Road Hard and Put Away Wet
by Jay S. Jacobs
They always say to write what you know, and Adam Carolla knows life on the road.
Therefore Road Hard, which Carolla not only stars in but co-wrote and co-directed with his long-time collaborator Kevin Hench, tells the story of a stand-up comedian who has a lot of similarities to his creator. Bruce Madsen is a craftsman-turned-caustic comic who is still remembered for a popular sketch comedy show from about a decade and a half ago. His former co-host has become a huge success with a nightly talk show, but Bruce is still fighting in the trenches of the comic wars, flying from town to town taking soul-crushing gigs in big cities and small towns all over the world.
Carolla has long been very vocal about how tough life on the road can be. He too had a popular TV series – co-hosting The Man Show on Comedy Central from 1999 to 2003. His Man Show co-host, and still one of Carolla’s best friends, was Jimmy Kimmel, who has found even greater stardom as the host of Jimmy Kimmel Live.
So, Adam Carolla, how much of Road Hard is real and how much is fiction?
“I don’t really know how to really break that down,” Carolla admitted recently. “In a weird way, everything I do is both. The stuff I’m saying is stuff I’m going through or stuff I’m feeling. On the other hand, this guy is a character that is not me, but possesses a lot of the qualities I possess. I don’t have an adopted daughter. I’m not divorced. But, I do have an ex-partner who is very successful on late night TV. So I grabbed a lot of stuff from my own life and threw it in here.”
Of course, there is nothing all that surprising about mining your real life for comic inspiration. Carolla tends to think that it is the rule, not the exception.
“There’s probably not an episode of Seinfeld and not an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond where what’s coming out of Jerry’s mouth or Ray Romano’s mouth isn’t something that one of his writers, or even the guy himself, hasn’t experienced at some point,” Carolla explained.
Real life has always been an inspiration for Carolla. However, that is only part of the story. Unlike his protagonist, Carolla is not just floundering around waiting for his next gig. Carolla has been plenty busy over the years.
Other than The Man Show he also co-hosted the popular MTV advice series Loveline with Dr. Drew Pinsky. He has also had the popular Comedy Central series Crank Yankers. He showed his diverse interests by hosting the home-improvement series The Adam Carolla Project on TLC and The Car Show on Speed-TV. Hell, he even did stints on Dancing With the Stars and Celebrity Apprentice.
He has written two best-selling books – In Fifty Years We’ll All Be Chicks and Not Taco Bell Material. Perhaps his most impressive success has been as a pioneer in the brave new world of podcasting, where The Adam Carolla Show is listed in The Guinness Book of World Records as the most-downloaded podcast on the internet.
However, Road Hard does put a face upon Carolla’s long-time complaint about life being tough as a traveling stand-up comedian. Still, he recognizes that it is part of the job and so he trudges along.
“I do it because it’s part of what I need to do financially for my family,” Carolla said. “The other part of it is I’ve sort of transitioned from doing standup to doing live podcasts. Transitioned from playing clubs to playing theaters. So it’s gotten a fair bit easier being on the road.”
Not always, however. Carolla can quickly come up with a personal low point on the road.
“Definitely my worst experience is I was on the road, I was playing Atlantic City, and I had a one-nighter that was in Mansfield, Pennsylvania,” Carolla recalled. “We were staying at a place where leathernecks hung out. All the guys worked on the pipeline, oil refineries and stuff. The place was a mess. Really crappy little single story motel with a bunch of blue collar dudes. I was playing Mansfield University. There’s an auditorium with about 30 people in it. Kids who were there for free. It was snowing outside. I’m sitting in the back and I saw the guy who was going to bring me up on stage. He had about three pages of IMDb crap. It was The Man Show and Crank Yankers and Loveline and New York Times best sellers, syndicated radio. Blah, blah, blah. I said to the guy: Look, man, don’t read all that. Just say, ‘He’s got a podcast, you met him from The Man Show – Adam Carolla,’ and bring me out. I just sat there backstage and listened to this guy read my entire history off. Which all sounded pretty good, except I was standing in Mansfield and there were only like 30 people there.”
Still, Carolla has always known that he has to do whatever needs to be done to make a living. In fact, he did not become a comedian until very late. Previously he had been a craftsman and an amateur boxer. In fact that was how he originally met Kimmel.
“When I met him, he was my boxing instructor, and I couldn’t believe how funny he was,” Kimmel said about Carolla when I interviewed him several years ago. “There are a lot of people out there who never even think about going on television or going on the radio, who would probably be better at it than a lot of people that work for it their whole lives.”
So at what point did Carolla start thinking seriously about comedy as a career?
“When Jimmy told me to,” Carolla laughed. “I always wanted to do comedy, just I never could. I never could figure out how to do it. When I met Jimmy, he helped me figure out how to do it.”
And does Carolla miss boxing?
“No, I don’t,” Carolla said. “I mean, I skip my rope. I do a little shadow boxing. But, no, I don’t miss that world, because you got punched in the head and you didn’t get paid.”
Of course, getting punched in the head and not getting paid could potentially also describe filmmaking. Carolla did return to the boxing world for his first independent film with Hench, The Hammer. (Carolla and Hench co-wrote that film, but did not direct it.) While The Hammer never reached as wide an audience as Carolla would have liked, it was a learning experience.
“There is nothing like making an independent film to know how to make an independent film,” Carolla said. “The first independent film we made, The Hammer, we had never made an independent film before. So there was a steep learning curve. Once we got that under our belt, we figured out a few things we wanted to do and a whole bunch of things we didn’t want to do this time around. We were able to approach it from a slightly different place. A place of experience. I remember what it was like sitting in the edit bay working on The Hammer and realizing we didn’t have some b-roll or some coverage or some whatever. It’s just a lot of little tricks and things that you try to learn.”
And learn he did. Road Hard looks more confident and focused than The Hammer.
“When we went into Road Hard, now I was keenly aware of let’s make sure and get this, because I kept fast forwarding to being in the edit bay. I even started editing as we were shooting. When I did the scene with Jay Mohr, there was supposed to be a second scene where I came back up to his room at night and he kind of gave me what for. But we never shot that scene, because I said: You know what? Once this guy gets thrown over the desk, he is never coming back. We’re going right back to the road. That’s an instance of editing on the fly without being in an edit bay.”
Another change was that he kept control of the film this time around. Road Hard was made with the help of fans through crowdfunding on the site fundanything.com. Carolla is not sure if these sites are the future of indie filmmaking, but it worked for him.
“I can only speak for my experience, which is that’s how we made this film,” Carolla said. “I don’t think I would have done it the conventional way. I’d already done it the conventional way [with The Hammer]. That means I rattle a can, beg people for money, get the money, make the film, sell the film to the Weinsteins [Harvey and Bob, heads of The Weinstein Company], give the people their money back and the Weinsteins bury it and never give us any accounting. And everyone gets paid but me. That was fine to do once, but I didn’t want to do it twice.”
Jay Mohr’s character of Jack Taylor was loosely based on Kimmel, the old comic partner turned late night talk show host. However the inspiration for the role was able to see the humor in the character.
“Jimmy loved the movie,” Carolla said. He knew it wasn’t him, so he didn’t take any offense to it. We actually shot in his studio. We didn’t shoot in his offices, we shot in his studio.”
Mohr was just one of many of Carolla’s comedy buddies who took roles in Road Hard. Other well-known faces that show up include David Alan Grier, Jay Mohr, Larry Miller, Dana Gould, Howie Mandel, David Koechner and Illeana Douglas.
“I’m very proud to say that they came aboard because I asked them to come aboard,” Carolla laughed. “It was really, really nice of them. I wrote each part, by and large, with that person in mind. When I asked that person to do it, they said, ‘Let’s do it.’ And they all just did it. It was really nice. It worked out really nicely.”
Another person from Carolla’s past who shows up in Road Hard is actress Diane Farr, who played Carolla’s love interest. Farr, who is well-known as an actress on TV series like Rescue Me and Numb3rs, has known Carolla since they worked together as co-hosts on Loveline back in the day. However, Farr’s role was one of the few that was not specifically written with the actress in mind.
“I can’t remember when I decided [casting her] would be a good idea,” Carolla admitted. “We didn’t go through any casting process. I knew Diane Farr was a really good actress. The thing that drives me nuts about Hollywood is you take people like Diane Farr – who have been at it for 20 years and are really good at what they do – and then you bring them in and put them on the other side of a mahogany desk and you make them sweat. Dance for me. I don’t like that. I know Diane Farr can act. We’d be lucky to have her in this film. We were lucky to have her in this film.”
Farr plays Sarah, the normal woman who represents Bruce’s escape from the road. She is a widow who lives in New England and meets him at one of his more hellish club shows, saving him from her drunk friend. Not exactly a fan of his work, she does meet him again when on a business trip to Los Angeles.
“I didn’t need to worry about anything other than writing her good material. She’s a very substantial person and I don’t think she would have taken well to be playing the ditzy love interest. I wanted to give her some teeth. Make her character interesting and have her own story. I knew she’d be good with that. I don’t think she would have been good if we just fed her junk.”
Of course, their relationship had to survive some bumps. When she recommends Bruce for a corporate show and realizes that he had not even bothered to prepare for the show, she feeds him false information on her co-workers, embarrassing them and getting him fired.
“That’s a prime example of something that never happened,” Carolla said. “I completely came up with that gag from whole cloth. Thinking that would be a funny thing for this woman to do to this guy.”
It seems that it would be difficult to forgive someone who did something like that, but Bruce fell in love with her.
“First off, my character was pretty lonely,” Carolla admitted. “Secondly, her character was pretty attractive. As I was writing it, I was thinking to myself this is just the kind of ball-busting I would have done. If somebody would have asked me, or Jimmy Kimmel, or his cousin Sal, or any of these guys I hang out with: ‘Give me a couple of beats on this person or that person,’ we would have definitely screwed with them. In a weird way it’s a double standard. Why can’t a female make prank phone calls? I liked it that my character was intrigued with her character’s sense of humor.”
Of course it also served a much more basic plot purpose, Carolla acknowledged. “Her character said, ‘Look, you make more in one night than these guys make in four months. You can’t do 20 minutes worth of homework?’ I wanted something to put my guy, who was feeling sorry for himself, into perspective.”
Road Hard was a way for Carolla to get a lot of things into perspective. For instance, throughout the film, Bruce was stopped by people who told him how much they loved his old show. So, do people still ask about the Juggies and Bill “The Fox?” from The Man Show?
“It comes up,” Carolla said. “I [also] get some Loveline stuff. I get some of that. Probably a little bit less every year that we soldier on. But, yeah, I get it. I don’t mind it. I understand it. People liked the show, you know? Good for us.”
However Bruce Madsen was completely burnt out. He really just wanted to be a normal guy, live in the country and build furniture. Luckily, Carolla has found an out that his fictional alter-ego did not have. He has become arguably the shining light in the newest explosion in entertainment – as a pioneer in podcasting. Now lots of the people who used to recognize him from The Man Show have another outlet to remember him from.
“As we sit in Manhattan, I got up and walked down the hall trying to find a bathroom,” Carolla said. “I happened upon an office and a woman – by the way, very attractive, very exotic looking – I said: I’m looking for the bathroom. Is there a bathroom around? And she said ‘Adam Carolla?’ And I said yes. It’s usually something from The Man Show or whatever. She said, ‘I love your podcast.’ I was like, wow! Okay. Good. I didn’t know, not only were there were people listening to it in Manhattan, but good-looking exotic people?” He laughs.
But could Carolla chuck it all and be content as a hardworking craftsman, like his fictional doppleganger is considering?
“I do know I could because I certainly did for over a decade of my life,” Carolla said. “That’s what I did. So, technically, I can confirm to you that it is possible for Adam Carolla to live as a craftsman, because that’s what Adam Carolla did from age 19 to age 31.”
Did he do woodworking or carpentry or build furniture like his character?
“I wish I’d built furniture. I built houses. And I did a lot of carpentry and finish work and stuff like that. But I built houses.”
Which makes sense. His character in The Hammer also worked building houses, didn’t he?
“Yeah, I did. He did. It makes it a lot easier, because I know the subject and I have the tools,” Carolla laughed.
Most importantly, Adam Carolla is a normal guy, and that is all he aspires to. Work is work, but real life is what really matters. Carolla is just a ordinary, nice man.
“I think everyone thinks I’m a douche bag,” Carolla admitted. “So I think they’d probably be surprised to know that I’m a pretty good dad. Pretty generous and pretty easy. Pretty loyal friend. I pet my dog a lot. I throw the ball to my kids a lot. I’m really generally an easy guy whose favorite Saturday is take my kids to the warehouse, wrench on some cars and throw the ball around.”
Copyright ©2015 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: March 6, 2015.
Photos ©2015. Courtesy of FilmBuff. All rights reserved.