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At Comedy Central, it’s mainly a guy thing

Times Staff Writer

You can sort of recognize the character Adam Carolla is playing on his new Comedy Central late-night talk show, “Too Late With Adam Carolla.” He’s the dorm lounge pundit articulating his rhetorical witticisms into the wee hours, to an audience that needn’t be there but sometimes is, because the lounge is on the way to the bathroom. You really need to pee, but Adam’s taking advantage of your politeness to tell you about the first ridiculous 15 minutes of “Con Air,” or why China stinks, with their pandas on loan who refuse to have sex, or hey, how come old people never have young people’s names.

“Like, there’s no one in their 90s named Stacey, is there?” he says, his grin somewhere between self-satisfied and pleading, and you think: Doesn’t this guy ever go to class? Does he just sit here all day and night sculpting his Adam Carolla-isms? Do his parents care how much it costs, out-of-state tuition at the University of Maryland?

For the record:

12:00 AM, Aug. 20, 2005 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday August 20, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 24 words Type of Material: Correction
Comedy Central -- A review of Comedy Central’s late-night programming in Friday’s Calendar misspelled the first name of the late Terri Schiavo as Terry.

Carolla, in real life, is part of a comedy cabal known as Jackhole Industries, who are Jimmy Kimmel, Carolla and Daniel Kellison. Kimmel and Carolla are the talent, Kellison is the producer; they’re a canny bunch of comedy entrepreneurs, professional getters of shows on Comedy Central -- I can think of no better way to describe what they do.

Comedy Central loves Jackhole, loves how its approach is like a dog whistle for the 18- to 24-year-old men the network is pursuing. For Comedy Central, the Kimmel-Carolla-Kellison credits include “The Man Show” (hoisted beers and dancing girls), “Crank Yankers” (puppets make phony phone calls) and now “Too Late.”

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Last Sunday night, Kimmel ably hosted the roast of Pamela Anderson, which drew more than 4 million viewers during its first play and made you wonder why the network doesn’t organize more of these events; Courtney Love, who was all spaghetti legs, writhing about and flipping off the roasters, could become her generation’s Foster Brooks. It’s a venerable form that keeps proving to have life in it yet. What draws you in is the tension of waiting to see which insult joke will go too far (in this case, it was Nick DiPaolo’s line comparing Anderson’s emotional range as an actress to Terry Schiavo). Throughout the evening, Kimmel, Carolla and Kimmel’s girlfriend, the formidably raunchy comedian Sarah Silverman, sat on the first couch behind the podium, directly in view of the camera. They were all dressed up, looking oddly like the royals at Wimbledon.

“Too Late,” by contrast, is not only a static TV format, it’s also a radio show, really, airing four nights a week post-"The Daily Show,” 8:30 on the West Coast. There’s also the problem that Carolla is better with Kimmel; without Kimmel’s reassuringly soft, sloe-eyed mug, the reductive jokes about fat chicks just don’t have the love.

This schedule might very well change come October, when “The Daily Show’s” Stephen Colbert is ready with “The Colbert Report,” but for now, after Jon Stewart you get Carolla, who that first night was just sitting there in a leather chair, like the late Dr. Gene Scott, talking about what irks him (pandas who won’t have sex, it turned out, he could talk about it all night). Subsequently, Carolla took calls from around the country (“What bothers you?” was the topic), even though a number had not been given out. The callers sounded like Limbaugh ditto-heads, schooled to be as bugged as Carolla. Then he had a guest, two guys called the Crystal Method. They’re musicians. They didn’t seem as bugged by pandas. But they don’t like industry meetings. God, how they hate the meetings.

In fairness, the panda-Crystal Method episode was the first show, and things might perk up. Then again, in more recent shows, I have noticed, Carolla keeps staring at someone to his right, as if to reassure himself that the joke about how transsexuals shouldn’t change their name from Brent to Brenda but go for an entirely different name, like Sheila, was working. It was as if he were looking at Kellison: Hey man, that joke was funny at dinner, trust me.

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Many people know Carolla from “Loveline,” the radio call-in show that was also on MTV; it is said that Carolla will take over for Howard Stern in Los Angeles when Stern jumps to satellite radio. Carolla’s not without smarts, which is what makes his overthought jokes more depressing; his intelligence is dedicated to what is broadly described as “guy humor” -- smug, twitchy jokes about porn and whatever else is supposed to strike a blow for guttural American male enlightenment. It’s a market-tested pose, which is where its cynicism lies. It’s the comedy of self-imposed limits, of how to be articulate yet imaginatively closed off to the world.

“The Jews are leaving the settlement in the Gaza Strip,” Carolla said the other night, showing video of a roiling crowd. Because of what he does, he had to make fun of this one guy’s yarmulke, and how they should just pick up Israel and move the country out of the Middle East to Baja. Show him a news clip and Carolla will figure out which jokes fit in the box of the persona he’s created.

Comedy Central is hard-selling these personality-driven shows as Lenny Bruce-risky. Dangerous. It has sold Carlos Mencia’s “The Mind of Mencia” this way, and it’s selling “Weekends at the D.L.” as dangerous too, when it’s really just likable comedian D.L. Hughley doing a diorama of shows that came before him, including “Playboy After Dark” and “Politically Incorrect With Bill Maher,” with a little ode to “The Daily Show.”

On “Weekends,” which airs Friday and Saturday nights, Hughley comes out quite demonstrably smoking a cigar, and his set looks like an unused but well-designed hangout room off the lobby of an Ian Schrager hotel. He does a monologue, reminds the audience that the band is quite possibly stoned and has wine and/or beer for his guests. It’s the weekend! The guests are not stars plugging movies (that’s so broadcast) but a loose affiliation of appearance-seekers, two or three to a show, with a preponderance of comics. Hughley pitches them setups out of the news, and they all try, they honestly try.

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The night he had Andy Dick and Rev. Al Sharpton was cute, but on another show I found myself waiting to hear whether Sean Hayes thought Karl Rove would end up in prison. But in an era of nonstop entertainment gossip, the elephant in the room is not Rove, it’s whether “Will & Grace” deserved yet another Emmy nomination.

You can’t talk about this at D.L.'s salon, of course. Comedy Central is offering Carolla and Hughley as an alternative to the old late-night dance -- and to cover up the loss of Dave Chappelle -- but it’s not so alternative. Alternative was the way Chris Rock hosted the Oscars last February; the more distance you get on that performance, the more you realize how brilliantly Rock brought a measure of truth-telling to arguably the most artificial night in show business. He was like an undercover agent, wearing a tuxedo. I believe, Comedy Central, the word you might use to describe Rock’s performance is “dangerous.”


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