The ax can be awesome
I’ve been fired for stupid reasons. Like that editor of Entertainment Weekly who believed -- based solely on book sales, Google hits and other empirical data -- that people enjoy reading Stephen King more than me. And I’m sure I’ll get fired again for slightly better reasons. Like that no one reads newspapers.
But until Adam Carolla’s talk-radio station suddenly changed formats to Top 40 music two weeks ago today, I didn’t realize how awesome getting fired could be. The day after his KLSX show was offed, Carolla got two friends to set up a website, and by Sunday night he was doing a nightly podcast from his house. Often in his bathrobe.
Since the middle of that week, Carolla’s has been the No. 1 podcast on iTunes, putting it ahead of public radio’s “This American Life,” HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher,” NPR’s “Fresh Air” and President Obama’s weekly address. He has gotten more than 500,000 listeners for a single podcast. I would be even more jealous if I weren’t half-buzzed, typing in my bathrobe at 2 in the morning. And I only put the bathrobe on to avoid grossing you out in that last sentence. It’s not on anymore.
I went to Carolla’s house to learn how to keep working even after you’re fired. He’s had no trouble getting a guest to show up every day -- Dr. Drew Pinsky, comedian David Alan Grier, ESPN’s Bill Simmons -- especially since they don’t have to get up early, navigate a parking structure or check in with security. Seriously, you can rob Adam’s house really easily.
On Tuesday evening, he and comedian Dana Gould sat on two leather couches in front of a huge stuffed pony and toy box and, after about 10 minutes of trying to make the microphones work, started to curse. They dealt with important issues, such as the thesis that people engage in adventurous lovemaking because “90% of sex is because it feels good; the other 10% is ‘prove you love me.’ ”
Even though Carolla has a fast-tracked sitcom pilot at CBS that he’s writing and starring in, he’s far more excited about his podcast, obsessively checking three times each day to see how many downloads he’s gotten. “This doesn’t feel like work,” he says about doing almost exactly the same thing he was doing at KLSX a few weeks ago. “A huge component of being a human being is doing something on your own terms. A kid will jump in the water, but if you want him to get in, you have to push him. I can’t even think about going back.”
Carolla is still getting paid from his talk-radio contract until the end of the year, but he isn’t getting paid to podcast -- in fact, it’s costing him about $2,000 a month for broadband, equipment and tech help. And all the sound cues, song snippets, sound quality, cohosts, phone screeners and professionalism of his old job are gone. So far, the only recurring bit is his complaining about feedback, and it turns out it’s not a bit.
So Carolla is now just a hobbyist, like all the bloggers, YouTube video directors and other basement podcasters. Which, as a guy who gets paid by a large, dying corporation to blog on the Opinion page, scares the crap out of me. What he and I do might be so fun that everyone would be willing to do it for free after work, and so would we. Which would mean that I’ll finally have to get a different job doing something that is of actual use to people. Like moving imaginary money from the government to banks.
But Carolla told me not to worry. “It will be like sports. Millions of guys play millions of basketball games every day of the week at the playground or the YMCA. But LeBron James gets $20 million a year because he can jam on all of those guys. We’re always going to want to see LeBron and Kobe go at it. Anyone can blog, but can they write an article as good as you?”
I was feeling really good until he brought up that last point.
In fact, he thinks that if The Times turns into a Top 40 station, I might be able to charge people for my columns. I told him this would not go over well. He argued with me: “If in 1989 I said, ‘I have an idea: Bottle water and sell it. And charge more than a beer,’ they would have chased me around with a giant butterfly net. The same with paying to watch a television station. But entertainment I like, whether it’s Howard Stern or a lap dance, I’ll pay for it.”
Carolla, it seems, imagines a wonderful future in which even lap dancers will get to work from their homes in their robes.
But maybe he’s right. Maybe I don’t need The Times. Maybe I can write columns in which I curse and freely explore the two things my editor just deleted from this sentence. Maybe the only people who would suffer from the death of newspapers are the people who own and operate them. And if I had a contract until the end of the year, I’d totally be willing to spend 10 months finding out.