Adam Carolla Talks About Free Speech on Campus at Congressional Hearing

Adam Carolla and Ben Shapiro - Getty - H 2017

The comedian was invited to speak because he is making a documentary movie with talk-show host Dennis Prager called 'No Safe Spaces.'

As if Congress isn’t funny enough, Adam Carolla showed up at a hearing Thursday to deliver his views on free speech, multiculturalism, hate speech, white privilege and anything else lawmakers asked about. The comedian managed to squeeze in a joke about a congressman’s haircut and another’s tan.

Gazing at the congressional pad of paper he was supplied for note-taking, Carolla asked the House members: “What do you reckon they’ll get on eBay?”

Carolla told of his modest upbringing, his mom refusing to work and his dad a school teacher. “I ended up being a carpenter and then a boxing instructor, and met Jimmy Kimmel when I taught him to box for a Morning Zoo stunt and eventually made my way on to TV and radio,” he explained.

The topic of Thursday’s congressional hearing was dubbed “Challenges to Freedom of Speech on College Campuses” and focused primarily on recent instances of rioting at universities where conservatives like Ann Coulter and Milo Yiannopoulos attempted to speak. Also testifying were university educators and author and pundit Ben Shapiro, and terms like “snowflakes” and “micro-aggressions” were tossed about, usually in a disparaging manner.

Carolla was invited to speak because he is making a documentary movie with talk-show host Dennis Prager called No Safe Spaces, which will be both a serious and humorous look at political correctness at universities.

Carolla said he toured 100 colleges while doing Loveline in the 1990s without incident even though “many controversial ideas were exchanged,” so he was shocked when he tried to appear at California State University, Northridge with Prager recently and lawyers had to get involved before they were allowed to speak.

“These are 18- and 19-year-old kids who are at these college campuses. They grew up dipped in Purell, playing soccer games where they never kept score and watching Wow! Wow! Wubbzy! And we’re asking them to be mature. We need the adults to start being the adults,” Carolla told the group of about a dozen congressional members.

Carolla also contrasted the time-honored tradition of heckling a comedian with the so-called “hecklers’ veto,” where the purpose is to shut down a speech.

“Heckling people, busting their chops, making fun of them, is an actual overture of love, friendship, and it’s a positive thing. My friends I hang out with — Kimmel, his cousin, many other comedians, Jeff Ross, people of that nature — it’s all we do. And the day that stops, that will be the day I know they don’t like me anymore,” Carolla said.

“I speak on dozens of college campuses every year, so I have some first-hand experience with the anti-First Amendment activities,” Shapiro said at the hearing. “I’ve encountered anti-free speech measures, administrative cowardice, even physical violence.”

Shapiro made the point that protesters are “humored” by professors who think the validity of an argument should be judged by the “ethnic, sexual, racial or cultural identity of the person making the argument” and that those who say otherwise are engaging in “verbal violence,” so the protesters feel justified to respond with actual violence.

When a Democratic congresswoman raised the subject of race and diversity on college campuses, Carolla chimed in.

“Geez. I want to talk about my white privilege so badly,” the comedian said. “I graduated North Hollywood High with a 1.7 GPA and could not find a job. I walked to a fire station. I was 19 and living in the garage of my family home and my mom was on welfare and food stamps. I said, ‘Can I get a job as a fireman?’ and they said, ‘No, because you’re not black, Hispanic or a woman and we’ll see you in about seven years.’”

Carolla said he spent those years at a construction site picking up trash and learning how to build houses and, sure enough, seven years later he received a letter offering him a firefighter interview. “I was standing in line and a young woman approached and I said, ‘Just out of curiosity, when did you sign up to become a fire person, because I signed up seven years ago.’ She said, ‘Wednesday.’ So that’s an example of my white privilege.”

The joint hearing was of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Subcommittee on Health Care, Benefits and Administrative Rules and the Subcommittee on Intergovernmental Affairs, and it went for more than three hours in Washington on Thursday.

Some of the members of Congress in those committees are Republicans Darrell Issa, Mark Sanford and Paul Mitchell and Democrats Eleanor Holmes Norton and Jim Cooper. For the majority Republicans, Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio lead the questioning.

“It went swimmingly,” Carolla told The Hollywood Reporter after the hearing. “It was surreal and I’m flattered anyone would want to hear my opinion. Everyone’s nameplate had an impressive title underneath and mine just had my name. That tells you everything you need to know.”

No Safe Spaces is produced by Mark Joseph (The Vessel with Martin Sheen, Max Rose with Jerry Lewis) and is directed by Justin Folk, a former crewmember on The Matrix Trilogy who co-founded Madison McQueen, a maker of right-leaning TV commercials.