Like peanut butter and jelly, like Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen, Adam Carolla and Dennis Prager were meant to be together. Their on-air, on-stage chemistry works because it was meant to work. It’s supposed to work.
I am simply the one who made it all happen.
But unlike a coming together of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies and a tall glass of cold milk, the union of the foul-mouthed atheist comedian Carolla and the erudite religious conservative Prager was not something as plain as the delicious smell wafting into the nose on your face. There was preparation and man-hours involved. There is a backstory.
Here it comes.
In 2005, while sitting on the roof of a house whose shutters I was painting to make some side cash during my senior year of college, I heard for the first time the commanding voice and demonstrable wisdom of Dennis Prager. In spite of the poor sound quality my small boombox offered, I heard the intellectual mentor for whom I’d been searching. Although the work I was doing at that exact moment was mundane and thoughtless, the monologue Prager unfurled had a zeal and depth that made one want to drop the paintbrush in order that he might go read an important book or start a charity or help an old lady cross the street.
Or, at the very least, do the best job of painting a shutter that one possibly could.
Like greater men such as Andrew Breitbart and David Mamet before me, I “found” Dennis in much the same way Gary Cooper in Sergeant York “found” religion.
To be fair to the Cooper-Breitbart-Mamet analogy, conservatism already coursed through my veins, but up to that point my political appetite had been fed primarily by the red meat served up daily on cable news shows and in Sean Hannity’s books. I believe in Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment, and so please understand that I mean no disrespect to any of the fine people who represent my values in the media, but it was then, finally, that I heard in Dennis’ presentation a voice of strength and breadth and insight that I had secretly craved.
A man of substance. A man of thoughtful inquiry. A man of big ideas.
This was my introduction to what I affectionately call “Prager Conservatism,” and from that point until today I haven’t gone more than a few days without listening to his nationally syndicated radio show or reading his discerning weekly columns. Eventually, after graduating from college, my friends and I began hosting “Prager Hour” nights twice a month where a bunch of guys in their 20s would come over, enjoy a cigar if they so chose, hear a pre-selected segment or two of The Dennis Prager Radio Show’s podcast, and engage in lively discussion and debate for a couple of hours. Dennis was Obi-wan to our band of Luke Skywalkers.
Thankfully none of us have had our hands chopped off with a light-saber by a scary man who claims to have sired us…yet!
It became apparent that Dennis had the ability not only to communicate big ideas to someone like me – someone who was already embarking on a career in the same line of work he has mastered – but also to connect with guys and gals my own age who don’t “follow politics” or any of the cultural battles waging around them. Prager has the knowledge to educate, the capacity to motivate, and the tenor and personality to circumvent the “I didn’t care for his tone” excuse most apolitical Americans use to obfuscate their intellectual laziness. (See, I’m still working on that whole “tone” thing myself!)
After a few memorable opportunities to come to Los Angeles and spend time with my hero, and after hearing Dennis say many times on his show that he wanted to find ways to bring his brand of “Speak softly and carry a Big Idea” conservatism to a younger audience, the hamster wheel of ideas in my head began spinning.
Here’s where things get really interesting.
On April 12th, in the year of our Lord 2011, while simultaneously parsing the Hebrew participle for my graduate school course in “Biblical Hebrew” and listening to comedian Adam Carolla’s podcast – the most popular in human history, by the way – I heard Carolla and guest Joe Rogan discussing the cultural and economic decline of their state of California. Amidst the ranting, and right as I was about to switch my iPod over to a Frank Sinatra playlist for the rest of my Hebrew conjugation bonanza, Adam said the following combination of words that I, like Samuel L. Jackson’s “Mr. Glass” in the movie Unbreakable, had been searching for.
There’s this super smart guy named Dennis Prager who I listen to every morning while taking my kids to school, and he always says…
This was it. This is what Bono and the lads from U2 should have been looking for. And I had found it.
Immediately my mind filled with all of the pertinent facts. Carolla is culturally relevant. He’s a touring stand-up comic. He is twenty years younger than Dennis Prager. He’s politically incorrect. He’s a beer-drinking, car-loving, sports-watching, red-blooded American male who worked his way up from a childhood on food stamps in North Hollywood to a beautiful home and family up in “the hills.”
Because he actually was that working-class stiff (some try and pretend to be) for the first thirty-plus years of his life, and specifically because he was in the insanely regulated construction and contracting business, Adam knows first-hand how soul-crushing big-government bureaucracy can truly be.
And so it was that after years of listening to Adam and hearing him give away little hints as to his true feelings about key flaws in progressivism, everything came together in one glorious moment: Adam has been listening to Dennis all along, too! He may not be a Tea Party conservative, but this guy “gets it”! And he loves Prager to boot!
With what little pull I had at the time with Dennis and his radio producer Allen Estrin, I decided this was the chance to make a play. Audio clips were spliced and sent, direct appeals to Dennis (who had no idea yet who Carolla even was) were made, calls were placed — and a few weeks later I was listening to my two favorite talk show hosts on the air together.
It was Platonic love at first “hard break.” Anyone listening to Adam and Dennis on the air that first day could hear the chemistry and mutual affinity. Everyone involved was ecstatic with how things worked out and we learned that Adam had, for the first and only time in his career, been trying unsuccessfully for months to get himself booked on a show. The Dennis Prager Show, to be precise.
Carolla eventually discovered that some kid in Chicago – moi – had been responsible for the introduction and for convincing Dennis to have him on. As a “thank you kindly, stranger,” he graciously granted me a phone interview for a segment on the weekly podcast I host for the American Enterprise Institute’s “Values & Capitalism” project. In the course of that interview, I learned just how much Adam respected and admired Prager. Here was a famous dude known for being the co-host of Comedy Central’s The Man Show telling me how influential a Jewish conservative talk show host had been in his life and how sick he was of the liberal Democrats in his home Golden State running the economy into the ground.
It became abundantly clear that there were plays left for me to make here. My passion for the advancement of free market conservatism, my desire to be a catalyst in a movement to bring these ideas and values back into the culture at large in new and creative ways, my respect for the intellect of Dennis Prager, and my years of enjoying Adam Carolla’s sense of humor all collided.
Right time + Right place + Right tastes = Opportunity of a lifetime for R.J. Moeller.
I booked a flight out to Los Angeles early last fall under the auspice of coming to interview Adam, Dennis, and the late Andrew Breitbart for my AEI podcast. In actual fact, I simply wanted to pick Breitbart’s brain about a career in the media that I had begun pursuing. Oh, and I also threw together a little something I’d like to call an official proposal for a Prager-Carolla nationwide tour that both parties involved loved and said yes to and which inspired one to even offer me a job.
Less than six months later I was living in Los Angeles and Adam and Dennis were co-headlining two preliminary sold-out shows on a Saturday night in Redondo Beach, CA. They have since done about ten more shows, and have venues lined up a few times a month through the end of this year. It has been, and continues to be, a crowd-pleasing, thought-provoking, unmitigated success.
Alright, so why does this really matter? Beyond the reader (hopefully) thinking it an interesting story, why should anyone – Prager and Carolla fan or not – care about any of this?
There are three take-aways from the Hobbit-like tale you have just heard.
One often hears the following complaint: “Why can’t we all just get along?”
To which Dennis Prager might answer with two of his more famous axioms: “Clarity over unity” and “First tell the truth, then give your opinion.”
In other words, “if you are going to argue, make sure both sides even know where the disagreement lies” and “report the facts and then give the opinion we’re all entitled to have.”
The reason Adam respects Dennis, despite disagreeing on huge issues like the existence of God, abortion, and gay marriage, is because he knows above all else he will be getting the, for lack of a better term, God’s honest truth. There is power in knowledgeably articulating your position in an entertaining, civil way. Carolla is living, breathing proof that conservatives can get through to younger generations of Americans. People are hungry for substance and ready to laugh. Those of us on the center-right who care about such things need to be thinking about how to achieve both without watering down either.
Get yourself an audio copy of one of the Prager-Carolla performances to learn how.
Making money is a good thing and it seems like a lot of conservative groups forget that. Generally speaking, the open marketplace of goods and ideas is an excellent identifier of what works and what doesn’t – what’s wanted and what isn’t. If we say we support the free enterprise system and then rely so top-heavily on others to pony up the cash for our pet projects, we’re in danger of becoming the PBS-loving, Big Bird-defending liberals we give such a hard time to.
A lot of people have good ideas, but where I distinguished myself was chiefly in the area of “actually doing something about it.” This entrepreneurial mindset cannot be something we merely pay lip service to, and to be honest, this experience might have been the first in my life that genuinely confirmed that.
Adam Carolla is an entrepreneur in every sense of the word. He started his own podcasting network. He etched out a place for himself in the stand-up comedy world. He cultivated his talents, which led to bigger audiences, which resulted in advertisers and sponsors wanting to partner with and pay him enough to keep what he affectionately calls his “Pirate Ship” afloat. He – as well as the Prager-Carolla tour itself – embodies the entrepreneurial spirit defended by learned scholars at conservative and libertarian think-tanks.
We absolutely need both, but it’s important to remind ourselves from time to time that every dime spent by a charity or organization in this country came from the sweat of someone else’s brow. When Adam and Dennis go on the road, the event is financially self-sufficient. Their talents are in demand, so they supply them. We’d all do well to remember this basic economic concept.
I hope you’re sitting down for the shock of what I’m about to reveal, but we conservatives – specifically religious conservatives – aren’t loved and revered by the creators of popular culture. To be fair, we don’t regularly do ourselves any favors in this department. Growing up the son of an Evangelical pastor, I saw first-hand how often American Christianity lamely attempted to mimic something much cooler that the secular entertainment industry was doing. No innovation, just oodles of poorly veiled imitation. Anytime a sentence describing a band or movie starts with “They’re the Christian version of…” I immediately tune out and begin thinking about what I’ll eat for lunch today.
So many talented people in this country embrace conservative values to one extent or another. And even if someone isn’t 100% onboard for every plank in Michele Bachmann’s political platform, we don’t have to reject them and rush to find “a conservative version of…”
While we will never appease everyone who might otherwise join our “side,” and although there will always be jerks among our ranks who turn people off to our worldview, we’re failing at the unavoidable (and critically important) task of making the case for the things we believe in the public square. If “politics” is downstream of culture, modern conservatism hasn’t been anywhere near a river of consequence since long before John Wayne died.
Granted, Dennis Prager and Adam Carolla doing a few dozen live shows around the country isn’t going to topple the Media-Hollywood Complex that has rebranded progressivism as the direct extension of Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln for forty years. But it’s something. It’s more than something.
It’s really cool.
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