Control Nathan Rabin 4.0 #70 Road Hard
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Inarguably, the greatest, most tragic casualty of our never-ending culture wars has been my mild appreciation of handyman turned funnyman Adam Carolla. Actually, “mild appreciation” might be overstating it. It would be more accurate to say that I have long nursed a certain grudging tolerance for Carolla despite finding his “blue-collar millionaire crank” persona and Libertarian politics a little on the obnoxious side.
I gave Carolla’s unexpectedly charming debut as a leading man, The Hammer, a positive review for the A.V Club back in the day and found him to be a tolerable and sometimes amusing, if maddeningly ubiquitous presence on on comedy podcasts
Carolla used to be the Los Angeles podcast and comedy world’s crabby uncle. He and his Man Show co-host Kimmel used to be joined at the hip professionally. Then they went in such opposite directions that one man ended up passionately and publicly arguing the case for children not dying unnecessarily because they are poor and do not have insurance with Donald Trump, the president of the United States, while the other became the kind of embittered right-wing crank who makes a documentary with Dennis Praeger about what snowflakes college kids are and how they’d rather go suck their thumbs and cuddle their therapy bunnies than face the raw reality of truth-tellers like himself.
I did my best to overlook Carolla’s politics until they became too big to ignore or dismiss and made my exceedingly modest enjoyment of the Man Show co-host’s comedy stylings impossible.
While the upcoming reboot of Crank Yankers has me appropriately agog with excitement and anticipation, otherwise Carolla doesn’t seem to have much to offer the world these days beyond the “Get off my lawn!” permanent crabbiness of someone who will never forgive the SJWs and language police and the man-hating identity politics zealots for stealing from comedians their greatest tool and most powerful weapon: the ability to stand before a crowd of people and say that something is gay and that makes it bad and weird and hilarious.
Judging from 2015’s Road Hard, a vanity project Carolla co-wrote, co-directed and starred in that suggests a low-budget version of the Robert De Niro vehicle The Comedian, Carolla is more than willing to die on the hill that men doing butt stuff with each other and acting all effeminate and women doing vagina stuff together is fucking hilarious and that society will devolve into madness unless heroes willing to share this liberating, bold truth like himself are appropriately feted by society as “politically incorrect” geniuses, the true heirs to Bill Hicks, George Carlin and Richard Pryor.
To cite a typical example, Carolla’s Bruce Madsen loses a well-paying and stable if soul-crushing gig as an audience warm-up comedian for Jack Taylor (Jay Mohr), a talk show superstar very clearly based on Carolla’s Man Show co-host Jimmy Kimmel when he singles out an overweight man (Carolla’s targets/foils always seem to be overweight, frowning with every molecule of their body or both) wearing Crocs and quips that wearing Crocs is like getting your dick sucked by a man: it feels good until you look down and realize that you’re gay.
This dude is NOT having it (fucking snowflake) and physically attacks him but then NO one is prepared for our anti-hero’s truth bombs, with the exception of the many people shown laughing uproariously at his hilarious and brave comedy.
Elsewhere, Bruce, our hero, who we are supposed to like and root for and want to see get laid and get the girl and laugh at and find hilarious, auditions for a smutty submarine comedy where the character of a busty woman is being played, for the purpose of the try-out, by an extremely effeminate man.
This blurring of masculine and feminine and the very real possibility that he might be in the present of a guy who does butt stuff with other guys instead of putting his penis in ladies rattles Bruce to the point that he can’t conduct himself with even a modicum of professionalism and when the man asks Bruce to take it from the top, he wisecracks, “I’d like to try it again without the bottom.”
The “humor” in this scene comes from the fact that the dude reading the part of the lady with the huge knockers was totally gay! And that’s hilarious in itself, but he was reading the part of a lady, which is even funnier. It’s like when Bug Bunny wore a dress or something! This outrageous truth-teller and master-level woodworker/lover wasn’t just saying that this man was gay, but specifically that he was on the receiving end of the sodomy that fascinates and obsesses homophobes and lovers/disseminators of gay panic humor so, no doubt because his flamboyant personality has historically been coded as feminine and receiving, rather than masculine and aggressive.
Just think, dear reader, there are Nazi-like cultural gate-keepers trying to keep you from being able to experience comedy this exquisite, this insightful, this deliciously belly laugh-inducing! They’re trying to censor Carolla, to keep him from exposing the important truth that some people are gay, and that is funny as shit no matter what the regressive left might have you believe.
Road Hard has many awful surprises. One of the worst is that it expects us to accept the charmless and grating Carolla as a romantic leading man as well as a funnyman and a man who brings the same care, expertise and meticulousness to pleasing a woman sexually that he does to putting together a book shelf.
Road Hard has what it imagines is a fascinating premise. It asks us to imagine a world where Adam Carolla wasn’t quite as successful. What if he was merely extremely successful as the co-host of a Man Show-like frat boy favorite called The Bro Show and did stand-up but did not have a podcast empire at his command that has made him, like fellow Man Show alum Joe Rogan, an unexpectedly powerful figure who commands a huge audience of dudes and bros way too susceptible to his shitty jokes and shittier politics?
In this crazy, boring alternate universe, the Carolla figure has to hit the road regularly and play modest clubs for shitty audiences and ever-decreasing paydays while his former partner has ascended to the top of the A-list.
Like The Comedian, this is is the story of an almost impressively unlikable curmudgeon whose dreadful, embarrassingly retrograde material we’re supposed to hold in high esteem as a boundary-pushing voice of pure, unfiltered satirical truth when it is clearly the hackwork of someone who has stubbornly refused to change even as the culture has evolved.
Carolla is a very poor man’s Larry David as he insults his way across America, subjecting overly officious hotel clerks, a blackout drunk divorcee who engenders his anger and judgment by getting too drunk and smoking cigarettes too heavily to properly give him a blowjob and his college-age adopted Asian daughter’s friends to big heaps of his terrible stand-up material.
Carolla isn’t just “politically incorrect” in his lazy reliance on gay panic gags. He also flies the flag for rich white straight men like himself to able to toss out the R word and the T word whenever they like. And if you don’t like it, well, let’s just say he’s got a “Safe space” for you: six feet underground!
Yes, it’s cranky Uncle Adam versus straw men for the kids these days, like a plump young woman who sits next to the cranky touring comedian with her therapy anti-anxiety dog. This scene plays out exactly as you’d expect. The nicest thing that can be said about it is that it’s very short. As an auteur (think Orson Welles) as well as romantic leading man (think Tom Cruise) Carolla at least has the decency to get to a sexist or homophobic or Millennial-baiting joke and then cut directly to the next awful scene.
There’s a word for people who are insult comics 24/7 as Bruce is here, who can never turn it off and feel compelled to hurl “funny” insults at people as if it’s their full-time job as well as a sacred, solemn moral obligation. That word is “asshole.” That’s Carolla here. He’s just a fucking dick.
Road Hard seems to think Carolla can’t be that bad a guy if he is nice to his Asian daughter and romances a sexy age-appropriate woman instead of an Instagram influencer half his age. It’s wrong. How self-indulgent is Road Hard’s horrifyingly and unexpectedly central romantic relationship? It literally portrays wood-working as a form of foreplay.
Like Carolla, we’re supposed to take a look at the workshop of the dead husband of his new girlfriend and be so impressed and excited that we orgasm instantly, as our hero clearly does when doing a particularly masterful bit of wood-working.
The only thing keeping Road Hard from being completely worthless is the presence of the always hilarious Larry Miller in the juicy role of Bruce’s agent, a wheeler-dealer who lives in a giant mansion filled with naked women and who sports a different ridiculous wig in each scene as well as rocking a brown Lopez Tonight bathrobe.
Miller is legitimately hilarious because Miller is always funny. Road Hard has nothing going for it but Miller improvising up a storm while wearing some of the silliest toupees in film history, sometimes within earshot of a gaggle of beautiful naked women, but if you’re a Miller completist, or have VERY low expectations/standards, that might be enough.
It’s a shame about the rest of the movie, however. It’s a very bad movie from a bad man with bad politics that have tainted and corrupted everything that was once good about him, or least bearable.
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