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Carrot Top talks prop comedy, Nickelback and terrorism

Over the years, comedian Carrot Top has transformed his stand up act from mostly props — which have made him an easy target for critics and other comics — to a mix of multimedia. He performs Sunday at the Capitol Theatre in Clearwater.
Getty Images)

Over the years, comedian Carrot Top has transformed his stand up act from mostly props — which have made him an easy target for critics and other comics — to a mix of multimedia. He performs Sunday at the Capitol Theatre in Clearwater. Getty Images)

Carrot Top cannot bomb.

This seems counterintuitive, given how many slings and arrows he's endured over the years. For three decades, critics have relished ripping into the silly prop comedy that carried him from the late-'80s comedy boom to the A-list of the A-list in Las Vegas. He's humor's ultimate punchline, from his groan-worthy jokes to his freckled Fraggle face.

But ask him about performing stand-up for a live audience, and he'll tell you: He can't imagine anyone not loving his act.

"I've done it too long, and I think I've got too many ways to get out of it," he said during a recent phone call from his home in Las Vegas.

He pauses, thinks it over. "But I shouldn't say that. I always could bomb. There's always a chance you could eat it."

Carrot Top doesn't have to be humble. As he comes to Clearwater's Capitol Theatre on Sunday, he's become one of comedy's most bankable acts — even if his act these days might not be quite what you're expecting.

"It's evolving into a little bit of everything," said the 50-year-old Cocoa native born Scott Thompson. "It's definitely not heavily prop-driven like it used to be. It opens up with a bit of props, but there's a chunk in the middle where I don't really pick up anything for a good 30 minutes."

There's also music and multimedia, elements that have been creeping into his act for a good 15 years.

"It took a while to get to that transition, and have that comfort level to go outside my norm, but I can't do an hour and a half show just prop-prop-prop-prop-prop," he said. "It'd just be insane."

Over the phone, Carrot Top is unassuming ("It's Scott. Carrot Top," he says when you answer), and open and thoughtful about the evolution of his comedy.

There's a simple reason he popped so huge, so fast — prop comedy is very visual, and that made for good TV. He became a Tonight Show regular, which endeared him to comedy fans in middle America. When he toured, they came to see him. When they vacationed in Vegas, they came to see him there, too.

But his props also made him an easy target for critics and other comics. He's still not sure why.

"If I was doing something that was close to (other comics) or was going to make them uncomfortable, or I'm doing their act or doing their jokes, then I could see them wanting to criticize," he said. "But if you're doing something in a completely different realm, I would think most people would welcome it with open arms, like, 'Wow, this is something different and innovative and creative, a different way of doing comedy.' "

He draws a comparison to another group of popular entertainers people seem to love to hate: The rock band Nickelback.

"You go to a Nickelback concert, and it's packed, and they're killing it, and you get done, and you're like, How could people make fun of Nickelback? It's an awesome show," he said. "A lot of it has to do with animosity and whatnot, which is always understandable in this business."

Carrot Top tries to channel his frustrations into his comedy, even if it means potentially giving critics even more reason to rake him across the coals. While his jokes aren't exactly mean or offensive, they're not politically correct, either. A few days after the Paris terror attacks, he even brought up ISIS on stage.

"I said I wished our president would be a little more aggressive with ISIS," he said. "I renamed him O-bomb-a. And that actually got applause, because I think they're pissed and they want to go after these terrorists. I didn't know if people were gonna laugh. You just never know until you try it."

He's careful not to go too far. One prop he recently jettisoned from his act: a turban and beard that flapped open to reveal a cabinet for carry-on toiletries. "The joke is, it's a hat you wear on an airplane if you want to get the whole row to yourself," he said.

At the core, it's a gag about airline travel, not Islamic terrorism. Still, "it's just too closely related to what's going on that I thought people would think it's too soon."

He doesn't mind poking fun at America's endless cultural debates, such as whether it's right to fly Confederate flags or rainbow flags. "I make fun of the fact that we care so much about the gay stuff," he said. "We spend months on that, instead of going after real issues that could be of importance."

Offstage, Carrot Top is doing what he can to put his celebrity powers to good use. He recently signed up to be a spokesman for a new outreach campaign for children and teens. The cause is near and dear to his heart, something he's experienced all his life. But without it, he said, "I wouldn't be Carrot Top today."

The cause: Anti-bullying.

Contact Jay Cridlin at cridlin@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8336. Follow @JayCridlin.

. if you go

Carrot Top

The comic performs at 7:30 p.m. Sunday at the Capitol Theatre, 405 Cleveland St., Clearwater. $21.75 and up. (727) 791-7400, rutheckerdhall.com.

Carrot Top talks prop comedy, Nickelback and terrorism 12/09/15 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 9, 2015 5:26pm]
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