Adam Carolla calls me an a**hole and turns Paramount Theatre crowd against me

Last Saturday night, tucked snugly in the middle of the Paramount Theatre for the Adam Carolla and Dr. Drew Reunion Show, I found myself on the receiving end of some vitriolic crowd-work by Carolla, who called me an "asshole from some crunchy newspaper," among other things, and berated me for a good four minutes, twisting around a debate we'd had earlier in the week about McDonald's and obesity and basically calling me a lefty-lunatic with the intelligence of a bag of gravy, while 1,600 people laughed at my supposed idiocy.

Other than that, it was a great show.

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The crowd was an interesting mix of 25-to 35-year-old fans of Celebrity Rehab and Loveline's MTV era, and a slightly more ripe generation who -- assumption on my part -- looked as though they were more familiar with Adam Carolla through his appearances on The O'Reilly Factor. This was the crowd that cheered heartily whenever Carolla would argue a libertarian ideal, nodding in their seats while shouting "That's right!" like they were in a Pentecostal church service. This demographic also jeered and cursed whenever the name of a liberal was brought up, and cackled hysterically at Carolla's labeling of Gavin Newsom as a "bullshit artist" and Gwen Stefani as a "cunt-ship."

I enjoyed the electric polarization of the liberal/conservative crowd for the first hour of the show, soaking up the rare opportunity to witness so many crewcuts next to so many facial piercings. It was a similar dynamic to the Bill O'Reilly vs. Jon Stewart debates last year, with both sides forced to come to terms -- or at least sit side by side -- with the humanity and logic of those they've blindly despised for so long. During the Q&A session, one girl casually mentioned that she'd found male gay porn in her boyfriend's drawer, watched it and was aroused. This was a non-fantastic detail for anyone in the audience who has read Savage Love, and for the Fox News patrons seated beside me, finding gay porn was gasp-worthy enough -- but watching it! Enjoying it! Seasoned showman that he is, Carolla turned the laughter machine back on by making the age-old meathead comment that female-on-female is not gay porn, because it's hot -- but two dudes is officially gay porn, and the only acceptable response for any certified straight man faced with male gay porn is disgust or straight-out vomit.

Carolla is a dominating force on stage. Not just a very comfortable and quick-witted showman, he has a divisively questioning mind, sparking worthwhile debate for both his lovers and detractors. This was only complemented by the striking chemistry he has with Dr. Drew. After a decade of running Loveline together, they have a comforting dynamic of banter, finishing each other's sentences and ribbing one another in the way that only good friends can. Dr. Drew appears much less comfortable on stage than Carolla, looking like a nervous child in his slightly oversized jacket while clutching the mic with both hands. This is his charm, though: He's the cute intellectual who appeals to the kind of women who get turned on by facts. At one point Carolla ripped into his sidekick with slightly more venom than usual, asking, "Have you ever been on a stage before? Well, act like it," after Dr. Drew apologized too many times for his unfunny anecdotes.

I was almost feeling sorry for Dr. Drew until the subject of obesity came up and he said to Carolla, "This kind of reminds me of that whole McDonald's/Big Mac conversation you had." I instantly knew what he was referring to, and apparently so did some of the people in the audience who'd read my piece -- or already heard Carolla talking about it.

Last week I did a phone interview with Carolla, and while people have noted some contention between us during the conversation, I came away thinking it was the most fun I'd had doing an interview in ages. Often in these situations, you don't want to bog people down with intimidating questions, because if they get uncomfortable or start to feel stupid, their answers can feel unnatural -- or the interview simply ends. But none of this applied to Carolla. He has a confidence about his words and isn't afraid of tension. He lives for tension. Carolla is a high-volume Japanese auto factory of controversial one-liners, so it really only took some gentle devil's advocacy on my part. And Carolla's soap-box magically appeared. Straight out of the gate, he launched into a conspiracy theory of liberal comedians and their class hypocrisy, repeatedly bringing up Samuel L. Jackson and his Canadian tax shelter.

I was having a blast. Often you have to search for a quote while listening to an interview, but I knew that with this one, all I'd have to do was transcribe it and it'd be pure gold. Naturally, our conversation drifted toward his most recent Google-ready rant about shaming obese people. I agreed with his views that we have a double standard toward obesity versus smoking, and he drifted -- completely of his own accord -- into his theory that McDonald's should be taken out of the why-are-we-so-obese-today conversation. His argument was that McDonald's is a constant, and that from a scientific standpoint, if more people are obese today than in the '60s, and McDonald's was around in the '60s, then McDonald's must be removed from the equation.

Only mildly interested that he brought it up, I thought I'd play the Morgan Spurlock role and mentioned that McDonald's has changed, primarily referencing portion sizes, but also citing that meat, dairy, wheat and potato farming have drastically changed in five decades. "Wait, wait, so the Big Mac, the Quarter Pounder, aren't the same?" he asked. I said they weren't. "They're calorically different?" In the energy of the moment, I said I thought the calories probably have changed. On this point, I will completely concede that Carolla was right: The calories haven't changed.

I didn't plan to talk about McDonald's with Carolla, and would certainly never argue that McDonald's is to blame for the obesity epidemic. For the most part, I lean toward Carolla's libertarian ethos of personal responsibility, and would point toward the rise of sedentary lifestyles behind desks as more responsible for obesity than fast food. But when that meek little opportunist Dr. Drew brought up this part of our interview while on stage before a full house, Adam Carolla's memory of our exchange proved much different than mine. Here's what he said at the Paramount Saturday night...

I gave an interview to some asshole out here, from some crunchy newspaper. He's probably here somewhere tonight. He said, "You took a controversial stance about shaming fat people." And I said, "Well, they should be shamed, so they'll stop shoving fucking burgers down their throat." And he said, "Well, what about the fast-food chains?" And I said, "McDonald's? Is that company nine months old? Or have they been around since nineteen-fucking-fifty-six? There's been a McDonald's on every corner for the last sixty years, so is it McDonald's fault?"

And he said, "Well, uh, the menu's changed." And I said, "Yeah, they got green apples and salad now. Has the Big Mac or the Quarter Pounder changed?" And he said, "Oh, yeah, they're using different meat!" "I guarantee you the food is the same now as it's always been. We're just eating more of it now, and we're not using any self-restraint." And he said, "Oh, no! The calories were much lower back then!" And I said what I say to everyone: "Go to the computer, look it up. I'll hang on." And he said, "I'll do it after we hang up." And I said, "No, do it now so I can laugh at you."

It's 560, by the way, then and now -- so there. You want to blame American cheese? Or do you want to take control of your goddamn life?

This final line got a huge roar from the libertarian side of the crowd, as did Carolla's other one-liners that painted me as an idealistic liberal with his head up his ass. This was upsetting for more reasons than just getting the story wrong. (I wasn't the one to bring up fast-food restaurants, specifically McDonald's, and my argument was mostly based on portion sizes changing, which Carolla mentions as his idea.) It was the fact that the people laughing at the hippie dipshit Carolla was describing were my people. My background is in the same self-educated, blue-collar, fiscally conservative, family-oriented world as that of Carolla and his followers. I didn't vote for Obama, I do think our government spends too much money, and I think guns are all right. Even more, I'm a farm kid from Iowa, and he's a celebrity from L.A.! If we're throwing stones at the glass house of liberal identity, then he's at least as much a target as I am.

Anyone who regularly goes to comedy shows has to deal with being the comic's whipping boy every now and again. I've always sympathized with this, since a standup will often have to deliver the same routine again and again, and it keeps the energy alive to riff on total strangers. Don Rickles made a whole career of this. He'd walk out into the crowd, looking for any sexual or ethnic minorities to tear apart with an old-school bigotry that the PC police always dismissed as charming. German guy: Nazi joke; Asian man: WWII joke with slant eyes and buck teeth; addressing President Reagan: call him tired and senile. But at least Rickles always matched up the correct stereotype with the correct person. He never addressed an Italian male and made a joke about menstruation in Africa.

Carolla came into our interview with that rant in his pocket. He has a stockpile of these things, and that's what makes him so wonderful to interview. Describing why she turned down a spot on Carolla's podcast, comedian Sarah Silverman said, "Why do I have to be there. Can't you just say I'm there? You can't get a word in anyway; he just looks at the ceiling and delivers a monologue, and then you go home and ask, 'Why did I drive to Glendale?'" In order to deliver his screed about liberal mistreatment of McDonald's, I had to become the ignorant Rachel Maddow disciple who believes that big bad McDonald's is intentionally poisoning our children, despite the fact that I agree with his argument and am not a liberal.

Yet for all the blushing and slinking in my chair that I endured while the massive crowd laughed at me, I have to admit that, once again, Adam Carolla's divisive worldview and extroverted assholery have given me something to write about.

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Josiah M. Hesse
Contact: Josiah M. Hesse