Adam Conover exclusive interview: Why Adam Ruins Everything shows people really love to learn

Adam Conover in Adam Ruins Everything
Adam Conover in Adam Ruins Everything

One of television’s brightest minds is back on truTV tonight.

Whip-smart as can be, truTV’s big hit, Adam Ruins Everything, returns for Season 2.

In the dizzying age of “fake news” and “fake fake news”, you can count on the host Adam Conover to methodically deconstruct the status quo, dispelling all hearsay and rumor.

And he does it stylishly, with a great haircut, loquacious flourish, and loads of witty banter.

In the Season 2 premiere, Conover takes on the world of babies, including fertility and breastfeeding, as he pops in to see “Emily and Murph” who have unexpected happy (or not?) baby news.

The formula for Adam Ruins Everything is simple: Conover introduces the subject matter and then employs top experts in their fields and systematically goes after the canards and mistruths.

He then reinforms us as to the indisputable facts using his snappy edutainment format.

Tonight Adam shatters the belief that getting pregnant after the age of 35 is pretty much impossible, and that breastfeeding is always best. He even takes on the reasons for postpartum depression – for both women and men.

Throughout the second season, you can look forward to fact-finding missions by Adam to reveal the hidden truths about weight-loss, the economy, dating, the suburbs, hospitals, college, science, conspiracy theories, fine art, wellness, and more.

We spoke to Conover about his show and his work beyond:

Monsters and Critics: What is your mission with Adam Ruins Everything?

Adam Conover:  Our mission on the show is to bring these ideas to a broader audience — and to do so effectively in a way that sticks with people and changes their minds.

The fact is we cover some incredibly abstruse topics on the show. We do stuff that…if I were to tell you that we were going to do something like a show on policy or urban design, you would be like, ‘no way are people going to watch that for fun’.

It sounds like something a couple of nerds would take in a college class. But people love it.

The information is presented attractively and in an engaging way, they are really hungry for it. People eat it right up.

To me it’s the most heartening part of the show, it shows that [TV] people are very cynical about the audience, ‘Oh, they just want lowest common denominator crap, people just want to see people fight on reality shows’ or whatever.

But no, it turns out people really love to learn. It’s a genuine feeling that causes them to tune into a TV show every week.

I ask people who come to my live shows ‘what do you like about the show?’.

Our show has a lot of things going for it. We have comedy, characters with emotions…but people always say the thing they like the best is the information. They love learning the facts.

M&C: Who organized that Deep Shift Millenials talk you did that’s super viral?

AC: It was an event for Turner, a marketing event about millennials…with all the marketing folks learning ‘how to target millennials’.

And they asked me to speak because my show is popular with millennials, I guess.

It was a fun experiment and it was over a year ago and opened the door to me doing and evolving this PowerPoint style which has been really fun to do.

M&C: If you were to do a TED talk or propose one, what subject would it be on?

AC: [Laughs] As a TED talker, you should be an expert on what you are speaking about. And the things on our show…I’m not actually an expert in the topics that I am talking about.

I’m a dilettante at heart. I know about all of these topics and have read magazine articles about them. I’ve heard podcasts, read non-fiction or seen a documentary or whatever. I am an information sponge.

I think when you do a TED talk you should do something that you are an expert in. So I am an expert in communicating with people, making a comedy that enlightens and informs.

I think if I were asked to do a TED talk, it would be an honor. I would talk about how to effectively communicate the messages we do on the show.

The thing I hear often from the experts that we have is that they are often very excited to be a part of the show because there are so few people in their field who can communicate about it effectively.

M&C: A lot of your fans think Rhea Butcher is your actual sister, but your real sister is a science journalist. Are you ever going to have your actual sister on the show?

AC:  Yes, I have not had her on the show because we haven’t had a topic that she’s an expert in.

I see why people are confused about Rhea being my real sister because we have had my real dad and mom on the show.

My dad is an actual expert in fisheries and fish stocks. He’s a professor in marine biology and a V.P. of research at University of Oregon.

We had him on the show for that reason, but then we wanted to tell a story last season about Adam’s relationship with his family.

That was a journey we wanted him to go on so we needed a fictional family member in order to do that.

My sister is very charming on camera and does videos for Science News on occasion, but she is not a comedic actor and nor would I ask her to be. I will put my parents through it…but not her so much.

But the character I play on the show is intentionally a mixture of my real self and fictional elements. On the show, I really do eat oatmeal with soy sauce…

M&C: Wait. You eat oatmeal with soy sauce?

AC: [Laughs] Yes. Oatmeal with sesame oil and soy sauce, I learned the recipe from Mark Bittman…it makes a savory Asian-style breakfast.

Scallions…think about it…doesn’t it sound good? Oatmeal is like a bowl of rice, it’s unsweetened.

M&C: Tell me more about Adam on the show and off.

AC: My character is lonely. He’s always looking for a date and wants to be in a relationship really badly. Which is a story that we explore this season.

In real life, I have been in a very happy relationship with my partner Lisa Hanawalt for close to a decade.

So the character’s emotion of loneliness and that he can’t relate to other people, that is how I really feel, especially how I used to in my twenties. But it’s not the literal truth about my life today.

So you are sort of seeing on the show a comedic interpretation of my own personality.

I would compare it to Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm. It’s Larry David but it’s not Larry David.

M&C: Are you doing another tour or special out on the road?

AC: I would absolutely love to, and that was such an incredible experience. We don’t currently have plans to but we are always talking about it.

We have to pick the couple of months I have free because right now I am incredibly busy with the show, and luckily it’s been a success.

We are always trying to do more and talk with the network about doing other stuff.

We did the tour specifically because the election was coming up and we wanted to do something special for the election.

We had the idea of doing this live show and it was really cool and I am sure I will do that format sometime in the future because I really loved it.

No plans for 2017 currently. But I do go up here and there. I still get out there so people can see me do stand-up.

M&C: Stand-up uses a whole different set of comedy muscles, does it keep your mind sharp?

AC: Oh yes, absolutely. My shows came about because I got my start doing sketch comedy in my old group Olde English, then UCB, and then writing for College Humor and then simultaneously I fell in love with stand-up…after I had already been doing comedy for about six years.

The show we do now is sort of a combination of stand-up and sketch, me walking around talking to the audience and then whipping over to some sketch characters.

It’s an advantage because most comics don’t get to go and set something up and have some fun in character and then knock it down.

It’s a real convenient way to do it. Yes, it absolutely keeps me sharp.

M&C: I read an interview where you said ‘the goal of the show is a journey of questioning, investigating and asking, it’s not the end point’. In this current climate of science denying, fake news and people walling themselves off, not wanting to accept facts, do you feel it’s imperative to get out there and broaden world-views and do this show?

AC: First of all, we are a nonpolitical show. We don’t do topics that are heated in the political climate.

We will apply our process to the political system as we did on the election special and talk about the electoral college. We do occasionally look at topics that are in the news like when we did our immigration show.

But we are not trying to take a partisan side or anything like that or get down in the muck.

We want to try and find the points about these topics that will make everybody who will see the segment see it differently.

Even immigration, a very hot button issue, when I have a scholar who has been studying Mexican border immigration information for 40 years and since the 1970s.

Douglas Massey has been going down there and doing field research to see how many people are crossing the border.

When he says ‘according to my research Mexican immigration is at its lowest point in 40 years’, that’s pretty difficult to argue with, and you CAN argue with it, but it’s pretty [factually] hard information that will make anybody see the topic differently.

Our hope is that almost all the segments we do on the show apart from those are completely nonpolitical. Because it is my belief, look…the country is polarized around a small set of issues. Abortion, guns, immigration, healthcare, science, climate change…they are polarizing topics, right?

You know what’s not polarized? Agricultural science, or physics and things like that. There’s so much more to learn that can enrich people’s lives and change the way they see and engage with the world in a more thoughtful and inclusive way.

I try to avoid subjects where people feel so strongly about them already and are already allied to one side so as soon as you bring the topic up, they already know what they think about it — they are not going to change their minds.

If I tell someone ‘let me tell you the truth about abortion…’ they already know what they think about abortion and what the ‘truth’ is. All they are going to do is try to agree or argue with me.

Also, that’s what all the rest of the media is doing! Every single day, they talk about small slated issues. We look for the issues that are in a different lane.

We try to play the whole rest of the field and part of the purpose of that is to show there’s a lot more we agree about than we think.

Our show is popular all across the country, red states, blue states, wherever. We have people come to our show…we did three shows in Texas, sold out crowds. Huge fans of the show.

People from all walks of life. Texas, Detroit, New York, LA…people Tweeting me saying ‘hey, why aren’t you coming to do shows in the South?’.

It’s because everybody is interested in this kind of information. Everybody wants to learn.

For instance, we are doing an episode on health-care this year, Adam Ruins the Hospital. There’s a huge debate, people have very strong opinions about how health-care should be paid for?

What we talk about is how hospitals have this crazy system called the charge master where they routinely charge customers many, many times the cost of services. Like $3,000 for an alcohol swab or whatever.

I am exaggerating but I am not exaggerating. That is something everybody is interested in.

It will enlighten anyone’s discussion of healthcare. That is what I think we need more of, and the sources we use everyone agrees with.

In the footnotes shown [in the corner of the scene frame] everyone sees ‘CDC, Center for Disease Control’. They know that’s good information.

I agree that we have a huge problem in this country with polarization, with people picking and choosing their own information.

But I am trying to highlight the places where they do agree and do trust that information and try to bring us all back to that fundamental process of how do we question what we think we know and how to determine good information from bad.

Everyone wants to do that. Everyone understands the tools on how to do that and I am trying to bring them back to it, and get them back in the habit of doing it.

Adam Ruins Everything airs Tuesdays at 10pm ET/PT on truTV. Adam also hosts a bi-weekly Adam Ruins Everything podcast where he interviews interesting people. He can be found on all socials and Twitch plus in a weekly stand-up show at Upright Citizen’s Brigade (UCB) Sunset in LA called Fresh Out!

Categories TV
Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments