“I had to be the only goy in the Valley eating tongue when I was 11,” comedian Adam Carolla said. Host of the popular podcast “The Adam Carolla Show,” he was referring to food fed to him by his maternal stepgrandfather, Laszlo Gorog.
Gorog, a Hungarian Jew, was a role model for Carolla, who is not Jewish. After fleeing Nazi-run Europe in 1939 and immigrating to the United States, Gorog found success as a screenwriter and was nominated for an Oscar in 1946 for his writing on “The Affairs of Susan.”
Gorog’s success stood in contrast to Carolla’s mother and father, who in Carolla’s 2012 best-selling memoir, “Not Taco Bell Material,” are described as self-involved and eccentric. “My family is very chaotic and fractured. They’re not bad people, [but they live by] a very simple equation, which is every man for himself,” Carolla said in a phone interview.
“Of course it’s the opposite in the Jewish faith — at least from my grandfather, in that he wanted to make me dinner, wanted to make me lunch, help me build things,” Carolla said.
Carolla now hosts a home-improvement blog, just one of many hats he wears. The Guinness World Records named “The Adam Carolla Show” as the most downloaded podcast. His daily show typically opens with Carolla ranting about issues he is passionate about — from America’s wasteful energy habits to bathroom etiquette, to Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas” — before segueing to interviews with celebrities, politicians and cultural figures.
Carolla said that guests like actors Alec Baldwin and Christoph Waltz and California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who appeared on the show on Feb. 28, have been a high point of the podcast.
Big names have also helped legitimize a show that is available online only.
On March 16, Carolla will appear onstage at the Valley Performing Arts Center for a live conversation with Dennis Prager, radio personality and Jewish Journal columnist. The two have appeared in several shows together, discussing current events, personal philosophies and more.
“What we have in common is right is right, left is left, up is up and down is down,” Carolla said. “We don’t have this skewed kind of weird new thing that’s going on where you can’t judge and every culture is the same.”
Like Prager, Carolla’s politics skew conservative and libertarian, and he appears as a weekly commentator on Bill O’ Reilly’s “The O’ Reilly Factor.”
Additionally, Carolla records a weekly podcast with Dr. Drew Pinsky — “The Adam and Dr. Drew Show.” Carolla also performs standup comedy across the country on the weekends and has authored two best-sellers, “In Fifty Years We’ll All Be Chicks” and “Not Taco Bell Material.”
Carolla has come a long way from his dilapidated childhood homes in the San Fernando Valley and from his wild years as a teenager, when he had little parental supervision and regularly made trips to Tijuana with his buddies to binge drink and sleep on beaches. He has also changed significantly from how he was during his early 20s, when he worked construction jobs and shared an apartment in Hollywood with a girlfriend who worked as a stripper.
It was during his late 20s that Carolla’s mindset began to change. He experimented with standup comedy and joined improv groups around Los Angeles. As he did carpentry work, he and the crew would listen to morning talk-radio shows. Carolla was sure he was funnier than the people he was listening to.
At 30, while working as a boxing instructor, he landed a gig to help then-KROQ personality Jimmy Kimmel with a stunt on the “Kevin & Bean Show.”
Kimmel later convinced Carolla to create a character — a bitter woodshop teacher, Mr. Birchum — that became a regular on KROQ’s morning show. This led to his 10-year stint on “Loveline” and to Comedy Central’s “The Man Show,” which Carolla co-hosted and co-created with Kimmel.
In 2005, Carolla replaced Howard Stern with his own morning talk show on KLSX-FM (97.1), which featured Journal contributor Teresa Strasser. “As a Hungarian Jew myself, I always loved hearing Adam talk about his grandpa,” Strasser said. “In a world of mostly neglectful and distracted adults, that relationship was clearly a source of warmth and closeness for him.”
In 2009, Carolla started the podcast immediately after the radio station dropped its all-talk format and its hosts in favor of Top 40 music.
Carolla wrote and starred in the semi-autobiographical 2006 independent film, “The Hammer,” and had turns on “Dancing With the Stars” and “Celebrity Apprentice.”
Married and a father of twins, he and his family live in Los Angeles. Carolla still has mixed feelings about his past.
“I had nothing going, but was able to pull myself up and out and create a nice lifestyle for myself,” he said. “I could have easily been killed when I was 19 or 17, 22 or 25.”
Carolla said he said he was happy that his grandfather, who died in 1997, was around long enough to see him make something of himself. This despite the fact that Gorog did not respond to Carolla’s change in fortunes the way the comedian thought he would. In his book, Carolla recalls going to Gorog after the end of a particularly successful year to tell Gorog that he had earned more than $500,000. This didn’t impress Gorog, who told Carolla that $1 million would be truly an impressive sum. At the end of the next year, when Carolla returned to his grandfather and showed him a financial statement that said he made over $1 million the previous year, Gorog responded by telling Carolla that money does not buy happiness.