Mixing Ribald and Real Life

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

You can't miss the jacket.

Striding into his workplace, Adam Carolla wears it proudly and then keeps it on for hours, insisting, "It's the only thing I had clean." The nondescript blue jacket with the yellow "Loveline" logo suggests a real-life pragmatism far removed from his flamboyant on-air persona as what he calls a "renegade hard-on."

In nearly three hours of interviews, the ribald comedian who co-hosts the thriving sex-themed radio and TV show mentions the word "penis" exactly once; breast jokes: zero; masturbation anecdotes: zilch. The phrase "health insurance," on the other hand, comes up a dozen times. Carolla peppers his speech with almost as many 401K references as four-letter words.

Fans of his boisterous, often abrasive rants on such topics as female ejaculation and transvestite libido might be surprised by his kitchen-sink approach to life. But the reason for it is simple: What Carolla appears to want more than anything is to wear the jacket of the team player, earning a measure of security and insurance from the world's ills. To be a company man.

"I was just interested in how I could make money from my ideas. That was it," says Carolla, 33, of his startling rise from itinerant San Fernando Valley construction worker to Gen-X relationship guru. "I had always made a living off my back and my muscle, whether it was cleaning carpets or framing houses. . . . I've been waiting my whole life to do a job I enjoy. I get three weeks paid vacation and I never take a day."

Carolla has indeed done much more than punch a clock. In two years on "Loveline," which began 15 years ago on Burbank-based KROQ-FM (106.7), he has helped boost the show's profile as it moved on to national radio syndication and MTV. He also gave it a Joe Sixpack counterpoint to co-host Dr. Drew Pinsky that was not as noticeable in previous incarnations.

Since going national two years ago, the weeknight radio show (airing locally from 10 p.m.-midnight, Sunday-Thursday) has steadily emerged as the top-rated program in 90% of its late-night time slots on 50 affiliates, according to Arbitron ratings released in January. The half-hour MTV version follows the radio format of Carolla and Pinsky advising callers about love, sex and drugs while schmoozing with in-studio guests from the entertainment world. MTV officials are so pleased with the show, they have ordered more episodes to last through the spring. A "Loveline" book chronicling the show's evolution is due in the fall.

During a recent live broadcast at the Culver City studios of the Westwood One Radio Network, Carolla was in vintage form. He rarely uncrossed his arms or straightened up from his hunched, Larry King-like posture. He offered words of reassurance to a 22-year-old caller named Alicia, whose boyfriend has a permanent catheter for kidney treatment. "A guy," he said, "could put his penis through an iron lung."

Next came Mark, 26, who said his wife discharges a lot of fluid during sex. Carolla replied that he could relate. "You ever been on a long trip and have to pee and then pull off at a truck stop?" he asked. The relief one experiences, he said, was "better than any orgasm I've ever had."

It's lunchtime at the crowded Daily Grill on Ventura and Laurel Canyon boulevards, not far from a cramped apartment Carolla shared with two fellow ditch-diggers a few years--and a lifetime--ago.

In his idiosyncratic voice, which sounds something like a weed whacker crossed with a French horn, Carolla recalls the rugged path that enabled him to fully appreciate his current success. His no-nonsense demeanor stems from a development devoid of silver spoons. His expression appears serious even when he makes jokes, and a slight frown creases the long, chiseled features atop a tall, sturdy frame. Weak-fingered souls might grimace in his handshake grip.

After passing through Colfax elementary and Walter Reed Middle School, Carolla attended North Hollywood High, which he said "wasn't like rubbing shoulders with the cultural elite of the society, but it was a nice mixture of blue-collar idiots from the Valley and smarter folks from the hills."

Then came a short-lived foray into higher education at nearby Valley College. But by age 19, Carolla was out of school, living on his own and in a hole, in more ways than one.

"I dug ditches," he said. "I got down in a hole and I dug. That's pretty much all I did for 12 years. Dig, scrape paint. Seven bucks an hour, filthy, dangerous, dirty. No OT, no health benefits, no nothing."

As he entered his 20s, Carolla yearned for another route to happiness.

"I was saying to myself, 'Is life all about just toiling and misery and pain?' " he said.

Then came the epiphany.

"I think I can do comedy 'cause I have a good sense of humor and I listen to these morning shows with Mark and Brian and whoever, and I know I'm better than these idiots. These guys are in hot tubs with Playboy Playmates making a million dollars a year and I'm [expletive] hanging out with Vietnam vets who are hooked on pain killers, making seven bucks an hour, sitting on a stack of drywall, eating lunch off a roach coach. This is horrible."

Lacking connections and self-confidence, Carolla made a deal with himself that by the time he turned 30 he could make a living doing comedy. He spent the next 10 years supplementing construction work with small gigs: teaching comedy traffic school, performing at office parties and doing skits with the Acme Improv and Groundlings theater groups.

Two weeks before turning 30, he heard KROQ morning jocks Kevin and Bean talking about a boxing match between two other on-air personalities.

"It hit me like a ton of bricks," Carolla said. As a longtime boxer who worked as a trainer between construction jobs, he figured he was perfect for the job of preparing one of the participants to fight.

The KROQ crew agreed, and the training stint led to an on-air appearance as the character Mr. Birchum, a cantankerous shop teacher with a fondness for stale classic rock, heavy tools and sexual innuendo. Among the many Los Angeles fans of the character was Pinsky, who started "Loveline" in 1983 when he was a USC medical school student and has co-hosted it since.

Pinsky, 39, is head of the chemical dependency services department at Las Encinas Hospital in Pasadena and a private practitioner. He said he used to time his morning hospital breaks so he could hear the Birchum bits.

"I almost fell out of my car," Pinsky said. "I mentioned him [Carolla] to the people looking for a new host [to replace the departing Riki Rachtman] and when he came to audition I said, 'Oh, yes! Mr. Birchum likes us!' "

The pair immediately clicked, perhaps due to their day-and-night differences.

"He brings a genuine, real-world experience that's relatable to baby boomers and younger people," Pinsky said.

As Carolla put it: "When he was 19, he was premed at Amherst. When I was 19, I was cleaning carpets out by Edwards Air Force Base at 3 in the morning and hanging out with a scary, aggressive guy named Everlastin', who smoked a joint while driving our van at 95 mph . . . It amazes me that Drew and I came together."

Their clash of styles drives the show. Pinsky remains the impassive, establishment voice of the medical profession while Carolla adopts the mien of the middle-school clod, jeering at sex-ed filmstrips.

On a show flooded with thousands of phone calls each night, many of them on dire topics such as child abuse and spousal battery, finding the balance between sober advice and high jinks can be difficult.

"The whole thing is about instinct," Carolla said. "When to make a joke, when to be serious, when to chastise a caller--which is more often [necessary] than when to coddle--when to jump down Drew's throat, when to back off and give him a little room . . . There's no figuring it out on paper."

If nothing else, Carolla says he would like to be "the voice of the listeners." He gives the realistic example of a caller describing a sexual encounter with his girlfriend's mother and asking the hosts how he can find out if the mother is pregnant.

"So Drew says, 'Well, has she missed her period? How old is she? Blah, blah, blah.' Now everybody who's listening is thinking, 'Are you [expletive] nuts?'

"Someone's got to pipe up and go, 'What the f--- were you thinking?' Sometimes you're just calling a person on something. When you have that impulse, you have to trust that it's a natural impulse that everyone else is having."

Though he earned the "Loveline" spot with comic wit and not psychoanalytical acumen, Carolla said the experience has rubbed off, particularly in regard to his two-year relationship with girlfriend Lynette Paradise. (Her name is translated from the Italian, he says, "And no, she's not a stripper.")

When you spend much of your life dispensing advice, he said "You do tend to take your own advice a little bit . . . You tend to be more introspective through the day, thinking about, 'Gee, why did I do that?' or 'I'm angry. What is that?' "

The future is unfolding with promise before Carolla, who moved a year ago from the Valley to a 1923 house in Beechwood Canyon. That "Loveline" jacket fits better than ever, but he says he may try on an animated series, a sitcom and some feature film roles for size.

"My take on the universe is that it's not evil and it's not kind. It's not anything," Carolla said. "You get exactly as far as your talent and motivation will take you . . . People always talk about, 'It's who you know, it's who you know.' It's not who you know. People try to attribute success in this business to anything other than talent and stick-to-itiveness."

For the Record Los Angeles Times Thursday March 26, 1998 Valley Edition Calendar Part F Page 2 Zones Desk 2 inches; 57 words Type of Material: Correction Loveline-An article in the March 5 Valley Calendar Weekend mischaracterized the origins of the syndicated radio program "Loveline." Current co-host Dr. Drew Pinsky joined the program shortly after its inception in 1983 at Burbank-based KROQ-FM, but he does not claim credit for creating the show. Jim "Poorman" Trenton is currently suing Infinity Broadcasting, which owns KROQ, ownership of the show.
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