Adam Carolla’s all over the dial

Times Staff Writer

As a young man, Adam Carolla believed “something” -- preferably memorable and funny -- would break for him in show business by the time he was 30. He was wrong.

At the time, the best work from the born-in-Philly, raised-in-L.A. carpenter-turned-comedian was appearing on local floors, walls and roofs, not on national radio and television programs; the closest he was coming to the big time on a regular basis was listening to talk radio as he pounded nails or spread roof tar.

“I’d be at someone’s house or be up on the roof all day and I’d get lonely -- stir crazy -- and talk radio became this soothing voice in my life,” said Carolla, who especially enjoyed listening to morning drive-time shows like Mark & Brian, Kevin & Bean and Howard Stern. “But the idea that I was making $10 an hour and stacking drywall while these guys were making a few hundred thousand, and they were having a party, and there were Playmates and there were good times, I just couldn’t imagine it.”

“I had two thoughts about it,” he added. “One was I could do that, and the next one was I’ll never get to do that.”


He was wrong. Today, after becoming known largely as a comedic counterweight to radio and television partners, Carolla has become a hot Hollywood property on his own.

Earlier this month, the now 41-year-old known for his mix of crude humor and edgy wit launched “Too Late With Adam Carolla” on cable’s Comedy Central. In October, he rolls out a program on cable’s TLC, a home improvement show called “The Adam Carolla Project,” in which he buys and rehabs his childhood home in North Hollywood.

“Adam doesn’t need a partner,” said Jimmy Kimmel, who co-hosted “The Man Show” with Carolla for five years before landing his own late-night talk show on ABC. “The guy is just funny. He has a strong opinion on almost every topic. You can ask him about Sea-Monkeys or shoelaces and he has a strong opinion. And when he gets going, you’re just a bystander.”

Most impressive -- or perhaps daunting -- may be that Carolla is poised to take over for shock jock Howard Stern in the key California markets of Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco sometime late this year or early next. While he said nothing has been signed yet with Infinity Broadcasting, whose contract with Stern expires at the end of the year, Carolla acknowledged that a deal is imminent. (Infinity spokeswoman Karen Mateo would say only that “there is no announcement at this time.”)


“It’s hard to say when it will start,” Carolla said after taping his late-night show recently at Hollywood Center Studios. “I’m not being evasive; I really have no idea. Right now, I hope it’s later rather than sooner.

“I’m really just trying to hash out the next two weeks of my life,” added Carolla, who broke into radio about a decade ago thanks largely to Kimmel, then part of the Kevin & Bean morning show on KROQ-FM (106.7). “So, something that is potentially four months down the road is not just a mile down the road for me, it’s a million miles down the road.”

Difficult transition

For a guy who’s on record as despising a heavy workload -- he once quipped, “Figure out what you wanna do, then take a nap” -- Carolla is doing a good imitation of a workaholic. Some wonder whether he will be able to multitask between mediums as smoothly as “American Idol” host and KIIS-FM (102.7) morning show DJ Ryan Seacrest, or whether he’ll eventually fall into the ranks of radio personalities who failed in TV, such as Rick Dees and Mark & Brian.


“Historically, it’s been hard to make the transition from radio to television and from television to radio. They involve different psychologies,” said Michael Harrison, editor of the radio industry magazine Talkers. “But he’s a talented guy, and I think this is a smart way for him to go. Either he has it or he doesn’t. We’ll find out soon, won’t we?”

So far the show’s initial ratings haven’t exactly blown up the late-night landscape, attracting less than 1% of the 18- to 49-year-old late-night audience share, according to Comedy Central executives, who believe it will take time for the ratings to build.

The critics have been mixed as well. They generally praise Carolla’s incisive satirical abilities but knock his penchant for base humor that frequently relies upon crude insults and jokes about masturbation and homosexuality. Comedy Central has committed to airing three months of the new show, which currently airs at 11:30 p.m., and will re-evaluate after that point.

The show’s look and feel are more radio than late-night television. There’s no monologue, script, bandleaders or big-name celebrities. The audience is seated close to Carolla, who sits center stage in a big chair. He regularly takes phone calls, does a comedy bit or two and riffs with a guest, a varied list that has included former “Saturday Night Live” performer Kevin Nealon, astronaut Buzz Aldrin and comic Louis CK.


Carolla jokes about the show being a work in progress, and has realistic expectations about its cultural reach.

“I know this show is never going to have mass appeal,” he said. “It’s going to be a nice little boutique. This is going to have its own indie-college kind of vibe. I’m fine with that. We’re not going to be Ford or GM over here, we’re going to be Saab. But that’s OK, they have dedicated owners.”

Despite the Zen-like attitude about the show’s place in the media universe, Carolla, the son of a psychologist, is aware of being judged. In fact, it’s unmistakable, especially in the first weeks of a show. He receives frequent “notes” from executives about how to sit, where to look and when to let loose.

“When you do television, there’s more to do, and when you do new television, there’s a lot more to do, especially when you don’t have partner. I miss not having that person,” said Carolla, who since the mid-1990s has co-hosted the nationally syndicated radio show “Loveline” with Dr. Drew Pinsky. “So, right now I’m like 40% acclimating, leaving about 60% of my brain left for being clever.”


At the Television Critics Assn. press tour in July, the pressure of his upcoming spate of television and radio projects apparently got to Carolla. He unloaded on a critic who questioned whether his TLC show was less of a financial risk than was being claimed.

“Write something [lousy] about the show and give the mike to somebody else, please. I don’t care if any of you like the show. It’s going to be a great show and you’ll just be wrong,” Carolla reportedly yelled at Deseret Morning News critic Scott D. Pierce. The critics “hated ‘The Man Show’ and everyone had a problem with ‘Loveline.’ Everyone has a problem with everything I do, but the shows are good.”

Stern’s slot beckons

But by his first week into taping his Comedy Central show, Carolla seemed calm, open and even self-deprecating about his on-the-rise show business career. “So far I’ve done a pretty good job of keeping the ratings down on just about everything I’ve done,” he said.


He expects an easier transition into the time slot for Stern’s morning show. Carolla’s similar brand of humor and his on-air friendship with Stern won’t hurt his chances of retaining whatever portion of the shock jock’s audience that doesn’t make the leap to satellite radio. It was Stern himself who initially revealed to his loyal morning audience that Carolla was his heir apparent in California.

“It should be like a salmon taking to open water,” Carolla said. “I’ve done so much morning radio that I won’t be overwhelmed by it, but it’s still going to be a challenge.”

Before Carolla, “Loveline,” which features frank discussions and advice on sex, love and romance, was languishing in the ratings. With Carolla, “Loveline” took off, spawning a television show and even a book. Pinsky calls his co-host “spontaneous, clever, specific, oblique and at the same time very human.”

But one challenge for Carolla in radio, as it has been in television, will be confrontations with censors. After all, a crackdown on perceived indecency on conventional radio is a major part of what led Stern to leave for the anything-goes atmosphere of satellite.


Carolla admitted he’ll have to clean up his act somewhat for morning radio compared with the relative freedom of late-night radio, where language and taste restrictions are more lax.

“What happens is [censors] say you can do the joke, but what they’re going to do is take your beautiful broth and dump a pillowcase full of flour into it,” Carolla said. “Then, they say you can still have your broth, but it’s not so good anymore, and ultimately it’s the people who get the crappy soup because they’re worried about the one guy who is allergic to it and not the rest of us.”