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Mixing Ribald and Real Life

Co-host of 'Loveline' show relies on his humble past as day laborer to dispense practical advice on Gen-X relationships.

March 05, 1998|DADE HAYES | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

You can't miss the jacket.

Striding into his workplace, Adam Carolla wears it proudly and then keeps it on for hours, insisting, "It's the only thing I had clean." The nondescript blue jacket with the yellow "Loveline" logo suggests a real-life pragmatism far removed from his flamboyant on-air persona as what he calls a "renegade hard-on."

In nearly three hours of interviews, the ribald comedian who co-hosts the thriving sex-themed radio and TV show mentions the word "penis" exactly once; breast jokes: zero; masturbation anecdotes: zilch. The phrase "health insurance," on the other hand, comes up a dozen times. Carolla peppers his speech with almost as many 401K references as four-letter words.

Fans of his boisterous, often abrasive rants on such topics as female ejaculation and transvestite libido might be surprised by his kitchen-sink approach to life. But the reason for it is simple: What Carolla appears to want more than anything is to wear the jacket of the team player, earning a measure of security and insurance from the world's ills. To be a company man.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday March 26, 1998 Valley Edition Calendar Part F Page 2 Zones Desk 2 inches; 57 words Type of Material: Correction
Loveline-An article in the March 5 Valley Calendar Weekend mischaracterized the origins of the syndicated radio program "Loveline." Current co-host Dr. Drew Pinsky joined the program shortly after its inception in 1983 at Burbank-based KROQ-FM, but he does not claim credit for creating the show. Jim "Poorman" Trenton is currently suing Infinity Broadcasting, which owns KROQ, ownership of the show.

"I was just interested in how I could make money from my ideas. That was it," says Carolla, 33, of his startling rise from itinerant San Fernando Valley construction worker to Gen-X relationship guru. "I had always made a living off my back and my muscle, whether it was cleaning carpets or framing houses. . . . I've been waiting my whole life to do a job I enjoy. I get three weeks paid vacation and I never take a day."

Carolla has indeed done much more than punch a clock. In two years on "Loveline," which began 15 years ago on Burbank-based KROQ-FM (106.7), he has helped boost the show's profile as it moved on to national radio syndication and MTV. He also gave it a Joe Sixpack counterpoint to co-host Dr. Drew Pinsky that was not as noticeable in previous incarnations.

Since going national two years ago, the weeknight radio show (airing locally from 10 p.m.-midnight, Sunday-Thursday) has steadily emerged as the top-rated program in 90% of its late-night time slots on 50 affiliates, according to Arbitron ratings released in January. The half-hour MTV version follows the radio format of Carolla and Pinsky advising callers about love, sex and drugs while schmoozing with in-studio guests from the entertainment world. MTV officials are so pleased with the show, they have ordered more episodes to last through the spring. A "Loveline" book chronicling the show's evolution is due in the fall.

During a recent live broadcast at the Culver City studios of the Westwood One Radio Network, Carolla was in vintage form. He rarely uncrossed his arms or straightened up from his hunched, Larry King-like posture. He offered words of reassurance to a 22-year-old caller named Alicia, whose boyfriend has a permanent catheter for kidney treatment. "A guy," he said, "could put his penis through an iron lung."

Next came Mark, 26, who said his wife discharges a lot of fluid during sex. Carolla replied that he could relate. "You ever been on a long trip and have to pee and then pull off at a truck stop?" he asked. The relief one experiences, he said, was "better than any orgasm I've ever had."

It's lunchtime at the crowded Daily Grill on Ventura and Laurel Canyon boulevards, not far from a cramped apartment Carolla shared with two fellow ditch-diggers a few years--and a lifetime--ago.

In his idiosyncratic voice, which sounds something like a weed whacker crossed with a French horn, Carolla recalls the rugged path that enabled him to fully appreciate his current success. His no-nonsense demeanor stems from a development devoid of silver spoons. His expression appears serious even when he makes jokes, and a slight frown creases the long, chiseled features atop a tall, sturdy frame. Weak-fingered souls might grimace in his handshake grip.

After passing through Colfax elementary and Walter Reed Middle School, Carolla attended North Hollywood High, which he said "wasn't like rubbing shoulders with the cultural elite of the society, but it was a nice mixture of blue-collar idiots from the Valley and smarter folks from the hills."

Then came a short-lived foray into higher education at nearby Valley College. But by age 19, Carolla was out of school, living on his own and in a hole, in more ways than one.

"I dug ditches," he said. "I got down in a hole and I dug. That's pretty much all I did for 12 years. Dig, scrape paint. Seven bucks an hour, filthy, dangerous, dirty. No OT, no health benefits, no nothing."

As he entered his 20s, Carolla yearned for another route to happiness.

"I was saying to myself, 'Is life all about just toiling and misery and pain?' " he said.

Then came the epiphany.

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