Many modern stars would view creating an Internet-only, downloadable show a lot like a winter tour of Alaska.
Not comedian Adam Carolla, whose circuitous route to fame has included both the bright lights of television and the comfort of terrestrial radio. Carolla, who also has written two best-selling books, now boasts the world’s most downloaded podcast, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.
Carolla will be in Sacramento on Saturday for a 7 p.m. taping of “The Adam Carolla Show” podcast at the Crest Theatre.
While far less glamorous than, say, hosting a late-night variety show, podcasting – in may ways – represents a return to his roots for Carolla. He got his start on the Los Angeles-based “Kevin and Bean” radio show and before making a name for himself as the co-host of the call-in show “Loveline” with Dr. Drew Pinsky. He also hosted the cable program “The Man Show” with Jimmy Kimmel.
For those seeking to break into pop-culture relevance, podcasting represents an inexpensive way to circumvent the traditional media gatekeepers. However, while there are exceptions, finding fame through podcasting has proved a challenge for most.
The fact that anyone with a computer or a cellphone can have a podcast cuts both ways, said Michael Harrison, publisher of the talk radio trade magazine Talkers. “Everybody has their own radio and TV station – it’s called Facebook,” Harrison said. “The bar is high because there is so much stuff on the Internet and so much of it is free.”
While podcasts have been around for a decade, they are still considered an emerging medium. Less than half of Americans (45 percent) know the term “podcasting“ (a marriage of “broadcasting” and “pod” as in “iPod”), according to a 2012 study by Edison Research.
That same study found that just 29 percent of Americans had ever downloaded a podcast. That figure was 11 percent in 2006.
Carolla, 49, isn’t like most podcasters. Many people recording podcasts in their bedrooms or garages are trying to make a name for themselves. With mainstream recognition already attained, Carolla launched his podcast in February 2009, days after the cancellation of his syndicated radio show. Within weeks of going live, “The Adam Carolla Podcast” (as it was then titled) rocketed up the list of Apple’s iTunes Store listings.
While Carolla is less known than his old partner Kimmel, he had the right audience for a successful podcast, said Robert Thompson, director of the Newhouse School’s Bleier Center for Television & Popular Culture.
“He had name recognition among a demographic that listens to podcasts,” Thompson said.
The biggest consumers of podcasts are young people who generally speaking are used to consuming media through their handheld devices, Thompson said.
He said Carolla has done well in emerging media. His television series “The Man Show” made him a star on basic cable before most people had heard of Comedy Central.
“He seems to always be one medium ahead of the orthodoxy,” Thompson said.
Thompson and Harrison agree that podcasting is a good fit for comedy.
“The podcast is the modern version of the old comedy record,” Harrison said. “Comedy, once upon a time, worked really well on radio.”
In an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, Carolla recently compared podcasting to doing standup comedy.
“The podcast is a lot like a live radio show – almost completely improvised, and it has multiple people up on stage. If I’m doing it in a theater, I’ll write a couple of jokes and have a couple of ideas to get started, but it’s basically a pure, improvised, live show. If I’m doing a standup show, it’s more rehearsed.”
Carolla typically opens his podcast, which is usually around 90 minutes and can be downloaded for free, with a riff about something in the news. If it’s a live taping, he’s likely to spotlight something that happened on the way into town.
That level of unscripted, underproduced comedy would be a trap for many performers. But for Carolla, whether it’s radio, television, audio books or podcasting, he seems to be in his element without a net.
“What made him good in this realm is he’s uniquely Adam Carolla,” Harrison said.