If Adam Conover‘s name (or excellent hairdo) rings a bell, then you’ve probably seen him take all the fun out of your favorite pastime on truTV’s Adam Ruins Everything. For former CollegeHumor digital series turned television show/book/podcast has obliterated everything from engagement rings to the Transportation Security Administration’s screening practices at airports. This week, the third season premieres with a new episode about guns, gun control and the Second Amendment.
Uproxx had a lengthy chat with Conover about the first two episodes of Adam Ruins Everything‘s new season ahead of Tuesday’s premiere on truTV. Now that the young comedian is also embarking on a live tour titled Mind Parasites, however, we also spoke about the raging debate among comedy theater owners and sketch and improv performers about labor exploitation and pay — especially in regards to the Upright Citizens Brigade, or UCB. Conover spoke out about the matter earlier this year.
I’m actually in the process of shopping for a new mattress, so I wanted to thank you for ruining that in “Adam Ruins Sleep.”
I’m in the same boat. My girlfriend and I just moved and we wanted to upgrade, so we went to the best-reviewed local mattress store. As we were shopping, the salesman looked at me and was like, “Aren’t you shooting here in two weeks?” It turned out that we shopping at the very same mattress store that the show was going to be shooting that episode segment in a couple weeks later. It’s a scene with a sleazy mattress salesman ripping off a customer while I explain everything that’s wrong. Meanwhile, here I was a few weeks earlier in the very same store buying a mattress.
Considering the show’s reputation, I guess they were okay with it. Has your team ever been rebuffed before? Like, has a location or business ever taken issue over something Adam Ruins Everything later said or did?
It’s happened a couple of times. The mattress store didn’t mind so much, I think because we weren’t saying that there was a better place to buy from. I guess they were just chill with it. However, we did shoot at a glasses store for our Luxottica segment two years ago and they did not like it at all. They asked us to change some language in the bit before we shot there, but we did not do that. It was a little bit of a back and forth with them to make them feel comfortable about us shooting there. At the end of the day, our money is as good as anybody else’s, right? You can usually find somewhere that doesn’t have a problem with it, and for the most part, what we do on the show is truthful and most of these companies understand that.
One of our most famous segments is the one about how TSA security is ineffective. Now, whenever I go to the airport, many of the TSA guards will recognize me. I think that’s where I get recognized the most, actually… at the screening stations. They’re always happy to meet me. “Hey, I watch your show!” But I never ask them what they thought of the segment because I don’t want to draw too much attention to myself for it. I think the people on the ground who are working at the glasses store, the mattress store or for the TSA all know these things aren’t perfect. They’re just doing their jobs and they don’t mind somebody telling the truth about it. At least, I hope they don’t.
The topics covered by Adam Ruins Everything run the gamut. What’s the process for determining which subjects are covered?
It just comes from what we in the writer’s room are most passionate about, or which stories we are so passionate about that we really want to share them with others. This year we had five staff writers, five staff researchers, a head writer, a head researcher, myself and the executive producers. It’s a big writer’s room and everyone’s pitching. They usually start with a question. “What’s something you recently learned that blew your mind when you first heard about it?” We call them “truly remarkable facts.” Ideally, they’re something you can express in a sentence. Something that makes us go, “Holy shit! I can’t believe that. That changes the way I see the world.”
We take these pitches and cluster them into episodes. Sometimes we start with the episode itself, and other times we start with the smaller topics. It usually works better when we start with the topics. For example, “Adam Ruins Sleep” started an idea that was held over from the previous year. Someone thought it would be fun to do it like a dream sequence, but we didn’t have any specific topics yet. Later, we saw an article about mattress scams and another about the sleep patterns of teenagers. That’s when we realized we had an episode.
What about ideas that don’t necessarily come from intense research? Has anything just “popped” with the Adam Ruins Everything team?
We have an episode coming up this year called “Adam Ruins a Plate of Nachos.” We had a bunch of food topics on the board, but we didn’t know what to do with them. In season one, we did “Adam Ruins Nutrition” so we didn’t want to do that again. “Adam Ruins the Grocery Store” was kind of boring. We just couldn’t think of a frame for it, especially an idea about ruining avocados since their productions have been largely taken over by the Mexican drug cartels. But we still couldn’t crack it, and we were in the middle of mixing and matching the board’s food topics when one of our senior researchers, Sam Roudman, made nachos as a special Friday treat for the office.
I know, right? He even brought a toaster oven so he could make the nachos. And as we were eating them, he pointed at the board and said, “Adam Ruins Nachos.” That’s when it clicked. We had ideas for segments on avocados and corn subsidies, which covers the chips, and a third for ruining bacon. That is, this idea that everything tastes better with bacon. It was a marketing creation by the pork industry. And yeah, some people and restaurants will put bacon on their nachos as a result. So the whole episode is just focused on me going through someone’s nachos ingredients and ruining their day.
I love that Sam essentially “ruined” nachos while everyone was eating them.
Serendipity is really important. These ideas will occur at the strangest times. I mean, we all do a lot of our best creative work not when we’re focusing on immediately solving the problem, but when the problem is in the back of our minds. Something in our day randomly cues something in our brains and gets things rolling.
More than anything, it feels like late night programming is being overshadowed by “infotainment” nowadays. Perhaps Jon Stewart ushered it in with his run of The Daily Show, but now we’ve got former correspondents Jon Oliver, Samantha Bee and Hasan Minhaj doing similar, albeit more focused, things. I’d place Adam Ruins Everything in that group, too.
I’m very proud to be part of a moment of informative comedy. I’d like to think of myself as doing post-Jon Stewart comedy. He’s sort of like my Johnny Carson figure, really. He’s the person who influenced me the most. He really showed us what comedy can do in its highest form. Comedy can actually say important things about our culture. It can move the needle a little bit, even. It can enlighten and inform folks. So I’m very proud to be a part of that, but I’d also say that we’re very different from those other shows because we don’t do current events. Or, at least when we do, it’s the event of the year and not the event of the week or the month. That’s just because of how long it takes to put these episodes together.
Right, because unlike those shows, yours is more transparent about how much of a group effort it is. Sure, you’re on screen talking to the audience, but there’s also hired actors and scripted scenes and expert interviews. It’s a lot of material packed into a half hour.
Absolutely. Our show is a total group effort. I don’t know if it was Raphael Bob-Waksberg or one of the BoJack Horseman writers who penned it, but in the new season there’s a line about how television is a field where 100 people do all the work and one person gets all the credit. My show is an even more intense version of that. Obviously, because I’m hosting it. Most of the words the audience hears come out of my mouth. But we do 16 episodes a year and the number of topics is three times that. All of that has to be researched and written out and I literally can’t do that much work by myself in a year. Even if it was my only job. It can’t be done by a single person.
I also have a limited perspective because of who I am and what my background is. There are a lot of things that aren’t as apparent to me as they are to other people. So in addition to employing such a big writing staff, we make sure to include people from many different backgrounds. We have a very diverse writing and research staff that helps us do right by these different topics, and I couldn’t possibly do it all by myself.
And it’s one thing to see people in this industry pay lip service to those ideas, but it’s another to see them act on it. Throughout these episodes, and especially toward the end, Adam Ruins Everything makes sure the viewers know that there’s more going into this than just you talking to them. It’s especially nice to see considering how outspoken you’ve been on the ongoing discussions of labor and exploitation in the improv and sketch comedy world.
There are probably always ways that we can do a better job of that, in terms of giving our crew the credit and compensation that they deserve. Or treating everybody fairly, for that matter. It’s very important to me, and it’s something that I think we as creators are capable of having adult conversations about. One of the things that disappoints me about that UCB conversation is that often ends very quickly, especially on the other side. Whenever it comes up, they shut it down very quickly with a couple of stock answers that they never really move beyond.
So when I spoke out about it, that was my attempt to say, “We really want to grapple with this and I really think this is something we should consider more fully.” The UCB is not my theater, of course, so that’s the most I can do. And yeah, I still perform there and am very grateful to those folks. But I still think that they and the comedy community owe it to everyone to have a bigger conversation about these issues. Not just in terms of labor practices, but also regarding diversity in casting and hiring, sexual harassment issues and things like that. We take these things extremely seriously on our show. We actually try to do right by everyone as best we can.
The third season of ‘Adam Ruins Everything’ premieres tonight at 10 p.m. ET/PT on TruTV.