Carrot Top: The Most Successful Comedian No One Will Admit To Liking
A couple weeks ago, we did a kind of retrospective on the rise and fall of the wildly popular and wildly maligned Dane Cook. This week, we’d like to take a look at the career of another stand up comic whose haters cannot manage to rob him of any sleep on his king-sized bed made of cash - Carrot Top.
Scott Thompson, better known as Carrot Top, has always been the redheaded stepchild of the stand up comedy community. The prop comic has been a punchline at the hands of people who think that prop comedy is “hack,” and who would rather laugh at Carrot Top than with him. Despite the nay-sayers, Carrot Top’s massive success over his almost 40 year career has earned him a net worth of a whopping $75 million, making him the the most wealthy working comedian who we’re “supposed” to feel ashamed for liking.
Like many comedians, Carrot Top came from humble beginnings - only the son of a NASA engineer and the brother of a fighter pilot, he crawled from his meek roots in Cocoa, Florida to Florida Atlantic University in nearby Boca Raton, the “Harvard of Florida” as he would say. Carrot Top tried comedy for the first time at a campus open mic during his freshman year, quickly taking a liking to the craft more so than his studies.
As far as we can tell, the first instance of Carrot Top tapping into his propensity for props was at one such show. Said Carrot Top, “The street in the center of town was Butts Road. I stole the sign and told the audience, ‘This must be where the a-holes live.’” This got a huge laugh, maybe the most consequential laugh of his career, as it set him down the path of object-assisted bits. After the show, he said, “I went home and thought up more visual jokes, coming up with props like high heels with training wheels for young girls.”
From there, Carrot Top’s prop repertoire grew exponentially. He graduated from Florida Atlantic University in 1983, took some odd jobs, and worked at his act until he had two entire trunks full of specialized props. He almost quit comedy after working at it for years with limited success, but he was too drawn to the stage to escape it for any extended period of time.
He wouldn’t book a gig outside of the Sunshine State until 1990 when he appeared at a nightclub in North Carolina, but that one show was all he needed to get his foot in the door. A talent manager approached him that same night and helped him take his act across the country.
Carrot Top made his first appearance on TV just a year later when he booked Comic Strip Live, a televised showcase of the top acts at New York’s historic Comic Strip comedy club. A year after that, Carrot Top landed his first of over two dozen appearances on The Tonight Show.
The ‘90s would end up being very kind to Carrot Top. His brand exploded and he toured the country, playing to sold out venues. The trunk full of props evolved into a full truckload, as he says – “I went from two trunks and a strobe light to an 18-wheeler and 35 trunks…from a Yugo to a tour bus for the crew and myself. Now I have people who carry my props.”
Carrot Top became a household name. He was the continuity announcer for Cartoon Network for four years and even had his own show on the channel, a short-lived morning show called Carrot Top’s AM Mayhem. Numerous TV cameos and Late Night appearances peppered his peak, as well as a starring role in the feature length film Chairman of the Board.
But around that time in the mid ‘90s, it was very much “in vogue” for comedians and comedy fans alike to turn their noses up at anything considered “hack”. Hacks were second only to sell-outs on the list of the lamest things an entertainer could be in the ‘90s, and many people saw Carrot Top as a gimmick comedian not worthy of the fame he enjoyed.
The late, great Norm MacDonald was one of those people, at least for the duration of this Conan interview in 1997:
Carrot Top was an easy target. His boundless enthusiasm and peculiar appearance paired with what some snooty people would call a “cheap” style drew the negative attention of some of the most prominent figures in comedy. Trey Parker and Matt Stone of Southpark were no fans of his, nor was Mike Judge, writer and creator of King of the Hill, who parodied his act with the character of Celery Head, a grating, witless, and unfunny prop comic with a familiar hairdo.
To Norm’s credit, Chairman of the Board was an absolute flop, and although it is unfair to pin its failure squarely on Carrot Top, Hollywood had judged him to be unmarketable, and his film career stalled out. Carrot Top would make guest appearances on TV shows and movies throughout the 2000’s, but to the delight of his haters, those spots would become fewer and farther between as the years went on.
But Carrot Top’s allure was never going to translate on camera – his theatricality fits theaters, not screens, which is why in 2005, Carrot Top signed on with MGM Resorts International and began his residency at the Luxor in Las Vegas, a stage where he remains to this day. Carrot Top is the perfect comedian for Vegas, since his shows look more like rock concerts than stand up sets.
Carrot Top made his fortune in Vegas and has shown no interest in ending his historic 17 year run, a gig he’s called the “move that every comic dreams of.” We’re not going to make the claim that “successful = objectively good”, but if you are one of those people who hates Carrot Top, please contemplate whether you hate the comic himself or if you just can’t stand the idea of a comedian using visual aids.
According to Carrot Top, "(Jerry) Seinfeld came up to me one time and said, `I really dig your stuff. I like the fact that the prop isn't the laugh. The laugh comes when I start acting on the prop." This is the essence of his act, the props are there to support his enthusiasm and his wit, not the other way around. If Seinfeld can appreciate him, then so can you. Maybe?
Top Image: Big Dog Productions / NBC Productions
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