Saturday, March 7, 2015

A Backer of Road Hard Reviews His Investment

Not everyone likes Adam Carolla.
They hate him for making The Man Show, describing it as mysogyny with a laugh track (even if it's really satire). They wonder why he hosted Loveline with Dr. Drew and never took the doc's advice. NPR interviews him, and then refuses to air it because it's not good radio (aka "we forgot to check if our proof that he's a racist was accurate").

Yet he's got one of the most popular podcasts around, and produces a few others. His stand-up shows do very well, and he invented Mangria. He also sometimes makes some sense abut things, like how sitcoms are made or airline passengers needing dogs to travel.
He also wrote and starred in a very small movie called The Hammer, about a boxing teacher finding a new perspective as well as a future prospect. When he decided last summer to make another movie about a comic who wants to get off the circuit, he was fairly certain very few in Hollywood would invest in an idea that doesn't include sado-masochism, loud robots or mockingjays.

So, he asked his friends to chip in, namely his listeners and fellow comics. They came through in a big way, and now Road Hard is available online, on demand and at several theaters. While a small amount of critics weren't wowed by the movie, the fans definitely were.

Before I get to the review, some things to know:
while I do know him from The Man Show, I liked his morning radio show from L-A that I downloaded regularly from iTunes. I also saw The Hammer when I was in Burbank. I got the DVD, and he autographed my ticket. It was actually better than I thought, especially his scenes with Heather Juergensen.

So, when he asked for donations through Fund Anything, I decided to help out. I gave $85, which entitles me to this award,

a t-shirt that was too big, another that was the right size, and a poster. I think I'm supposed to get the DVD eventually, too.

So, the story:  Adam plays Bruce Madsen, a guy who was once famous when he made The Bro Show (yes, Man Show) with his old partner Jack Taylor (Jay Mohr), who's now a hit on late night TV (gee, isn't that Kimmel?). That was a long time ago, and now he's back on the  road trying to get back his fame. He deals with bad hotel rooms and small comedy clubs with audiences who don't like him as much. He's looking for a way to get off the road, but his manager Baby Doll (Larry Miller) is less than supportive. He wears bad toupees and a Lopez Tonight bathrobe while hanging around with topless babes and YouTube personalities like Jenna Marbles.

He sometimes meets with his old friends like Phil Rosenthal, who talks about how he sends old scripts of Everybody Loves Raymond to Eastern Euopean countries so they can make their own versions. He also talks to fellow stand up Mike Gerard (David Allen Grier), who says he's got a new sitcom about the first Black dairy farmer in Wisconsin in the 1960's. He didn't want to tell Bruce about it because he might be upset.

Not only that, Bruce is living in the guest house of what used to be his home. His ex-wfe (Illeana Douglas) is there with her boyfriend and their adopted daughter Tina (Cynthy Wu). Bruce gets along better with the daughter than the ex-wife. Anyway, Tina says she's been accepted to USC, which means big bucks Bruce doesn't have, and his ex-wife doesn't want to sell the house. With all that, he's got to stay on the road to stay above water.

After a gig in Boston, he meets a girl named Sarah (Diane Farr) who may provide Bruce with a way off the road. However, he's still trying to find what comics usually look for after doing stand-up for years:  a sitcom, a corporate gig, or a game show thanks to Howie Mandel.

Carolla co-wrote and directed the movie with Kevin Hench. They came up with interesting scenes about  Bruce's life. After a gig in Texas, he's in his room with Twinkies and box wine while seeing old Bro Shows dubbed in Spanish. He heads to the bathroom where you think he's going to end it all, but it winds up being something that costs him 250 dollars. There's another scene where he does his act while someone is translating it for the deaf, right before he's given an introduction that reminds him of what he no longer is. Then there's one when he's with Sarah, and he does something nice for her with his other skill, woodworking.
Yes, Adam is basically playing himself as Bruce because this story is his life, and if things went a bit different, he would wind up where Bruce is. Miller, meanwhile, has the "shallow agent" part down, maybe because he's known people like that. The movie does hint maybe Baby Doll might be on the way down if he thinks YouTube personalities are the superstars of the future.

Fans of the podcast may spot some familiar things, like how annoying passengers with dogs can get, or Gerard doing a really obscene impression of Teddy Pendergrass. There's also some insights of why some comics will stay on that road of lousy flights, bad comedy clubs and worse rooms, especially one from Dana Gould. Even Bruce admits his career could have done better if he had done the work to keep it going outside the stage, as Jack did.

People who have seen this on iTunes are raving about this movie, but only 16 movie critics have filed reviews, and they're split. While the New York Times didn't like it, the San Francisco Chronicle liked it because it thought it got the comedy circuit details right.
Granted, the movie isn't for everyone. Some of the stuff is raw, especially when Bruce tries to talk his way out of that 250 dollar charge, or how his one night as a warm-up comic goes south very quickly. Overall, it's a pretty good comedy about the life of a comic, and how it's not always a lot of laughs.

Carolla may consider himself lucky, too. What happened to Bruce Madsen could have happened to him. At one point, he had a show on Comedy Central that wasn't nearly  as popular as The Man Show. He came back, though, in a big way, and part of that triumph is this movie.
What's more, he doesn't have to rely on Hollywood as he did with The Hammer seven years ago. He'll get more attention and fans, his way. with this movie.

You can learn more at Road Hard's website, which has links to Amazon Video, iTunes, and other VOD sites.  There's also a list of theaters showing the film, if you prefer that way. That'll be for the 2500 backers who gave enough cash to have their names in the ending credits...and yes, I'm in there.

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