“No Safe Spaces” star Adam Carolla wasn’t shocked when movie critics panned his free speech docudrama.
“I figured they would take it as a political film, even though I really don’t think of it as a political film. It’s a free speech film,” Carolla says with a soft chuckle. “Critics in general are pretty progressive … they see a guy like [conservative co-star] Dennis Prager’s name on something, or they see my name on something, and there’s going to be an immediate reaction to it that might not be positive.”
That’s an understatement.
The docudrama, capturing the fight for free expression on, and off, college campuses, snared a weak 44 percent “rotten” rating from film critics at RottenTomatoes.com.
The film’s negative reviews primarily slam the stars, their skin color (white) and other matters unrelated to how documentaries are traditionally judged.
Here’s one example:
I’ll readily admit, when I saw the words ‘Adam Carolla’ and ‘documentary’ in the same subject line, I jumped at the chance to see what kind of nonpartisan storytelling one could expect from the long-running poster boy for white male mediocrity. And boy, did it not disappoint.
The scene is supposed to demonstrate one thing (free, vigorous, and mutually respectful dialogue) while showing something that’s actually entirely different: a belligerent white man demanding answers that sync with his own, barking at strangers in a way that only gets more ghastly and boorish the longer it goes along.
The podcaster turned filmmaker has little patience for critics who weaponize skin color against the film and its message.
“The people who are calling everyone a racist may have some racist tendencies … it’s the opposite of what Martin Luther King, Jr. was after,” he says, adding the phenomena often involves white males blasting other white males. “They don’t know that they’re outing themselves as a type of racist … and it’s intellectually weak.”
“That’s your argument?” he adds.
Audiences have a dramatically different view of “No Safe Spaces.”
Ticket buyers gave the film a hearty 98 percent “fresh” rating at RottenTomatoes.com. Justin Folk, the film’s director, says positive word of mouth have led to sales bounces on Mondays and Tuesdays following the film’s Nov. 15 release.
Over the weekend, “No Safe Spaces” crossed the $1 million mark at the U.S. box office, a tidy sum for most documentaries.
“Journalists used to kind of be like baseball umpires at a little league game. You have to call balls and strikes even if your son is pitching or your son is at the plate,” he says. “That’s the oath you took, the agreement you took, when you became a journalist.”
That was then, he laments.
“What’s going on lately is you have to declare a team, right or left … once you declare your team you have to go out and support that team through journalism,” he adds.
He name checks his home city of Los Angeles as a prime example. The city’s growing homeless problem should be tied to local government officials, drug abuse and mental illness. Since the Mayor and Governor are both Democrats, the same team The L.A. Times supports, its reporters cast blame elsewhere, like rising living costs.
“What is a journalist these days? A cheerleader,” he says.
“No Safe Spaces” features commentary from comics like Tim Allen, Bryan Callen and Karith Foster. They’re understandably worried about telling jokes in an increasingly restrictive age.
Carolla says his fellow comics tell him they’ve all but given up performing at colleges, a trend made famous by clean, apolitical stand-up Jerry Seinfeld in 2015.
They’re also editing what they say on stage so as not to offend the “wrong” person with a powerful social media flock.
“We don’t want comedians second guessing themselves. Imagine if Lenny Bruce or Richard Pryor was second guessing themselves up on stage,” he says.
Carolla steers a self-described “pirate ship” these days. His media empire includes a number of successful podcasts, a thriving stand-up career and a car-themed documentary division.
When the outrage mob bangs on his door, he can ignore them until they go away. It’s a tactic he thinks others should follow. Or, to hear him say it, “stop apologizing.”
“When you make some sort of comment and your boss says, ‘you need to apologize,’ say, ‘Fire me, and I’m gonna sue you for wrongful termination,’” he says.