Adam Conover is the offspring of a botanist mom and a marine biologist dad, though you could easily believe he is the lovechild of Debbie Downer and the coolest, most contrarian college professor you ever had after watching the first episode of Adam Ruins Everything.
In the new truTV series, which premieres tonight, the comedic performer boldly dispels widely held notions pertaining to subjects as diverse as elections, nutrition, sex, death, and cars, and he just plain sucks the joy out of everything from buying an engagement ring to donating canned goods to the local food pantry, though he must be credited with doing so in the most entertaining and enlightening way.
Some of you might already be familiar with Conover’s clever, energetic rants on everything from the truth about purebred dogs (and why mutts are better) to why tipping should be abolished. He became famous for performing them in a series of CollegeHumor Originals web videos that have earned more than 30 million views on YouTube and led to the creation of this truTV show, which, like the web videos, is produced by Big Breakfast, CollegeHumor’s production company.
Speaking to Co.Create from his office at CollegeHumor in Los Angeles, Conover describes Adam Ruins Everything as “a liberal arts comedy” whose goal is to be something that anyone in America could watch and actually learn from.
They will, hopefully, laugh, too. Learning and comedy can go together these days, as we’ve seen from the success of the likes of Jon Stewart and John Oliver, two people Conover admires. “I consider myself to be doing comedy in a post-Jon Stewart world to a certain extent. I really saw through his show the power that comedy could have as a mode of communication and that comedy can do more than make people laugh,” Conover says. “It can also teach and enlighten people and open people’s minds and sort of inspire people to think more deeply about the world.”
While Stewart sat behind a desk, and Oliver finds himself in the same position, each episode of Conover’s fast-paced show finds him busting into various scenarios—uninvited—to impart his wisdom. He’s not bothering real people, but actors in the scenes directed by Paul Briganti, who also directed all of the web videos.
One of the show’s running jokes is how no one is ever happy to see Conover because, honestly, there are times when no one wants to hear the truth no matter how true it is. He mostly tortures Emily and Murph (a couple played by Emily Axford and Brian Murphy) throughout the first season—in one segment in the series debut, Conover interrupts their engagement to explain why people who buy diamond engagement rings aren’t sharing a timeless symbol of love but are rather falling victim to a marketing campaign created by diamond purveyor De Beers (a topic he tackled in his first web video, though the scenario is shot in a new way for the television show).
Conover has had no problem coming up with plenty of other misconceptions and untruths to expose over the course of the television series’s 12-episode first season. “The mission of the show is to look more deeply into parts of life that we take for granted,” Conover says. “You can learn more about anything, and the truth about almost anything is surprising.”
He is particularly excited about an upcoming episode that is devoted to forensic science. “It’s sort of like a parody. I bust into a cop show, a CSI-style cop show, and I tell them why all their forensic sciences are, basically, pseudoscience. Like the polygraph test doesn’t work at all—it’s just a century-old piece of pseudoscience. Fingerprint matching is—you know the whole thing about how no two fingerprints are alike? That’s not strictly true. And I don’t know if you saw, but the FBI released a big report in cooperation with the Innocence Project a few months ago admitting that something like 90% of all the hair-strand matches they had ever conducted were false,” Conover says. (The Washington Post wrote about the disturbing hair-strand report Conover references last April.)
Like everything the show tackles, the idea for the episode exploring the flaws in forensic science came out of the Adam Ruins Everything’s writers’ room, which is made up of comedy writers. But creating an episode of the show isn’t simply a matter of a bunch of funny people typing up witty scripts. The material presented has to be thoroughly investigated and vetted by the show’s research team. “It’s a very interesting process because we have the journalists’ minds on our research staff side,” Conover says, “and then the comedy writers who know how to present knowledge in the most entertaining way.”
Conover backs up his assertions with facts (source material is referenced onscreen like citations in books) and has experts on the show to support what he is saying, but he realizes he might not always get it right. In fact, the graduate of Bard College, where he studied philosophy as an undergraduate and was encouraged to constantly question his beliefs, is open to other interpretations of the facts. “I don’t want anyone to think that this show pretends to present absolute certainty,” he says, adding, “I’m totally happy to have people respond. If an article comes out that says, “Here’s what Adam Ruins Everything gets wrong about engagement rings,” whatever it is, I welcome that article. If I find that argument has a ton of merit, maybe we’ll do a follow-up if we have a second season.”