Adam Carolla: Don't Trust Your Gut
Long before Adam Carolla was approached by Spike TV to do the show Catch a Contractor, he was working with a hammer in his hand. If you’ve listened to his podcast, radio show or Love Line back in the day, you’ve heard stories of his time spent as a carpenter in L.A.’s San Fernando Valley. Now his new show takes advantage of years of experience witnessing the poor work some lazy or crooked contractors do, giving a bad name to the good ones. But he doesn’t just identify their bad work. He tracks them down and makes them fix it.
Adam’s a busy man, (and he does not set his watch 15 minutes ahead to keep him on time) so when he says he’ll call you at 11:00, your phone rings at 11:00.
Justin: I heard about this show when it was first announced several months ago and I was looking forward to it. I watched the pilot and it’s a lot of fun. What was the impetus for the show? Was it actually bad contracting, bad contractors that you’ve witnessed or worked for? Is it a frequent thing?
Adam: They’ve always been out there. I went to high school with a lot of these dudes. It’s one of those shows that was right in front of my face for a long time and I never thought about it. It’s just honestly coming from the business and hearing all the horrors. If you’re an ophthalmologist and you go to a party and tell people what you do, they start wanting you to look at their eye and tell you about their contact lens that got infected. When you’re a contractor and you go to a party, people want to tell you about the horrible contracting going on in their lives. So for me, I’ve always known it was out there. We say to people, “Your story is not unique. Everybody goes through this.” And finally, when Spike approached me to do the show I said, “Oh yeah of course. I’ve been telling people about this for my whole adult life.” It’s a no-brainer. You take every homeowner’s fantasy to find these guys and track them down and get them back to do the job right.
That’s great because unlike the other shows where they’re showing bad contracting, I love that you go and track the guy down. That’s a first.
I like that idea too. I’m not taking credit for it as it wasn’t my idea, but it was a good idea and I love it.
Whether it’s from the show or from your own experience, what’s the worst example of a screw up that some contractor laid on some homeowner?
We had one guy do framing over carpet and padding – like, really start framing an addition over existing Berber. I’ve never… that I didn’t know was in the lexicon. That’s not even bad carpentry.
Yeah, that’s something else.
I say all the time, my mom is not a bad stand-up comedian. She’s not a stand-up comedian. Standing up there holding the mic, shaking and saying nothing – that wouldn’t make her a bad stand-up. She’s a non stand-up.
So, a lot of guys—you even said you went to high school with them—pick up a hammer because they need to, but they don’t develop a passion for it or care too much about it. You did develop that. What’s the difference? Why does it matter to you?
Well, for a period of time it mattered simply because of survival. I had to do this for a living and at a certain point I made peace with it. I soon realized there is more misery in doing a miserable task miserably than there is in actually embracing it and doing it with enthusiasm and perfection. I realized that being up in Van Nuys in the San Fernando Valley and scrapping a roof, digging a ditch, clearing out garbage on a construction site, or demoing someone’s kitchen in some horrible apartment for some earthquake rehab was already miserable in and of itself. If I was going to pout the whole time it was going to be that much more miserable. So my plan was to get my crap together and be a good carpenter. At the end of the day, I’m going to have some pride. I’m not going to spend 20 minutes looking for a paddle bit because my tools are spread out all over the bed of my truck. I’m going to know where the paddle bit is. And then from that standpoint, I’m going to get some satisfaction. Even though I might want to do something else a million miles away from here, I’ll get some satisfaction for doing the job well. That’s something we’re losing in our society. I’m guessing 8 out of 10 people aren’t doing the job they thought in high school they would be doing, and it’s not very glamorous and maybe they think they’re being overworked and undercompensated, or they think they’re better than that. And here is the deal—you are better than that, but not right now. I was better than that, but not when I was 26. Or maybe I was better than that, but I couldn’t convince anyone else I was. With that in mind, it’s time to get to work and certainly do the job well because you’ll take that into the rest of the world. You know, it’s the 5 year anniversary of the podcast and in 5 years of a voluntary 5-day-a-week podcast, we’ve never missed a day. It’s the same ethic. You just apply it to the next thing.
Are you still doing any carpentry or contracting of your own?
Most days. Not for hire, but I have a few properties that require things. I’m always building things or I’m making a studio. I built my podcast studio. I built my console and the offices around it. You know, it’s always an ongoing thing. Even though I’ve been technically out of the business for quite some time I’ve been consistently buying houses, renovating them, living in them, selling them, just moving on to the next project. Not for other people, but for myself.
You keep yourself pretty busy.
I do keep me busy. I’ve learned just as much in the now coming on 20 years I stopped doing it as I did in the 15 years I was doing it, just through new materials and technology and equipment and things. Codes change. There are lots of changes.
What advice do you have on how to avoid a bad contractor?
Check his license. Make sure he is licensed. You know, all that boring stuff. The thing is, don’t trust your gut. They all start off as nice guys. The guys who are going to rip you off have to be nice guys so they can get in the door. “Yeah, he seems like such a nice guy.” Date rapists don’t announce they are going to date rape you. They don’t wear windbreakers saying “date rapist” when they go to parties. They act like nice guys. That’s how they do it. That’s how everybody who rips everyone off does it. You don’t show up sweating profusely and scratching your scalp and looking shifty and dicey. So don’t trust your gut on the nice guy is number one.
Number two: if it’s too good to be true, it’s too good to be true. People say things like, “We’re putting a sun room on and a half bath, and we got a bid for 42.5, next one is 45.7, and this guy comes in for 11 grand.” I always say there is a price. You go into a restaurant and they say “Surf and turf, $2.49”—run. All you can eat sushi for a buck eighty-nine? There is a certain price for doing things. So that notion of, “Oh look, we’re going to get you a half bath and sun room and we’re going to do it all for 9 grand” – it’s 9 grand in materials. How are you going to do that? If it’s that far off and it sounds too good to be true, you know it is.
There is a price for everything. If you wanted a turkey club and the guy went “$128,” you’d go, “What? No.” But what if the guy said that it would be a $1? You’d be like, “What year is it?” When a guy says it’s going to be $5.35, you go, “Alright, that’s what a turkey club costs.” If you hear any numbers too far off, be surprised.
Do you see some blame to go around for the homeowners on your show?
There are lessons to be learned and fingers to be pointed. Some of it is their fault. Sometimes they screw up in more ways than one. It isn’t just that you shouldn’t have hired this guy. There are things that make them culpable, so to speak, as well.
Alright, I have one question I ask everybody who’s actually done the work. When you start a renovation you have to start with demo, so my question for you is: what’s the coolest thing you’ve found behind a wall?
I found Geraldo Rivera looking for Al Capone’s vault; it scared the shit out of me.
That sounds too good to be true.
Don't miss the debut of Adam's new show "Catch a Contractor," Sunday, March 9 at 10PM ET/PT with two back-to-back new episodes on Spike TV. Click HERE to view a sneak peek from the premiere episode.