The last time I paid attention to Adam Carolla, I was sixteen years old, sitting in the passenger seat of my friend Chris’s Honda CR-V, parked outside a shopping center in some suburb of Denver sometime after eleven at night. Chris would always switch from the Pixies to Loveline as we settled into the empty lot to enjoy our late-night Wendy’s. Loveline didn’t really work as dinner music, though, because Carolla’s detached-from-reality, overly-detail-laden, flagrantly-politically-incorrect rants usually left us choking with laughter.
Last week, I learned how little I’ve matured these past five years.
Adam Carolla has a new podcast, The Adam Carolla Podcast. His transition from broadcast to broadband won’t affect your opinion of him either way—you can either laugh at explicit hemorrhoid jokes or you can’t. But his podcast does speak to some interesting facets of the relationship between old and new media.
So far, the show seems to be a wild success. Carolla reported 1.6 million cumulative downloads after only three episodes, and a shocking 250,000 people grabbed the first podcast before it even found its way into the iTunes directory. The Adam Carolla Podcast shows every sign of becoming one of, if not the, biggest podcasts out there.
Andy Baio of Waxy.org, a person who understands internet culture as well as anyone alive, linked Carolla’s show when it first aired, accompanied by this short comment, “his radio show was canceled so he’s moved to the web, and he seems to get it.” I want to argue an admittedly mundane semantic point: I don’t think Carolla quite “gets it.” I think he is doing something else that, by coincidence, happens to work on the web. Here’s Carolla from his March 2 episode, contrasting his podcast with a sitcom he’s developing for CBS:
[The podcast is] the one thing I’m doing for free, out of my den, no compensation… and the other one [the sitcom] is potentially the biggest break anyone could have in their career… and the only thing I’m talking about all week is the podcast. That’s because I’m passionate about it.
If you listen to the show, it’s clear that Carolla’s interest in the internet begins and ends at YouPorn.com, but he has still stumbled into one of the web’s blunt aphorisms: “doing it right.” As sites like Daring Fireball, TWiT, Dooce, and Penny Arcade show, small content producers attract huge online audiences by being passionate, honest, and good. If you like his style, Carolla has those qualities in spades. Yes, his celebrity helped him build an audience quickly, but if he watered down his style for the web, the internet would forget about him before summer.
But if he continues at his current pace, Carolla will amass a horde of online followers. And this is why I don’t think he “gets it” yet. Every one of his podcast listeners hunted down the feed for themselves, and they choose to spend their attention on Adam Carolla every time they select him on their iPods. Even if Carolla’s sitcom attracts a larger audience than his podcast (and, let’s be honest, it probably won’t), those TV viewers will be much less invested in Adam Carolla than his subscribers. In fact, if his sitcom is a hit, Carolla will probably owe the success to building a loyal fanbase online.
As entertainment moves to the web, the biggest break anyone could have in their career would be to have millions of devoted supporters on the internet. Adam Carolla may not get it yet, but if he keeps doing it right, he will.