Full disclosure: I like the heck out of Adam Carolla, and I’ll tell you why.
He brings it.
I’m not talking about Carolla’s work with Jimmy Kimmel on “The Man Show,” or his co-hosting gig with Dr. Drew on “Loveline,” or his numerous other TV projects, or his books, or his podcast, or his film “The Hammer.”
To be sure, I’m a big fan of all of that stuff — but when I say Carolla brings it, I’m talking about the numerous times he appeared as a guest on the radio show I co-hosted with Roe Conn. Every time Adam was on the program, either in studio or on the phone, he brought his A-game. He was energized, involved, engaged and just plain funny.
Trust me. About half the big-name comics out there don’t even bother to try when they’re doing a radio gig. So yeah, I’m biased in favor of a guy who respects the airtime.
All that said, if I didn’t like “Road Hard” I’d tell you I didn’t like “Road Hard.” It’s not like I’m living in Adam Carolla’s guesthouse.
The truth is, I found “Road Hard” to be a low-key gem, a consistently funny albeit conventional story about a guy who’s almost always the funniest person in the room, and is almost always his own worst enemy.
Carolla, who financed the film through FundAnything and co-wrote and co-directed with Kevin Hench, stars as Bruce Madsen, a universally respected stand-up comedian of a certain age. Bruce thought his road warrior days were behind him — but after a divorce, the end of a successful TV show and a dearth of fresh offers, he’s back where he started, working half-filled rooms in mid-sized cities, and smiling grimly when strangers remind him of the glory days.
The great Larry Miller is priceless as Bruce’s agent, who wears a ridiculous wig and works the phones, trying to get Bruce a high-paying TV gig. Howie Mandel is a gamer playing … Howie Mandel, who’s kind of a jerk to Bruce even as he tells Bruce he’s a genius.
Much of “Road Hard” feels semi-autobiographical, and never more so than in the scene in which Bruce visits his former co-host on a testosterone-fueled TV show, who is now hosting a conventional late-night gabfest.
In real life, Carolla and Jimmy Kimmel remain friends, and Carolla has nothing but nice things to say about Kimmel. In “Road Hard,” Jay Mohr (an undeniably funny guy who also just exudes jerkiness) is the Kimmel doppelganger, and he’s utterly odious. Either Carolla and Kimmel have the most secure friendship in the history of show business and they’re both laughing at this sequence in “Road Hard,” or there’s just a LITTLE bit of fodder for the therapist’s couch.
Like a classic episode of “Seinfeld,” “Road Hard” has quiet little “a-ha” moments, as when Bruce’s hotel room key card doesn’t work and the front desk clerk puts the blame on him with that special level of condescension that makes you want to scream to the skies.
David Alan Grier kills as one of Bruce’s longtime comedic friends. Diane Farr is wonderful as a potential love interest for Bruce. She’s a smart, lovely, interesting woman — a real grown-up — who shows up right around the time Bruce believed all that falling-in-love nonsense was behind him.
And in the sweetest plot thread, Cynthy Wu excels as Bruce’s daughter Tina, a standout high school student about to enroll in college. Amidst all the cynicism about Hollywood and comedy and failed marriages, and the focus on Bruce’s self-destructive, abrasive nature, “Road Hard” puts us squarely in Bruce’s corner because we see how much he cares about his daughter — and how much she cares about him.