Friday, April 8, 2005 | 5:08 a.m.
If You Go
April 9 - 10, 2005
Who: Carrot Top.
When: 8:30 p.m. Thursday through April 27.
Where: MGM Grand Hollywood Theater.
For subtlety, look elsewhere.
Branded as innovative and boundless by his admirers, and obnoxious and childish by his detractors, manic stand-up comic Carrot Top offers no room for tepid analysis.
Serving as an example is a joke in a new cartoon strip called Triple Play, which offers, "Signs you've picked the wrong day to be in Oprah's audience." Among the three answers: "Today's guest host: Carrot Top!"
But the 38-year-old Carrot Top, whose real name is the ironically pedestrian Scott Thompson, continues to thrive, making regular appearances on network TV (including frequent guest spots on "The Tonight Show" and "Live with Regis and Kelly") and packing theaters across North America.
Carrot Top's recent run as a spokesman for AT&T has ended. But his bit about carrying an enormous backpack through a security checkpoint is part of McCarran International Airport's celebrity public service announcements, meaning that millions of unsuspecting travelers have been jarred by just a sample of Carrot Top's live act.
Still a favorite of Las Vegas audiences, Carrot Top (and his 35 trunks of self-designed stage props) returns to the MGM Grand Hollywood Theater on his "Curls Gone Wild" tour. He performs Thursday through April 27, and is also booked for dates at the MGM in September, November and December.
This week Carrot Top slowed down enough for a phone interview during a tour stop in Ottawa, Canada.
Las Vegas Sun: So, are you big in Canada?
Carrot Top: It's different every year I come up here. I will say I'm very popular. They enjoy the clown stuff, the kind of Cirque du Soleil attitude. In Canada, everyone goes, "Wow, never seen anything like this in a comedy act -- snow machines and fog machines!"
Sun: Let's go back for a moment. You're the son of an engineer for NASA who trained astronauts to navigate the lunar module, and your brother earned a scholarship to the Air Force Academy.
BF: And you decide to build props and start a stand-up act. How did that happen?
CT: I remember it like it was yesterday. I wanted to go to college, to experience life, but my dad was telling me that all I would do is go play and party. He thought it was all a party thing, like spring break, but I wanted to go off and experience life outside of Coco Beach, Fla. So I went off to FAU (Florida Atlantic University) in Boca Raton.
At that point I was always trying to be funny, like a class clown. But I got this job delivering credit reports to banks, and I had to drive four or five hours each afternoon. I was listening to different things on the radio, and one was the 5 o'clock funnies -- comedy routines. I listened to those every day.
Sun: A lot of people listen to those, but hardly any of them decide to go into stand-up comedy.
CT: But it got me interested. I started going to shows at a local club, the Comedy Corner. One night I went down there and Jeff Foxworthy was there. I watched him and thought, "This is cool."
Sun: Was it because you liked his material? Or was it because you thought you could do a better job than he was?
CT: It wasn't because I thought I could be better, that's for sure (laughs). I was just amazed by Foxworthy onstage, telling jokes and making people laugh.
But I didn't have a plan at that point. I was just going around to all these comedy clubs. As we fast-forward, there was a comedy night at the school, and my friends were pushing me, saying, "You should do it." So I got up and did some old jokes, stuff I'd heard at the local clubs (laughs). We did another show the next semester and I said, "I'm not going to do the old jokes. I'm going to do my own stuff, bring my own self into it."
I did material about school, about what it's like to have to sell your books back, that kind of stuff, and each semester I did this.
Sun: That's a pretty limited field of material, isn't it?
CT: Yeah, I went to the Comedy Corner for an amateur night. The manager said I was funny, I was a nice guy, but my stuff wasn't going to translate to these audiences. I was getting this, "I can tell you're funny, but it's not the right material. We need it more broad, more general." So I looked around at a few things in my dorm room and I had this Neighborhood Crime Watch sign.
I pull this thing out and said, "Where did I get this? I took it." I did the joke, got a nice reaction. I made this prop that was an old lady's head with a spring attached that I used so it would look like I was driving with my grandmother. I was off with a bang. I had two good jokes.
From there I started to develop visuals to open the show. I was not into props coming out of the gate ... After that, I was a marketing major and started thinking that I needed a name, a stage name, and I came up with Carrot Top because I had red hair and I had been called that. I drew a logo -- I had a logo before I even had an act (laughs). I was thinking of the big picture. I felt my show would be full-props, in theaters.
Sun: You've become a brand, in a way, and that can cut both ways, can't it?
CT: Some other comics don't like me, I am aware of that (laughs).
Sun: Why is that, in your opinion?
CT: Some (non-prop) comics don't like variety acts, especially if they do well. I say, isn't that why we're here? To make the audience laugh? Some guys don't like acts that have a guitar or use any kind of props ... My name is used as a punch line. They'll just put "Carrot Top" in there to get a response.
Sun: A couple of years ago we interviewed (veteran stand-up comic) Bobby Slayton and his quote about you was, "He's a nice guy, but his act is abominable."
CT: It's the same thing with him. You never hear a variety guy rip one of them. Steve Martin, who used the arrow through the head and played the banjo in his act, never ripped any of them. You never hear Gallagher rip Jerry Seinfeld. I don't know. Maybe it's that they're not comfortable with their own act.
But Bobby's act is more in-your-face and more annoying than mine. He's literally in your face, spewing profanity. It's ridiculous. Bobby? Abominable? I was on a radio show with Bobby Slayton one time and people were telling him to shut up -- they'd never heard of him. It's just mean bitterness. I'm a young guy with a successful act, I get on "The Tonight Show" and I hear this? Abominable? What the (expletive)?
Sun: He did say you were a nice guy ...
CT: (Laughs) I am! But I would ask him, is it abominable for the audience? No. My act works. You know what's abominable? The guy up here who literally lights his farts on fire onstage. There's a guy up here who does exactly that. He was at the Montreal Comedy Festival.
Sun: So, anyone can have an act?
CT: That seems to be the point, yes.
Sun: We haven't seen much reported about your mother.
CT: She always asks, "Why don't they write about me? Am I not interesting?" And I say, "They like Dad and the NASA stuff. Don't take it personally." But Mom and Dad split when I was 13 or 14. Mom was one of the first big believers in me -- I always had good grades, and have good blood, but I didn't like the book stuff as much as the entertaining. I told Mom I was doing this comedy thing and she said, "What do you mean?"
When she finally came to see me perform, she thought it was great. She was crying, saying, "I can't believe you're doing this." She's in Las Vegas now, working at Citibank.
Sun: She lives here, full-time?
CT: Yep. Being Carrot Top's mother is a whole different deal. She has pictures of me at work and people say, "You must really be a fan." And she just says, "Yes, I'm his mother." She'll be wearing a Carrot Top pin at the store and people ask about it.
Sun: Did your AT&T commercials help your act? I didn't feel they were as funny as your live act.
CT: In a comedy sense, I would say it didn't help me at all. But they helped make me a household name. So it didn't hurt me, either. But I don't think it helped me sell tickets. I was hearing a lot of, "Dude! Your commercials are not as funny as your act is."
It's really hard to convey your comedy in 15 seconds in a commercial with a phone. Some commercials work -- Cedric the Entertainer's (Bud Lite) commercials are cute, but not really funny.
Sun: The AT&T commercials are finished, right?
CT: I believe so. Who makes collect calls anymore? Prisoners? I was saying that three or four years ago when we were making these ... but my real regret is I couldn't put more of my act in there.
Sun: How did the McCarran Airport spots come about?
CT: They were getting all the entertainers to participate in this and I already had the bit. It was a no-brainer. I came up with the backpack, trying to get through security. The best part about Vegas is I have these jokes about flying, and people have just gone through all that -- they've been to the airport. I get a good response with that stuff. It's not abominable (laughs).
Sun: You came up the ranks with Larry the Cable Guy, right?
CT: Yes, and now Larry the Cable Guy is selling out arenas. I'm kicking myself -- about five years ago I said all this blue-collar stuff was going to take off. It has always been there -- look at the popularity of NASCAR. I actually wrote a script for a show called "Trailer Trash," years ago, but never went anywhere with it. I said to my manager the other day, "Dang, we should have done that." It's huge. Larry is very funny.
Sun: Your act is very physical, and over the past few years you seem to have put on a lot of muscle. Is that for the act?
CT: I've put a few pounds on -- but I still try to stay lean. Training, hitting the weights, is good for me. I try to find a gym wherever I am. It's such a great release, a great getaway. I come up with material that way because I'm thinking of nothing but my act. I'm away from the crew, the stage and the people.
Sun: It's a need, then?
CT: It can be addictive, when you see the results. But I don't want to get much bigger -- that would take away, I think, from the act. You can't look like Lou Ferrigno and be funny.