Adam Carolla’s Road Hard
Adam Carolla on how YouTubers like Jenna Marbles have changed comedy, and bagging Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston for a cameo.
By Chris McKittrick.
Road Hard, a movie which comedian Adam Carolla both stars in and co-wrote and co-directed with longtime collaborator Kevin Hench, has a message familiar to every touring stand-up comedian – that traveling from city to city and performing on stage after stage isn’t as glamorous as some might think. Carolla plays Bruce Madsen, a middle-aged comedian who failed to capitalize on the success of his popular comedy program The Bro Show and is back on the road trying to pay his alimony and the looming ludicrously-expensive college tuition bill his daughter is about to spring on him. In the meantime, Bruce’s former Bro Show co-host Jack Taylor (Jay Mohr) has become an incredibly successful late night television host. All of Bruce’s attempts to get off the road are hit by setbacks, including Bruce’s toupee-wearing agent “Baby Doll” (Larry Miller) getting him an audition for Close Quarters, a sitcom with the hilariously terrible premise of a family living on a submarine starring an actor from a much more acclaimed television series in real life (Bryan Cranston).
Of course, the real-life Carolla is far more successful than his on-screen counterpart.
Carolla became famous for his stint on the syndicated radio show Loveline from 1995 to 2001 and its television spinoff that aired on MTV from 1996 to 2000. Carolla and longtime friend Jimmy Kimmel also created and hosted the masculine-charged comedy series The Man Show from 1999 to 2003. From 2006 to 2009, Carolla hosted his own syndicated radio show, The Adam Carolla Show. Days after his morning radio show was canceled, Carolla became one of the first big-name comedians to embrace podcasting. He became something of a trailblazer in the medium, and in 2011 Carolla announced on Jimmy Kimmel Live! that The Adam Carolla Show was recognized by Guinness World Records as the world’s most downloaded podcast. Carolla now has his hands in many projects, including multiple podcasts, voice-acting roles, television series, books and even a brand of sangria called Mangria. Despite what Road Hard suggests, Carolla and Kimmel have remained good friends and Carolla has made multiple appearances on Kimmel’s late night program.
Road Hard appears to be an alternate universe version of you if your career had screeched to a halt five years ago and you never started podcasting. What prompted you to write about that potential path?
I usually write about things that I know about firsthand: myself, experience, themes. This is just exaggerated extension of a period of life that I went through when I lost my job in radio in 2009. I had to hit the road hard to support my family and pretty much newborn twins. I stayed in all the bad hotels, played all the crappy clubs, and led that life, almost weirdly like a reporter who got embedded with ISIS and lived with the Taliban for a year just to experience what that life was like. When I got done with it, I let it seep inside me for a little while and then I thought, “Well, let’s write about this and make a movie about it.”
In the past few years you’ve written pilots for both CBS and NBC. What are the major differences between writing a pilot and writing a film?
The pilot is pretty easy to write, and it’s the exact same process. I wouldn’t call it that much different. You use the same parts of your brain. The difference is when you write a film you write it, you go over it a few times, maybe do a table read, and then you shoot it. When you write a television pilot, a small army of people I refer to as “my mom’s friends” come in – some of the least funny people on the planet – and then they pick it apart and change things until it doesn’t resemble what your initial plan or idea was at all. At a certain point you get disenchanted and burnt out, you lose your fight, and you just go, “Fuck it, whatever you want. I don’t think it’s funny and it doesn’t resemble what I originally planned on making, but who cares? You have the checkbook, tell me where to stand, just tell me what you want me to say and I’ll say it.” That’s how you end up with Close Quarters. What is really insulting is they eventually hire some guy you’ve never met who’s not nearly as funny as you are to come in and “punch up” your script, and he ruins it.
There have been several movies and television series about stand-up comedians. What do you think it is about the day-to-day lives of a comedian on the road that audiences find interesting?
I have no idea. [Laughs] I’m not sure it is. We’ll see! My thinking is that usually there are these comedies where the mall security cop is supposed to be funny. But how many funny mall security cops do you know, or doctors, or attorneys? I thought, why not make the guy a stand-up? At least then when he’s being funny it makes sense. When my character is busting someone’s chops on the airplane for carrying on her dog, it’s coming from a guy who does that for a living. If the guy’s a janitor, it’s kind of weird. It’s like, where did he get the razor sharp wit in a janitorial gig? So I just thought, let’s have stand-up in the movie. We’re doing a comedy, it would be easier to make it about a comedian because there will be jokes built in.
You’ve worked with Kevin Hench extensively throughout the years, including on your last film The Hammer. Can you describe your writing process with him?
For the most part, I come to him and I go, “I have an idea.” Then he says, “What is it?” and then I give him a synopsis, and he says, “That’s a great idea.” Then I say either, “What are you doing this weekend?” or “Can we go to breakfast?” and we go to this place called Good Neighbor Restaurant for about a two or three hour writing session. Then we sit down and we just start banging it out. He types and I pace back and forth. He’s in charge and is a super, ultra-bright guy. It’s not like I’m telling him, “Here are the jokes, here’s the story, write this down.” He’s not a glorified secretary. He’s very good with structure, he’s very good at writing a love interest, and he has his strengths. I have my strengths, and it’s usually my idea and my vision, so I’m usually the one who’s pushing the agenda. But he’s a great sounding board and contributes a ton. He also writes good jokes, and he probably focuses a bit more on the jokes and I focus a little more on the idea. It’s pretty effortless. We wrote this movie over just several weekends because we were both working full-time. I went to his office on the CBS Radford Lot in Los Angeles where he was working on Last Man Standing, and the offices would be empty on Saturday. We’d just sit in his office for a few hours and bang away.
Speaking of Kevin writing the love interest, since that part of the plot is a bit outside of your typical material were you concerned at all about how it would come across?
The concern as it pertained to the movie was that in a traditional romantic comedy we meet the love interest somewhere in act one, and then there’s always some conflict. “I hate you!” “No, I hate you!” By the way, has it ever happened to you in real life where you met a woman, announced that you hated her at a friend’s wedding, and then three weeks later you are making sweet love together?
It’s never been that way. So everyone’s traditional complaint after they looked at the script was, “Uh, I’m halfway into the thing, where’s the love interest?” I thought, “Good.” I didn’t want them to predict it a half hour in, you know? Kevin is good at that, but there was some discussion about why Diane Farr’s character shows up a second time. She shows up for the first time on something like page fourteen, and then we don’t see her again until page sixty-one. What the hell kind of writing is that?
For many stand-up comedians of your generation it seems like the typical path was to work on the road until you build buzz, get cast in a network sitcom that may or may not be as awful as Close Quarters, and most likely then return to the road when it inevitably gets canceled. Road Hard explores how YouTube has changed that game for young comedians. What are your thoughts on how that’s changed?
There are so many different venues, outlets, and places to go with your voice now that if you’re a comedian every seventeen year-old has a stage. When I was coming up, you had to fight for stage time, wait in line at open mics, and fight to get up on stage. These people have a stage called the Internet, and they don’t have to leave the house to get on stage. It doesn’t mean it’s going to work out for them, but it means that it’s a really, really crowded stage. My character is just kind of seeing his business pass him by. His agent has signed Internet superstar Jenna Marbles and he’s moving on. Baby Doll is looking down the road. My character is also looking down the road, except there’s nothing down the road for him! They don’t want him on the Internet. That’s not how he does humor.
Some of the funniest scenes in the film are the awful real-life experiences Bruce goes through on the road. You’re still on the road quite a bit these days, especially to promote Road Hard. Were there any other bits about terrible hotel experiences that didn’t make the movie?
I can’t remember if we cut anything horrific. Look, I’ve stayed in a million horrible hotels in a million horrible cities, and there wasn’t enough time to fit it all in there. It was important to Kevin and I that the movie really moved along. I didn’t want to make a two hour comedy. I wanted it to really move at a good clip and not get bogged down. We tried to keep it lean and mean.
By the way, was that Bryan Cranston on the poster for Close Quarters?
You are very astute, my friend! That was Bryan Cranston. We said to him, “Hey man, you’re going to be in this movie by hook or by crook!”
It’s funnier because he was on such an acclaimed TV series [Breaking Bad] in real life and on such an awful one in your movie.
When I told him I needed a picture of him in front of a green screen for a sitcom, I don’t know if I got into great detail about how it was about a family that lived in a submarine. [Laughs]