It must be nice to be able to make a living ranting about what you don’t like in the world. It sounds pretty sweet to have a job where you joke around with your friends all day. And if someone actually paid you to meet your heroes and ask them the questions you’ve wondered about your whole life, well, that would be amazing. Of course, it would also be cool to race cars, make movies, and maybe set a world record or two while you’re at it.
So why don’t you?
Because those things aren’t “realistic.” They only happen for those who are born with the talent/looks/brains necessary to make them happen, and then get a lucky break. The rest of us have to grow up and accept that a job is something you do to pay bills, and the crazy dreams you had as a kid must be grown out of, like braces or chain wallets.
But here’s the funny thing: Adam Carolla does all those things—regularly—and he’s just like you.
Don’t think so?
Did you have trouble in school? Carolla didn’t even get his high school diploma—it was withheld due to an unpaid library fine. Did you (do you) work odd jobs to make ends meet? Carolla had dozens, including carpet cleaner and traffic school instructor. Were your dreams of being a great athlete crushed by somebody better? Carolla dreamed of being a boxer, and if you ask him how far he got in the sport, he says “third base.” In fact, his nickname, “Ace,” was originally bestowed on him ironically, due to his penchant for screwing up.
And yet somehow, at age 53, Carolla presides over an empire, the extent of which would probably astound even his most longtime fans. He has one of the most listened-to podcasts in the world—The Adam Carolla Show, which gets up to 800,000 downloads per episode, five days a week. He also hosts five other podcast shows, with topics ranging from car care to the criminal justice system. He makes documentary movies, collects race cars (including acting legend Paul Newman’s old turbos), writes best-selling books, and even hawks his own line of alcoholic beverages, classily-titled Mangria (like sangria, but much stronger).
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” you say. “But Carolla is a comedian. That’s a gift.”
Fair enough, but he’s not exactly Chris Rock or Louis CK. He hasn’t had his own HBO comedy special or starring role in a summer blockbuster. He knows a thing or two about building a guest room because he worked as a carpenter, but there are thousands of guys with tool belts who are just as qualified and don’t have their own home improvement podcasts (as he does with Ace On The House). The fact is, Adam Carolla was never all that famous or dominant in any one space until he was well into his 40s, and that never stopped him for a minute.
So what does Carolla have that a guy who isn’t living his dream doesn’t?
Onnit visited Ace Studios in LA—Carolla’s headquarters—to find out what his excuses are for being so successful.
Speak Your Mind, But Listen to Other Voices
Most people know Carolla as a TV and radio personality. “That guy” from Comedy Central’s The Man Show or KROQ-FM’s Loveline, which he hosted back in the 90s with Dr. Drew. Like a dozen other comedians of his generation, he was known for his irreverent humor and everyman appeal, and more recently for his outspoken, even harsh views on personal responsibility, political correctness, and the stupidity and softness of the modern world.
“What you see is what you get,” says Nick Davis, Carolla’s social media producer. “He doesn’t mince words. He’s not editing himself. Sometimes we’ll be hearing whatever rant he’s on before he even goes on air—that’s when we slide the mic in front of him.” The Adam Carolla Show podcast topics run the gamut from his take on current events (“I want a secure border”), to the most-watched sex shows on Pornhub.com (lesbians are #1), and his predictions for the future of mankind (“we’re going to have social classes of super puss and super dude”). Along with his standout podcasting contemporaries Joe Rogan and Jocko Willink (both of whom have appeared on his show), Carolla generally calls for a toughening-up of society at large, and praises the virtue of struggle for building character.
At the same time, he’s never been above reaching across the aisle to embrace others who have different views or good ideas to share. “When he’s about to have a guest who you know is diametrically opposed to Adam’s beliefs,” says Davis, “we wonder, ‘how is this going to play out?’ You think there’s going to be fireworks, but he can very quickly find common ground with people, and they’ll have this amazing talk. There are a ton of things he disagrees with, but he still consumes them because he thinks it’s important to.” Davis points to a conversation Carolla had with fervently liberal comedian Bill Maher recently, noting that the two got along like old friends. “Maher may be his political opposite, but he doesn’t miss an episode of Bill Maher’s TV show. He thinks it’s great.”
Carolla has a natural curiosity and, as his boxing days might indicate, the balls to indulge it, even if it hurts. After investigative journalist Scott Carney guested on his show, talking about his time chronicling the Dutch risk-taker Wim Hof, aka the “Ice Man,” Carolla started waking up at the crack of dawn to immerse himself in a freezing pool for the alleged health benefits. His thirst for knowledge and personal experience with various walks of life makes him easy to talk to and hard to out-argue. “If there’s someone on the show who’s an intellectual, Adam will often say something that you see turns on a light bulb for that person,” says Davis. “You can see they’re impressed by him. He’s never out of his league.”
Work Hard. Expect Nothing.
If you’re familiar with Carolla from The Man Show or Crank Yankers, the prank call program he co-created for Comedy Central, you might get the impression that he’s a bit of a schlub—an underachiever with a sophomoric sense of humor whose priorities are babes, beer, and sports, not getting to work on time. There’s some truth in the former, but Carolla’s work ethic is untouchable.
“He’s tried to drive into us that when you’re our age, when youre coming up,” says Dylan Wrenn, Carolla’s segment producer, “being passionate about working—not just the work that you do but the act of coming into work every day—should be the priority.” At the beginning of summer, hoops legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar visited another one of Carolla’s podcasts, Take A Knee, where celebrities reveal their secrets for success. “Kareem talked about his book about coach John Wooden, and I see a lot of similarities between Wooden and Adam’s philosophies,” says Wrenn. “Lots of successful people have the same philosophy: get addicted to the grind. It’s about the journey more than it is the destination, so Adam likes us to work really hard and not complain.” Evidently, they listen to him. The team cranks out 10–20 episodes per week between its six podcasts.
To Carolla, a man who’s held many jobs, what you work on and toward isn’t as important as working, period. When he started The Adam Carolla Show, Carolla admits it wasn’t part of a master plan, and still isn’t. “I just show up and do it every day,” he says. “I didn’t make any money at it for a long time—I spent money on it for a long time. I didn’t really have any expectations that anything would work out. My expectation was I’ll do it. The getting paid part is a nice byproduct of doing the work, but I didn’t have that thought.”
The podcast debuted in March 2009, and exactly two years later, Carolla had logged more than 59.5 million unique downloads, earning him a Guinness World Record for the most downloaded podcast. It’s worth noting that elsewhere in his display cases—but no less prominently displayed—are his high school football trophy (1980 defensive player of the year), and a plaque commemorating his achievement of being the “World’s Best at Giving Receiving Head.” (This accolade, however, has never been verified.)
“I’ve learned from him to always be moving toward something,” says Davis. “People always say they’re not ready because they don’t have a plan set, but just starting something will eventually get something done. No paralysis by analysis—get started.”
And Davis isn’t blowing smoke. Two years ago, he was living in Minneapolis, stuck in a job he had no passion for and dreaming of working in entertainment in LA. A daily listener of The Adam Carolla Show, he credits Ace’s on-air pep talks as one of the influences that led to his moving out west. After he relocated, he was listening to Carolla’s show and heard an announcement that it needed an intern. Davis applied and got the job. “It’s a dream to work here… I wouldn’t be in California without him.”
Of course, not everyone can expect to follow Davis’ path. Fortunately, there are many roads to success, and for successful people, dreams don’t die—they just change shape.
During Onnit’s visit with Carolla this past June, our founder Aubrey Marcus guested on Take A Knee. He talked about how, as a high school kid obsessed with basketball, he never would have imagined heading up a fitness and lifestyle brand when he grew up. But all those years of drilling free throws and jump shots were hardly a waste. “You’re practicing being great at something,” he tells Carolla. “Sports prepare you to apply it to something else.”
Carolla agrees. After several years of success on the radio, CBS cancelled his show as part of a format change in 2009. Without missing a beat, he started his podcast a month later, and his audience today is estimated to be 10 times bigger. Both Davis and Wrenn acknowledge him as a “trailblazer,” seeing the potential in the new medium and adopting it early with a select few other celebrities such as Joe Rogan and sports columnist Bill Simmons.
This prompts Carolla to offer these words of advice to young go-getters on the air: “abandon your dream.” After the show, he tells us, “I love being able to abandon a dream. I have plenty of ideas that I start and then say, ‘it’s not working,’ and walk away from. All business guys do that… they all have the exact same wiring.” Success, he says, isn’t the result of what you choose to do, but your ability to take ownership of all that you do.
“Adam says different is always better than whatever you have going on now,” says Wrenn.
Furthermore, Carolla has a nose for opportunity, and isn’t shy about believing that his own personal interests and passions can lead him to it. It’s this philosophy that led him to produce documentary films. An avid fan of both auto racing and Paul Newman, Carolla bought several of the actor’s vehicles after his death. “I was very familiar with Paul Newman’s driving career,” he says. “But I would talk to people about it and they had no idea what I was talking about. ‘The salad dressing guy? Cool Hand Luke?’” No one could believe he raced cars too. “Once I heard that enough, I thought, ‘I have to make this [movie].’” Winning: The Racing Life of Paul Newman came out in 2015 to critical acclaim.
“Once I made that movie, I thought, ‘I’ll make movies about other stuff I’m interested in,’” says Carolla. The result has been several finished films and others in various states of development—mostly supported by crowdfunding. One is about Willy T. Ribbs, the first African American driver at the Indy 500, and another, called No Safe Spaces, looks at the dangers of political correctness on college campuses.
Everywhere he looks, Carolla sees opportunities to fix something that’s “stupid” and have fun at the same time. He even has a plan for LA’s public safety freeway signs. “We have these massive electronic billboards every 100 feet and all we do is light them up with ‘Click It Or Ticket’ and ‘Slow for the Cone Zone.’” Inspired by an article he read about a girl who died and whose organs were harvested to save four other lives, Carolla wonders, “Why doesn’t that fucking sign say donate your organs?
“We don’t need ‘Click It Or Ticket’ because everyone’s wearing their seatbelt. They’ve got a chime going off in the car… if you’re driving down the highway and you undo your seatbelt, see what happens. It’s Fourth of July on your dashboard. Why is there nothing about proper tire inflation? Why is there not ‘turn right on a red’ [on a sign]? Anything but this one thing which we already know… Could you imagine what Toyota or Pepsi would pay for those freeway signs? How much could we charge Universal to heat up those signs with their latest movie? ‘Spiderman! July 7th at a theater near you.’ We could get five million dollars a day just in the greater Los Angeles area.”
And if you’re wondering how he came up with Mangria, his line of highly alcoholic beverages (20.9% alcohol by volume), it was born of his own desperation when he discovered he had scant amounts of wine and vodka leftover. “I mixed them together, it tasted like ass,” says Carolla. “I put a little orange in there, put some ice in there, and it tasted like… the opposite of ass? Titties? I said let’s put it in a bottle and sell it.” Check out carolladrinks.com and see if you get similarly inspired.
Make Good Friends and Keep Them
The story of Adam Carolla is intertwined with that of his best friend and fellow comic Jimmy Kimmel. The two met in 1994 when Kimmel had just started work as “Jimmy The Sports Guy” for LA’s KROQ radio station. As a publicity stunt, the station arranged for Kimmel to fight the maintenance man in an exhibition boxing match called “The Bleeda In Reseda,” and Carolla was brought in to prepare Kimmel for the bout… Sort of.
“They just needed a trainer and I was a trainer,” he says. “I didn’t know the difference between Michael and Jimmy. I wanted Michael the maintenance man, because he was black, so I thought he’d have a better chance of winning,” Carolla says, with tongue planted firmly in cheek. Stuck with Kimmel, the pair had three weeks to prepare.
“But,” says Carolla, sensing an opportunity for his own career, “I really had three weeks to convince Jimmy that I was funny enough to get on the radio. So I mainly worked on that, not technique.” The two spent most of the time goofing off together and, while Kimmel ultimately lost the fight, he gained a lifelong friend in Carolla. “He worked hard to get me into KROQ. I got on the Kevin And Bean Show, and the rest is history.”
Carolla and Kimmel went on to create The Man Show together, and Carolla has since been a regular contributor to Kimmel’s late night talk show. “When I met Jimmy Kimmel, I thought, ‘I have to hang on to this guy,’” says Carolla. “And it’s been 23 years. We’ve never had a break. And the way to do that is not to constantly ask if they can do something for you but to provide a service for them.” When Kimmel hosted the Oscars this past spring, Carolla wrote jokes for him for free. “I didn’t want credit or money. I just wanted to do it and I wanted Jimmy to go, ‘I like having that guy around.’ If I had said, ‘Jimmy, I have a joke for you, give me 100 bucks,” I don’t know how long I would have lasted.”
While Kimmel certainly ranks as a friend in high places, Carolla still sees himself as a salmon swimming upstream in Hollywood. He doesn’t think Tinseltown’s left-leaning, PC culture is shutting him out, but he likens his place there to a Steelers’ fan in the arena at a Baltimore Ravens’ home game. “It doesn’t mean you’re going to get beat up in the parking lot, but it means it’s not going to help.” Fortunately, Carolla is in a place now where he’s free to do any kind of work he wants.
“I don’t need the help because I’m self-employed. I don’t rely on my sitcom getting picked up for another season or getting cast in a movie or a TV show. I cast myself. I make my own movies and podcasts. So I can wear all the Steelers paraphernalia that I want.”
It must be nice indeed.
For more about Carolla and to hear his podcasts, go to adamcarolla.com
How To Start Your Own Podcast
1. Get the right equipment
Pick up a dynamic vocal microphone. It’s only $50, and according to Orlando Rios, author of Podcasting Pro Basics, “it’s made to capture the sound that’s right in front of it. This helps eliminate room noise and bleed over from other people in the conversation.” He warns to never use a condenser style microphone, which is meant to record a room, not one person.
You can get recording software free at audacityteam.org. Rios says it’s great for entry-level podcasters and high quality.
2. Keep On Castin’
“The paramount thing is consistency,” says Dylan Wrenn, Carolla’s producer. “If you come out on Tuesdays, you need to come out on Tuesdays.” If people come to like your podcast, they’ll begin to rely on it. Don’t let them down.
3. Be Their Guest
“Most of the time, podcasts are desperate for guests,” says Rios. “Whatever your expertise is, reach out to other established podcasts and offer to be a guest on that subject.” Their audience will become part of yours.
Find out more at podcastingpro.com