Carrot Top

Love him or hate him, or love to hate him, Carrot Top is still pitching 1-800-Call ATT three years after Foote, Cone & Belding recruited him for his first national ad role. The client moved its collect-call business five months into his contract, but Young & Rubicam stuck with the redheaded comedian—aka Scott Thompson—fine-tuning his character into an unlikely leading man. In the latest commercial, he’s wooing an exotic beauty in a garden setting that just happens to have a pay phone. Q. Were you actively seeking commercial work when AT&T called?

A. Yes. My entire career, I’d always said to my managers, “How come I can’t get a commercial?” I thought it was a no-brainer, because I have an immediate recognition and I’m not offensive in any way. I’m kind of silly, I’m young, and I cross over to all ages—why would it not work? Orange Crush, orange juice, V-8, anything with energy and orange. So when the phone thing came, it was, “Yeah, it’s about time.” But I had no idea it would be this big of a campaign and this big of a company.

Have you ever rejected offers for products that don’t mesh with your image?

Me, Carrot Top, object to anything? Are you kidding? Whenever they call, it’s like, “You want to …” “Yes!” I haven’t had the opportunity to turn down anything.

Of all the spots you’ve done, does one represent your comedy better than the others?

The Western one was funny, and funny all the way through. It was kind of me being silly the way I would be in real life. I come in and say, “Someone here is trying to make a collect call,” kind of like a cowboy. I do some stupid thing, and the beer bottle comes down. Then you always have to do the thing with the girl. There’s a pretty girl. There’s a phone. You get one second to be funny. So it’s very challenging, as a comic.

How do you feel about the love/hate persona the agency has developed in the spots?

As long as I’m part of the joke, I think it’s great. The idea of the bottle going at me [in the Western spot] was my idea. And they were like, “No, you can’t do that, you’re Carrot Top.” I’m like, “Who cares?” I think it’s great to make fun of myself. One of the first things I did—and it was my idea, although they didn’t shoot it as I envisioned it—was the very first one, where Wanda Sykes says, “AT&T is proud to present … oh, no, Carrot Top! No way.” Then there would be all these takes, and at the end of the day it’s dark and almost morning. There’s bags under my eyes and I still can’t get through the dialogue, and you cut to the director throwing paper in the air, saying, “We signed this guy?” And to me that would have been OK. The crowd knows that it’s not real; they know I’m making fun of myself or I wouldn’t have agreed to do it.

How do the spots reinforce or work against your stage persona?

They are two different beasts altogether. The phone commercial, it’s 15 seconds, you’re selling a long-distance service, so you’re going to turn off a lot of people automatically when you come on: “I hate this guy.” Because one, it’s a commercial; two, it is an over-the-top commercial—it’s very loud, it’s in your face. They’re going after young kids. And they are not in any way representing what I do on stage. It has to be real basic beige. It can’t be anything risqué.

After years of freewheeling on stage, is it difficult to be directed to specific boards?

The hardest part when you are a creative person is to not be part of the creative process. That’s the one thing that can be difficult. You get there and say, “I’ve got an idea,” and they say, “That’s great,” and they move on. Or I say, “I’ve got an idea,” and they say, “That’s not bad.” That’s what AT&T’s done now, with the new director [Billy Jayne, brought in by Y&R]. I look at [what’s been approved] and go, “OK, how about this alternative line?” We shoot what’s approved, and we shoot what I come up with. Then they can choose.

How often do they take your ideas?

Most of the time they do, because I know how it works now. In the first ones, I was always interrupting things and being annoying or something. Finally I said, “No, just let you be you.” In the beginning, there’s always something wrong, and I’m the nemesis, saying, “What’s going on?” and I’m manic. Now I’m actually a cool guy. I’m in the Playboy mansion, with all the girls. It’s much more mellow. I’m not even raising my voice.

How do you think you stack up against collect-call spokespeople Mr. T and Alf?

Well, at least I don’t have someone’s hand up my ass like Alf, which is kind of nice. I’m not going to say anything about Mr. T. He can take me. It’s the battle of the hair.

Do you have strict coiffing parameters?

I always do my own hair. I get there and they’re, “Are you ready to do hair?” And I’m like, “I already did it. It’s done.” It’s just wake and shake.

What are the funniest ads you’ve seen?

Usually the ones that don’t run in the States. We’re not as irreverent over here. There’s a lot of Super Bowl ones where you go, “Dang, that was funny.” But the next day when they do the ratings of what people thought were the funniest ones, it’s never the one that I think is the funniest. Never.

What would be the ideal product for you?

The Thigh Master.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

Guessing people’s weight at the fair.