For Carolla, success doesn't come `Too Late'

August 23, 2005|By Martin Miller | Martin Miller,LOS ANGELES TIMES

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, his best work was appearing on local floors, walls and roofs, not on national radio and television programs.

The closest the born in Philadelphia and raised in Los Angeles carpenter-turned-comedian came 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 shows like Howard Stern's. "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.

This month, the 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 will unveil a home improvement show on cable's TLC 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."

Most impressive -- or perhaps daunting -- may be that Carolla is poised to take over for shock jock Stern in several major markets on the West Coast.

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."

For a guy who's on record as despising a heavy workload, Carolla is doing a good imitation of a workaholic. Some wonder whether he will be able to multitask between radio and television or whether he'll eventually fall into the ranks of radio personalities who failed in TV, such as Rick Dees.

"Historically, it's been hard to make the transition from radio to television and from television to radio," 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."

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

The critics have been mixed also. 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."

Carolla 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.

"I've done so much morning radio that I won't be overwhelmed by it, but it's still going to be a challenge," Carolla said.

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 for morning radio.

"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 [lousy] soup because they're worried about the one guy who is allergic to it and not the rest of us."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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