The stand-up comedy of Adam Carolla: It’s still The Man Show

Adam Carolla
Photo ©A.D. Amorosi

Though I dart into his daily, free eponymously-named podcast on occasion, the last time I spent any time with stand-up comedian and television host Adam Carolla was before the pandemic, and for No Safe Spaces, the 2019 documentary directed by Justin Folk that featured Carolla and Dennis Prager talking to college students and faculty about free speech, university safe spaces and cancel culture.

Beyond loving free speech and hating cancel culture and seeing university campuses as the last bastion (until this last decade) of conscious open debate involving opposing viewpoints (which they ain’t any longer, hence the point of No Safe Spaces), Carolla – the beloved longtime co-host of Loveline on MTV with Dr. Drew Pinsky and The Man Show with friend Jimmy Kimmel on Comedy Central – has also claimed his political affiliation, but with a twist.

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“I guess I would be Republican, in the sense that I want a secure border, I’m not into the welfare state, I’m not into all those freebie lunch programs. It just kind of demeans people,” Carolla was once quoted as saying.  Then again, he’s liberal in the sense of being on the advisory board of the Marijuana Policy Project, against semi-automatic and automatic weapons, and for alternative energy.

“My feeling is this whole country is founded on the principle of ‘If you are not hurting anyone, and you’re not fucking with someone else’s shit, and you are paying your taxes, you should be able to just do what you want to do.’ It’s the freedom and the independence.”

With his Adam Carolla Show podcast usually maintaining a position of being social-politically, sports and media obsessed – and occasionally hurtful to citizens of the Philippines, gay activists and transgender people in the past (“I’m a comedian, not a politician” said Carolla to criticisms of bigotry) – I assumed the same would be true of Carolla’s stand-up and live shows in 2023.

With that, I hit up Helium Comedy Philadelphia (before Carolla’s dates with singer John Popper in Dallas, Palm Beach and Baltimore) for his duel The Adam Carolla Show Live and Adam Carolla Is Unprepared showcase.

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And what I ever-so-slightly surprised to find is that Carolla and his friends – including football analyst and comedy writer David Dameshek – are still running rings around the old Man Show aesthetic of shitting asshole jokes and burrito/Mexican food-obsessed humor. Some of which was wildly funny, don’t get me wrong. But punchlines about scat smells and candles with odd, vague scents such as ‘faded denim’ from a man who currently sells “Smells Like My Balls Candles” on his website for $35 should then have come as no shock. With the invocation of Jimmy Kimmel’s name and memory on several occasions, fishing and vomiting trips in San Pedro and drinking games with the ABC talk show host became a thing.

It was The Man Show all over again.

Steering away from things political on the Left and the Right – on this, the weekend where radical Republican Kevin McCarthy eeeked his way into the job of speaker of the house by a narrow vote margin – Carolla & Co. (a different show than his stand-up) mused about the differences in generations from his father’s time to that of his daughters (his kids’ documentation of every moment versus his dad’s single photo). Waking early for air travel, insistent recollection of football player numbers, not being able to call things “gay” without relating them to homosexual acts, and pouring over the Survivor video for “Eye of the Tiger” (!?) – these are the things that were on Adam Carolla’s mind in January 2023.

Then again, the latter element of the show is something does, tuck into a media image from the past and work its last nerves in a segment that Carolla calls the Rotten Tomatoes Game. Here, Carolla, Dameshek and an audience member tear into films from the recent (and not so recent a la 1976’s Philly-themed Rocky) past, tear the, apart for what works and doesn’t work (so why did Rocky have to run through such a depressing area) and guess what its initial Rotten Tomatoes score was based on that website-of-the-same-name’s ratings. I’m always up for tearing down positive film tropes, so this was a win-win for me.

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Carolla’s last bit of the night was also a winner, one where – based on the pre-game act of having the audience anonymous write one word on a ping-pong ball – the comedian performed improvisational riffs and rants in Carnac-like fashion. Calling ‘weed’ and the cult of designer marijuana currently sold at legal pot shops more of a stoner’s choice than the religious lifestyle it has been made into was brilliant. Carolla was in his zone comparing zealous potheads to legendary surfers who wait for killer waves rather than pay taxes or live responsible lives.

More of that improv riffing and less of the Man Show obsession would have made the live Adam Carolla Show – in his Rotten Tomatoes Game terms – a stellar 99. Still, I’ll give it middle 80s, for sure. Worth the trek.

    • A.D. Amarosi's Headshot

      A.D. Amorosi is a Philadelphia-based journalist who, along with Philadelphia Weekly, writes for numerous local, national and international publications including Variety and the Philadelphia Inquirer.

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