Saturday, June 2, 2007

A solid 8.7*

Adam Carolla was at Zocalo last night, and it was by far the most entertaining Zocalo I've attended. Hearing this, however, you should consider my previous Zocalo events featured Francis Fukuyama, Dick Riordan, and Eli Broad - not exactly entertainers, so take the praise for what it's worth.

The question going in was: How would Howard Stern's replacement treat the literate audience of, as Zocalo puts it, LA's "non partisan and multi ethnic forum where participants can enjoy a rare opportunity for intellectual fellowship."

The answer: By putting on a show, or put another way, by being himself. Carolla had the crowd roaring for about an hour straight and applauding after one particular rant on an airline Skymall product, the Life Hammer.

One of the outbursts forced moderator Meghan Daum to warn (paraphrased), "don't encourage him or we'll never get thru this." Grant it many in attendance were fans, but I can't help but think the Zocalo regulars were joining in.

For my part, Carolla gets credit for delivering in an industry where too many celebrities get too much credit for just showing up. We pay good money for the mediocre trash Hollywood sells, Carolla brought his A-game for free. Go figure.

Daum, an LA Times columnist, tried earnestly to uncover what makes him tick. Her struggle for substance interrupted by Carolla's rants made her, as a friend observed, the perfect straight woman in a comedy team.

I'm not familiar with Daum's work, but she reminds me of Camille Paglia - a lifetime member of the literati who can't resist the temptation to deconstruct and find meaning in popular culture.

Smart popular culture was the more interesting theme of the night. How does one keep it on the air? As Corolla noted, many people want to see "jingly, shiny stuff" and these are the people with Arbitron books. Surely the Zocalo audience and readers of this blog crave a more intelligent streak in popular entertainment - but it's the silent majority that carries the ratings. Some have described this as the Lennon / McCartney complex - on the one hand let Lennon go and you have Revolution #9, let McCartney go and you get Obla-di, Obla-da. Together you get Hey Jude, the perfect pop culture mix. The problem arises when The Suits see sluggish ratings and prescribe too much McCartney, leaving us without I Am the Walrus.

Back to Carolla. Daum ultimately proves her thesis - that beneath Carolla's "girls-jumping-on-trampolines" reputation lies an acute eye for social critique and substantive commentary. Carolla's career arc from carpet-cleaner to hosting the flagship morning radio show in NY and LA deserves a spotlight. He's a self-made man, and therefore has earned the street-cred necessary to offer jewels of wisdom, and perhaps for some, inspiration.

Late in the hour they come out - "Find out what you're good at and be realistic." The "be realistic" addendum is especially interesting, try finding a Hollywood star who encourages people to "be realistic." One wonders if Carolla's rough upbringing in North Hollywood with a "hippy mother" forced him to be weary of unabashed idealism.

But here we go again, deconstructing and adding pretentious meaning when there probably is none. In her introduction, Daum focused on trying to convince the Zocalo regulars - who are used to hearing from former Mayors, Governors, and authors from all around the world - that Carolla is relevant. And at the end of the evening, I think most in attendance would agree with her.

* Listen to the Podcast. (link not live yet).


Jeff said...

Post well done. I will definitely listen to the podcast. For those who didn't know what Zocaloa was (like me), Click Here....

8.7? After reading that review/comments on the show... I have to say.. I think you low-balled him.

scott said...

Thanks Jeff-

The title is pulled from the evening and will hopefully make sense when the podcast is up - though they haven't posted podcasts from events in April yet, so it might be awhile.