In “Adam Ruins Everything,” comedian and lapsed academic Adam Conover does, well, exactly that. Perhaps the original purveyor of the "Well, actually," Conover has been working on educating the masses for as long as he can remember. “I have a real love of learning in my life,” he says over the phone. “So when I started doing stand up comedy, I was like, ‘How do I get people to pay attention to me?’ And I started doing some of that [educational] material as part of my act.”
Conover is timely, so that means he’s ruining Halloween and all things spooky, too. In a special episode that aired last week, he effectively ruins the cherished holiday — or at least, tries to. Turns out your fear of tampered candy is unfounded and the spooky “War of the Worlds” broadcast was old timey click bait. And mediums? They’re nothing more than intuitive scam artists. Is ye olde Halloween spirit ruined for you, yet?
We talked to the 34-year-old about his favorite topics to ruin, his days as a stand up comedian in New York and not taking on Trump.
What made you decide to blend comedy and academia?
I’ve always been an information sponge, but also I’m the only person in my family that doesn't have a PhD. I’m the screw-up who only got a Bachelor’s. [Laughs] And I’ve always been the guy at the party who’s like — I just read an article about that! That’s always been a part of me. So [at an open mic] I did the original diamond engagement ring segment (that detailed why engagement rings are a scam), that was just an article I had read in the Atlantic a couple of years prior. I wrote a bit about it and it started getting really good reactions and that’s how it all started.
Can you talk about any bad stand up experiences you have had?
Every open mic is horrible in its own way. I do miss it to a certain extent. I was just in New York and I was walking by a bar [that] was open to the street, they had the windows and door open. Inside, there was a comedy show, but it was a guy with a microphone and loudspeaker, just standing in the bar. And there were only two people at the “show” just sitting at two of the barstools and he was just talking to them directly. And it brought me back so hard! This isn’t even a show, you're just bothering people in a bar.
What are some of your favorite topics on “Adam Ruins Everything”?
We did a whole episode on climate change that was based on my own worry that all these individual things that we try to do to prevent climate change, like buying green products, weren’t really going to help. And it’s true. But the expert we had on the show, this guy named Dale Jamieson — who is a climate professor at NYU and a philosopher — he was really able to help me on a personal level come to terms with how to think about climate change. That we don't need to think about it as the world is doomed and we missed our last chance, we always have the ability to make a better world by making a collected effort. That’s why the Paris Agreement was so very important. We wrote that before the Trump administration pulled out of it, but the agreement itself seems to be surviving.
One of the spookiest, scariest things in the world right now is Trump. Can you ruin him, any more than he has already ruined himself?
I mean, we are not a current events show. The one thing I’ll say though, is a lot of people talk about Trump as if he’s something brand new in politics, like it’s this crazy thing. The fact is, Trump’s way of thinking has always been a part of American culture. So if you look at Trump, and you’re [thinking] Trump is not normal and we have to get back to what’s normal, the reality is he’s always been kind of normal. This kind of thing hasn’t always been this powerful, but it’s always been with us. And you have to look at it that way to have an understanding of it.
It feels like between Trump and climate change, people are very worried about the world as we know it ending, but it seems to be part of a bigger cycle.
Well, I’m never in favor of when people say, "Oh the world is ending." Or when people say, "The world is doomed and we’re all going to be nuked by North Korea," or whatever. Because when they say that, they’re always throwing up their hands. Even if stuff is going to s—t in your opinion, you still have a responsibility and an ability to make the world for the future better. There’s no point in which you should throw up your hands and say, “Hey, everything is terrible and let’s stop trying because the world is ending.” In my opinion that’s a real cop out and people should knock it off.