Last week, funny man Adam Carolla stopped by Book Soup on The Sunset Strip to meet fans and sign copies of his new literary endeavor, In Fifty Years We’ll All Be Chicks: And Other Complaints From an Angry Middle-Aged White Guy.
From extremely humble beginnings, Carolla is the definition of the classic but rarely realized Hollywood success story. Starting his career at KROQ radio in Los Angeles, then switching gears to co-host and develop “The Man Show” for Comedy Central, and recently writing and staring in the indie feature The Hammer, Carolla has more than paid his dues.
Now with his The New York Times bestselling book and a podcast that exceeds more than one million downloads per week, the sky is the limit for the guy who once dreamed of being a strip club DJ.
You grew up in the Los Angeles valley. Did you spend much time on The Sunset Strip in your youth? Any memories?
Well, I didn’t really have money to go to any shows, and I didn’t have fantastic transportation. When I was 18, I went to The Body Shop and saw Kitten Natividad do her striptease – you know big martini glass, bubbles… That was the highlight of my Sunset Strip experience as a youth…
Me and my friend barely had enough money to get in and maybe buy a soda. But I remember the DJ was sort of doing his jokes…and after one of the girls got done dancing, he got on the mic and was like, “Wow! Looks like we could use a janitor around here if any of you are handy with a mop!”
So when the show was over, I went up to him and was like, “Hey man, so seriously, I’m your janitor.” And he was like, “What? I was just kidding dude.” And I just remember thinking this is going to be a great gig for me. I’m cleaning carpets, so the janitor at the strip club sounded like a pretty good deal.
That was about as lofty a dream as I had at that age. I didn’t set the bar much higher than that back in the day. If you would’ve told me when I was 18 that you’re gonna be a strip club DJ for the rest of your life, I would’ve signed that agreement.
You’re now used to this long format style with your webcast, and you’re known for your off-the-cuff tirades. Was it difficult to structure your thoughts into a more cohesive kind of linear narrative? Did you just sort of do your thing and have an editor piece it all together?
I did. I worked with an editor [named] Mike Lynch, who initially was just sort of there to do all the typing, but eventually become sort of a voice of reason: “This doesn’t make sense,” or “I thought it was funnier this way.”
So I kept saying to him, “How’s that sound? Read it back, read it back.” Cause I realized when you’re typing, and you’re looking, and you’re reading – the voice inside your head – that’s one thing. But closing your eyes and having a person read it out loud… I sort of believe that you should be able to read the book out loud and have it sound like it’s my voice or came out of my mouth.
Your editor definitely helps you shape things, and it wasn’t an experience I had had before…
The only real thing I really got into with my editor is that I had this thing at the beginning of the book, “About The Author,” cause I felt it would be important for people to know who I was and where I came from, and what my circumstances were, and what I experienced growing up, so that when people read the book, you would see it through the prism of someone who grew up in this environment and came from this situation. And my editor was like, “Eh, we don’t really need that. Let’s just stick with the funny thing.”
It seems like that’s always been sort of an important thing to you, that people know your background, your struggle that became a success story?
Well, what I get with a lot of people is, “Yeah well you’re a rich white guy, and you went to college, and you always had it good, and you don’t understand what it’s like for other people who didn’t have the privilege and the opportunity that you had…”
And they just assume cause I’m white and well spoken, that I must have grown up where my dad was an attorney, and I grew up in Encino, and I went off to a private school or something. I want people always to know that that’s not the case… And I don’t want them to know so they’ll shed a tear for me, but I want them to know that when I talk about welfare, I’m talking as a kid who was on welfare. When I talk about food stamps, I’m talking as a kid who was on food stamps. And when I talk about working a day in the sun digging ditches, I’m talking as someone who had done that for many years, not someone who was off at college.
I want people to know that’s what I did… They still don’t even really fully understand how humble my beginnings were, but to me it’s important that when you share your opinion, whatever your opinion is, the people sort of know you’re speaking from experience…
You’ve been a sort of social critic and satirist of society and now you are raising kids in L.A. What values do you try and steer them towards or away from?
You know, I really don’t think that much about trying to push them away from certain things or towards other things. I really think in terms of just being a good parent, providing… I mean, first off, it’s providing a home and sustenance, education and a safe environment.
I’m just gonna give them a good base, and then after that I’m going to be a good dad, and I’ll show them that hard work is important. I’ll let them know that I’m working, and that I have to work, and that I have to do many things to keep this lifestyle continuing for them. There’s hobbies and things you enjoy…and I like the cars – and racing the vintage cars – and if you want to do that stuff then you have to work hard so you can make that money, cause that kind of stuff doesn’t come cheaply.
And, I just want to be there as a sort of example… like I wouldn’t even call it a role model. Here’s daddy. He’s honest. He works hard. He also has things he enjoys. He loves you. He’s a good dad. He’s a good husband. Then, let the chips fall where they may.
…I think you should just be living a life that is an example to them. And hopefully between the genes, and the example, they think it’s a dignified life.
So “Loveline” must have given you plenty to worry about with your kids?
Yeah, well… You know there’s cancer. And there’s AIDS. And there’s getting hit by a drunk driver, and everything else. But you don’t think about, “Oh, I’m gonna be the one that that happens to.” But you know it’s out there. Now getting hit by a drunk driver with AIDS, now that’s got to be the ultimate… That’s a bad day.
“Loveline” was always just sort of a job to me, and I never really got that emotionally invested. I didn’t really carry it around with me. I mean, I always knew there were people that had herpes, I knew there were people that had been molested, I already knew they were out there. This was just me now talking to them.
So it wasn’t for me like, “Oh man, now I’m totally freaked out.” It was more of an education, really. I just essentially became an expert on how teens operate.
It’s funny cause people would always be like, “Well, what makes you an expert? Dr. Drew is a doctor, so what did you do?”
And I’d be like, “Well I talked to 100,000 teenagers. That makes me an expert.”
And they’d be like “So what! You don’t have any education.”
And I’d be like, “Look, I didn’t read a book on how to build houses. I just built houses. That’s what I did, and thus I’m a good builder. And who do you want building your house: a guy that read a book about it or a guy who actually did it for 10 years?”
For me, it was just talking to 100,000 teenagers, and you start to figure out pretty quick how they work. The same way you would if you were working with dolphins. Nobody goes to a guy that works with dolphins [and says], “Tell me what book you read on dolphins.” It’s like, “No, man. I work at SeaWorld. I’ve been here for 20 years.”
Speaking of Dr. Drew, what do you think of his new show? Do you think he’s gotten a little tabloid-y?
Well, they force you to do all that stuff. You do a show like Drew’s and they’re going to produce that show. And they’re gonna force you to have a bunch of different topics, and stay on whatever story de jour… Drew may not feel like talking about Schwarzenegger’s love child, but believe me it’s not going to be his decision. Somebody is going to force him to talk about it. He will not be able to escape that.
Producers produce; for good or for bad. …Look, if you took beavers and put them on the roof of the Sears Tower, what would they do? They would start looking for wood to build a dam. Why? Cause that’s what they do! And you could tell ‘em, “Hey man, we’re 186 stories in the air.” They don’t give a shit. They gotta find some wood. That’s what they do!
So you go on TV, and you will be produced.
Finally, can you give us a little complaining rant about doing book signings?
I like the book signings. This one was nothing. I like the little intimate ones as compared to when you go to Portland or Seattle and get like 300 people. That’s fine, except that people can’t work their cameras. And it’s someone’s been standing in line for an hour and then when they finally get to you, it’s like, “Oh, where’s my camera? How do I turn this thing on?” And it’s just like, you’ve been in line for over an hour. You didn’t want to get that out and ready to go?
Pick up your copy of Adam Carolla’s new book In Fifty Years We’ll All Be Chicks: And Other Complaints From an Angry Middle-Aged White Guy at Book Soup. www.booksoup.com
And check out Adam’s weekly podcasts steaming weekly at www.adamcarolla.com
–Brent X Mendoza