of Blues this weekend.
Photo: Mitchell Zachs

You’ve enjoyed success as a podcaster, named the most downloaded podcast of all time by Guinness. What do you think it is about you that people are responding to?

It certainly doesn’t help to be on the radio for a long period of time and then be off the radio. So that’s probably a good thing, being able to sort of build that audience and have some demand and then disappear somewhere. But ultimately you have a hard time building on that audience and a hard time keeping that audience, so I think just being consistent, just doing it day in and day out, like we’ve done. We’ve done a podcast five days a week for two and a half years now without ever really missing a week.

The Details

Adam Carolla
August 6, House of Blues
$32-$45, 632-7600

That’s pretty impressive.

It’s a commitment to say we’re going to do a full-time show before there were any sponsors or backing or anybody coming on board. I think for us it was always like, “We’re going to deliver something that people are going to like and be consistent about it, and we’ll get it out there and do that for what seems a long period of time and then see if we can start making some of our money back.” That’s the stage we’re in now.

Do you ever miss radio?

I’ve had a couple of chances to get back into radio. A couple of pretty good deals. One pretty lucrative, one very lucrative, and you know, I don’t miss it. I thought I would. I loved radio, and I always looked at it as a great alternative to TV, because it was very real time. I loved radio because radio started at a certain time and ended at a certain time. It never really much mattered what happened in between. TV and movies are a whole lot of hurry up and wait. And they say it’s going to be a half-day and it ends up being a 14-hour day, and something breaks down, and you have to go sit and wait in your trailer—it’s a lot of sitting in your trailer and waiting, and somebody comes and gets you and says, “We’re ready for you on set.” Then they go to the set and you stand around for 20 minutes and watch them finish lighting it. And then you go, “I’m going back to my trailer,” then they come back and bang on your door again and say, “Now we need you.” You’re always looking though stuff you have to memorize, or read a teleprompter or cue cards. I always miss the spontaneity part of radio.

And you feel like you’re getting that with your podcast?

Now that you can have [the spontaneity] aspect of radio via podcast and kinda get that itch scratched, now it’s, “Now I don’t need it so much.” You know, people spend a lot of time trying to separate the two. They’re really not so different at all. It’s just a microphone, sit down, start talking, do your thing. People, if you dig it, listen, maybe tell a friend, and everything will be copacetic. My podcast and doing Love Lines doesn’t’ really feel any different except there were bathroom breaks in radio that don’t exist in the podcast.

I would think you prefer the podcast because you get to say whatever you want, and you don’t have to worry about ratings or all the corporate nonsense.

That’s true, but I’ll tell you this, without sounding like a blowhard, there’s always ratings. Anytime you play a thousand-set theater and play it out, that’s a rating, Or you play a 600-seat venue and there’s 200 open seats, that’s a rating. Anytime you don’t have 200,000 downloads, only 150,000 downloads, that’s a rating. If you’re in the middle of the pack on iTunes, that’s a rating. If Jim Carry got $28 million for Mr. Pecker’s Penguins, and it was a bit disappointing at the box office, and they say, “Hey Jim, how about the $19 million range? How about taknig a little haircut, ‘cause Mr. Pecker’s Penguins didn’t do so well?” Guess what? That’s a rating. Your rating is not an Arbitron diary, but it’s a paycheck now. Whether you like it or not, we’re all getting rated.

I suppose that’s true.

The good news is [on a podcast] you don’t have some buffoon coming in wanting you to do some stupid stuff because the ratings took a dip.

Was that part of the whole cast changeover on your radio show, from Dave Dameshek to Danny Bonaduce?

Oh you mean, was that like [producer] Jack Silver? Yeah, he hated Dameshek from the word go. Loved, loved, loved Bonaduce.

It must be frustrating to have that decision taken away from you.

It’s one thing to improve and grow and evolve, and it’s another thing to be a superstitious native. It’s like, “You got a 4.0, and a 4.0, and 5.0, and then it’s like 0.2, what? What’s going on?” And then it would go up again, but it would just be all over the place all the time, and everyone has a plan when that happens. Really, the plan should be to deliver a good product.

One more thing about ratings: We were always No. 1 in Vegas. [Howard] Stern was never No. 1 in Vegas. Everywhere else, it was always like, “Why aren’t you beating Stern?” or “You’re not living up to Stern’s ratings.” We were No. 1 so much in Vegas that I had this bonus deal worked out where I got $75,000 each time I was No. 1 in Vegas, and I was No. 1 so often—every quarter—that the program director was hoping I wouldn’t be No. 1 so he wouldn’t have to pay me my bonus. He kinda got a bad deal on that one.

Part 1 - from YouTube.com

Part 2 - from YouTube.com

In my opinion, your bits on California's Gold host Huell Howser are some of the funniest I’ve heard, both on radio and podcast. Have you ever had occasion to meet him, and if so, was he a good sport about the fun you have at his expense?

I have never met the man. Never ... met … the man. I’m glad you enjoyed it, but I’m sort of glad I haven’t met him. Scared. He’s a big man.

You do seem like a pretty humble guy. My favorite example was when you had Bryan Cranston on your podcast, and you realized halfway through the show that he had a taxi waiting to take him to the airport, and you told Cranston that you’d drive him to the airport. It just seemed like such a normal guy thing to do.

Cranston was nice enough to come do the show. He had to catch a flight. And he was cutting it really close. Anyone else would have said, “No, I gotta go.” And I remember, it was gale-force winds, palm fronds flying by. Such a shitty time to fly.

You and Cranston always seem to have a good chemistry on your podcast.

Well, he’s a genuinely good guy, and one of the only dudes who’s from the Valley. I grew up there, so we both have that. It’s not like we grew up in New York, like so many other people here. He’s just a good guy, and he’s also a talented performer, and has a great stage presence, and I think he appreciates my sense of humor, so it’s a comfortable, easy kind of familiarity.

Hey, maybe when he’s done with Breaking Bad he’ll join you on your podcast.

Uh … I’m sure he’ll be delighted. No, he’s doing a ton of movies now.

Regarding you upcoming show in August, will this be similar to one you did in December?

Yes, very similar in format. It should be new material, at least 85 percent new material. My plan is always mix it up, bring some different stuff, make the lion’s share of material new for those who have endured the first time around. It’s sort of a one-man show meets standup meets PowerPoint presentation. There’s a visual component to it. It’s basically sort of standup, but maybe the next—I don’t want to call it evolution because that sounds pompous—but instead of me standing there 90 minutes and talking, it’s me standing there for 90 minutes and talking, but I will be making my points through some pictures and shorts and illustrations. I won’t be telling you how fat my dog Molly is, I’ll show you a picture of her, and then we’ll talk.

Do you gear material to city you’re playing?

It all depends. You start to realize when you do 100 shows a year it’s best just to put together an act and not have to create something out of whole cloth every night. It suffers because every comedian just works. I do it less than every other comedian, but they work out material. They go to little clubs, then take it to medium-sized ones and then take it to the House of Blues. And they work on same act for 10 years. I mix it up a lot more. I’ll usually start off with something about that day, travel, ride-in, the town, maybe it’s hot, cold. Just almost always offer something off the top that has a feeling of, “This happened today.” And then I just start getting into it.

Where do you look for material?

Well, it finds me. I don’t really every look for it, I just keep my eyes open. I’m essentially like one of those ticket cameras at a busy intersection. I’m just on and I’m just there, and I’ll get triggered if you go through the light a couple tenths of a second too late. But I’m not specifically looking for blue cars or black cars or men or women or convertibles. Don’t worry, a day won’t go by without someone going through that intersection.

I have hyper vigiliance. [For example] The stupid stewardess doing the “tampering with, disabling or destroying the smoke alarms” speech. Somewhere around the 25th time you hear it, you just go, “What the fuck do we need with the ‘disabling or destroying?’ Just do the ‘tampering with.’ That’s enough.” I just got back from Canada and they just go, “This is a no-smoking flight.” And they move on. Because guess what, “no-smoking” covers you taking a bat to the smoke detector in the bathroom. “No-smoking flight” covers no smoking in the bathroom. I guess they’re not riddled with horrible lawyers in Canada or something. We gotta do “no smoking” and then go on for 20 minutes about why there’s no smoking and how many different ways you can’t smoke. There’s just no smoking. But we have lawyers ruining everything.

I’ve been yelling about this for 15 years, and no one knows what the fuck I’m talking about. I just say, “Why do we need ‘disable or destroy?’ You can’t destroy a smoke detector without tampering with it first, right?” No one knows that. I just say it must be nice to tune out.

I’m enjoying The Car Show on Speed Network, but I have to say I was disappointed you didn’t do Top Gear USA.

The timing didn’t work out. I was doing a pilot, so I couldn’t do it. And I read this article that pissed me off. People said to me 250 times, “Why didn’t you do Top Gear?” And I told every reporter exactly why I didn’t, and then this article came out that said, “Well, we weren’t expecting from The Car Show since Top Gear decided not to use Adam, so how funny can he be?” This after I’ve said in 250 separate venues that I couldn’t do it because I was doing a pilot for CBS? I’m like, “Can’t you [reporters] fucking Google this shit?”

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Ken Miller is Las Vegas Weekly's associate editor, having previously served as assistant features editor at the Las Vegas Sun ...

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