So what about film?
“With a movie, you come up with a joke and people hear it five years later. It’s like sending a joke to Mars and back.”
If that’s the case then the signal should be reaching Earth’s multiplexes any day now – his new caustically observed romantic-comedy, The Hammer (starring himself and Heather Juergensen), debuts in theaters this week. You’ll see Carolla playing Jerry Ferro, former amateur boxer, current slacker-burnout and construction worker who still teaches some boxing on the side to middle-class, middle-management types in Pasadena.
Asked in as a sparring partner for an up ’n’ coming pro, Jerry pulls off a one-punch knockdown, thereby igniting a dream to compete for Olympic gold. Never mind that he’s 40-years old and has been out of the game for the last two decades.
Carolla wrote the original story, based not-so-loosely on his own life.
“I spent a long time doing crappy construction jobs in the valley, and I worked as a boxing instructor,” he explains. “I wanted all that stuff to feel real because those experiences helped shape me. I had no trouble putting my face right up to the glass of my former life because I knew at the end of the day I didn’t have to go back to a crappy studio apartment in the valley. If I were still hanging drywall, it would have been tough.”
Location plays a key part in the realization of the story, and it’s neither the glam nor the gutter side of Los Angeles that’s clichéd shorthand for most big screen forays. Set mostly in Burbank, The Hammer casually catches mixed-income housing meshed with pockets of industrial turf, scraggly palm trees and bleached out valley summer heat.
Carolla, who grew up in the area, relished the non-essence of the geography: “The valley was the perfect backdrop for this movie because it’s so bleak – not like burnt out slums, just day-to-day bleakness. It’s subtly depressing.”
But this is a romantic-comedy, and it’s got a soft spot, too, which can be quite a balancing act. The film found that perfect co-existence between biting comedic improv and a keener sensitivity, which Carolla suggests is “a tribute to Charlie [Herman-Wurmfeld, director] and the team.”
“We didn’t want it to be loud or farcical,” he explains. “I think we pulled it off and still managed to keep the jokes coming.”
Citing the inspirational Breaking Away as a tonal template, and classic comedies by Albert Brooks (Modern Romance, Lost in America, Defending Your Life), Carolla worked closely with screenwriter Kevin Hench, writer for “The Man Show” and “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”
“Hench and I began spit-balling during the last season of ‘The Man Show’ in 2002. We’d bounce jokes and scenes and characters off each other.”
Carolla says that although lots of the jokes “were in the hopper” the whole time, several he riffed in the oppressive heat of the moment.
And it was hot. We’re talking summer in Burbank.
Never one to pass up a sarcastic opportunity, Carolla observes that “[next time] I would see if we could permit the surface of the sun. It was only about 110 degrees in the Valley, and I don’t think it challenged the crew enough.”
The Hammer releases in select theaters March 21.