Adam Conover Puts This Year’s Election in Perspective
Stand-up comedian and host of truTv’s “Adam Ruins Everything,” Adam Conover, has created a unique brand of historical comedy since he launched his CollegeHumor web series of the same name.
Conover will take his first-ever national tour, Adam Ruins Everything Live, to Turner Hall Ballroom on Sunday, Oct. 2. We caught up with the comic ahead of the show to talk about how this year’s seemingly unprecedented election fits in with others in history, why he enjoys ruining the things you love and more.
If I’m not mistaken this is your first tour, correct?
Yes, this is my first time going on a tour of this scale. This is like the dream of a standup comic. Sometimes it feels like the entire reason you do a TV show is so that you can go on tour afterwards. It’s like the best part. Getting to go out and do comedy for people in person, and getting that one on one interaction with fans and making them laugh. I can’t wait.
That’s interesting. I would have assumed it to be the other way around. That you would start with stand up in order to get a TV show.
Well, here’s the thing with stand up comedy, there’s not a lot of money in it. At the very high end someone like Kevin Hart can do great. Or someone like Brian Regan, who’s not in a lot of movies, but is one of the funniest comics in the country, can do really well. But for your average comic it can be a tough life.
But the actual performance element, for me anyway, is so intoxicating that it’s what got me into it. Doing live comedy for people, hearing the laughs and soaking it all in is the thing that kept me coming back.
Ideally you’d want to do both. Most people wouldn’t quit stand up to do a TV show. They would want to do a TV show to be able to do even better stand up.
How are you approaching doing a full-fledged tour differently than one off comedy club shows?
The real goal is for the live show to be like the TV show in a way that’s going to satisfy people. I have material that I’m known for doing on TV now, and I want to bring it to a live venue.
I’m bringing along this huge video wall that we’re going to have, and on it I’m going to be projecting images, historical video, original video and sketches. I’m going to walk through that with the audience, and use it to make my points about the election, America’s presidential history and America’s election history.
We’re going to look at this year’s election through the lens of history and ask, “Is this really the craziest election ever? Or have there been worse ones?” Spoiler alert! There have been worse ones. There were a lot of Donald Trump vs. Hillary Clinton’s 100 years ago. They happened and then we forgot about them. What I’m doing is going back into the past and taking a look at some of these crazy stories and saying, “Can you believe that this happened?” Then when you look at this year it doesn’t look so bad after all.
A lot of your show seems to be split between education and entertainment. How do you balance this?
Well I don’t think that a balance is really necessary, because I think that they go together perfectly. People love to learn, but they don’t always have the time or energy because they’re busy at work. They’re busy in Wisconsin making cheese curds. When they get home they have to take care of their kids and they don’t have time to crack open a heavy work of nonfiction. That doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy learning.
What I do is try to get things out of the difficult to penetrate journal articles and huge heavy biographies and bring it to the public in a way that’s fun and entertaining.
This year I read a four-volume biography of Lyndon Johnson. Not everyone is going to read that book, but that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t enjoy the information that’s in it. In our election special we took three incredible stories from that LBJ biography and were telling them live on stage in a way that was really funny and engaging and had them think differently about how they saw him as a president. That’s the mission of the TV show and the live show. To use comedy to bring information to people.
Your show could arguably be put into the same category as “The Daily Show” or “Last Week Tonight.” How do you differentiate yourself?
Well first of all it’s very kind of you to put me in the same category as those guys. They are all great. People like John Oliver are such inspirations for me. The main thing that we try and do is bring a historical perspective. We try and look at things in a broader way and take a step back to look at things from a historical point of view. We talk a little bit about Hillary stuff and this and that, but through the lens of history rather than what happened this week, or who said what on CNN.
Your show deals with revealing the truth behind what people know and love, and sometimes it’s an ugly truth. Why do you take pleasure in ruining things for people?
(Laughs) Well, look, I love learning things. I always have. I’ve been an information sponge my whole life. That’s what I do for fun, but I also believe that learning these things has made my life better. While it might be temporarily unsettling to learn something that banishes what you thought you once knew, at the end of the day you’re always better for knowing more. Ignorance is not bliss.
So what we do on the TV show is show people things that they may be temporarily disconcerted by, but at the end we show them why they’re better off knowing more.
Our Hollywood episode is an example of this. We tell the main character, who loves reality TV and award shows, that award shows are sort of bought by these huge marketing campaigns and reality shows and produced in all of these ways that make them not real. He tells us that we ruined all of this stuff he once loved, and we tell him that he can now watch these things with a new appreciation of it, because he now knows how it works. It’s a whole new level under which you can enjoy these things.
Do you think with something like your segment on gerrymandering or the Electoral College has the same kind of silver lining?
I’m glad you mentioned that, because a lot of people watched that segment and got the wrong message. I’m sorry that it did, and it taught me a lesson about how I can go about things a little differently. A lot of people watched that and said their vote doesn’t matter because the Electoral College weighs someone’s vote in one state more than another’s, or that gerrymandering keeps politicians in office by drawing district lines a certain way.
Now there are problems with our voting system, but that does not mean that our votes don’t matter. In fact, the only way to fix those problems is by voting. That’s the only way we have change in America. Voting used to be so much less democratic than it is now. When our country first started, literally only white, male, landowners could vote, and they didn’t even vote for President. They didn’t even vote for their Senator. These things took a long, long time before they were opened up to more groups of people, and they did that because people demanded it. They exercised democracy in order to make the country more democratic. That’s the silver lining.