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Film and TV

'Amazing America': A conversation with Jerry Carroll

"There is nothing that gets America excited like the roaring engines and screeching tires of a stock car race," Sarah Palin says in the opening of this week's episode of "Amazing America with Sarah Palin," and I beg to differ; clearly she has never raced for doorbusters on Black Friday.

There's nothing that gets me excited like a new episode of "Amazing America," though (I especially look forward to my weekly date with Joey Fatone's hair replacement commercial, which generally airs during the first break), so I'll let it slide.

This week's first segment is all about trucks and bucks. Field host Benny Spies heads out to Emporia, Virginia, where NASCAR driver Elliott Sadler takes him on a very (amazing!) American deer hunt. Sadler's hunting practice involves using 40 hounds to flush the deer out of the woods, then racing pickup trucks out to meet the oncoming deer. It's like redneck "Downton Abbey." Although they do not shoot any deer. In fact, they have a hard enough time just collecting the dogs when they're done. Then, because it's "Amazing America," they race some ATVs, do a bunch of shooting and become best friends.

Next, Mark Christopher Lawrence travels to Greenbrier, Tennessee, for "Faster Pastor," an event in which -- you guessed it -- preachers drive stock cars. It's all about making the race track a more family-friendly setting, although that doesn't mean there isn't a healthy rivalry between the Baptists.

Yeah, they're pretty much all Baptists, bless them.

Mark tells the winner, a youth pastor, that he must have had the Lord on his side, which kind of makes you wonder what the other 15 competitors are doing wrong.

Regardless of who's driving, stock car racing is still pretty much -- well, you know -- cars driving in a circle. Call me un-American, but I just don't get it. You know what would be awesome? Nuns doing demolition derby. That's an amazing American event I could really get behind.

Despite the driving in circles, it's a fun little adventure. And I even learn that stock car racing, according to Sarah, has its roots in bootlegging, which is literally the only thing about stock car racing that I have ever found remotely interesting.

Notably absent from this week's episode is my main man Jerry Carroll, with whom I have gradually fallen in love over the course of the series. But don't despair, Jerry fans; I've got good news. This week I lied, cheated and bribed my way into snagging Jerry Carroll's cell phone number. (Or The Sportsman Channel gave it to me. Whatever.) So while his amazing American antics might have been missing from my DVR this week, instead I got to enjoy 40 minutes of side-splitting one-on-one with my favorite field host.

Jerry (who spoke to me from the hospital where his wife was recovering from surgery; she'd kicked him out of her room so he'd stop torturing her nurses) is a stand-up comedian from North Carolina who has a "blue collar, good ol' boy act" that he tours around the country, doing about 60 shows a year. He's flown 52,000 miles so far this year (that'd be two-thirds of the way to MVP Gold 75K on Alaska Airlines) to entertain crowds of 500 to 600 at a time -- many of them farmers, like he is himself. His family's been in North Carolina since 1768, and Jerry says he's never eaten a pig he hasn't known personally.

Oh, and he's never met Sarah Palin.

"This came together so quick," Jerry said. He got a call from the production company in the beginning of November, and before he knew it, he was on the road, trying out firefighting, being put through SWAT training and fending off bees. He still hasn't met any of the show's other hosts. And now that the episodes are airing, he's caught wise to the fact that his assignments have been a lot harder than his co-stars'.

"I'm the old man," Jerry said. "Why am I the only one getting the crap beat out of me here?"

Still, good sport that he is, he says it's the perfect opportunity for him. He's been approached for other reality shows, but they all wanted to deal too much in controversy. With two ex-wives, he says, "the last thing I want in my life is conflict."

Obviously, then, the ideal project for the guy who wants to avoid conflict is to co-host a show with one of (amazing!) America's most polarizing political figures.

I kid, I kid. Jerry's no dummy; he knew getting involved with Sarah Palin came with some risk, even though the show isn't political.

"That was something we truly had to consider," he said. "People either love her or they absolutely despise her, and I don't understand that." Even if people disagree, he said, "we can agree not to be disagreeable," which sounds like something my mom would say, but damned if it isn't kind of true. You sneaky sneak, you, Jerry Carroll.

At the end of the day, though, "Good, bad or indifferent, there's one thing you can say about the governor: She will draw publicity."

Jerry on the phone comes across exactly like Jerry on the show, so I believe him when he talks about the realness of this reality show -- a genre that isn't exactly known for its commitment to verisimilitude. (Note: Jerry did not personally use the word "verisimilitude.")

"Most people in television are getting paid to be someone else," he said. "Not me. They're paying me to be me."

His reactions to the situations he's placed in on "Amazing America" are real, he said, because he was kept pretty much in the dark about what he would be doing on each trip.

"They'd send me an email: 'You need to be at the airport day after tomorrow,'" he said. "They would not tell me anything we're going to do until the morning of the show." On shoot days, they'd put him in a van and then he'd learn what lay in store: "Are you claustrophobic? Are you scared of fire? Good. You're going into the engine room of a burning ship."

His reactions on screen, Jerry said, are the real deal. And the crew seemed to get a kick out of working with the old guy who was willing to go for whatever.

"I'm like their dad," Jerry said. "Their hip, young dad who's jumping out of planes and stuff."

Not only has Jerry never met Sarah Palin, he's never been to Alaska. On the next season of "Amazing America," Jerry said, he'd love to get up to Alaska and taste that famous Palin mooseburger chili, although he'd be just as happy if they sent him to the Florida Keys to go fishing. And really, he added -- does the state really need another reality TV show?

"Hell, except for oil, I think the biggest export in Alaska right now is television shows," Jerry said when I mentioned I wish "Amazing America" spent more time in amazing(!) Alaska. "Jeez, is everybody that's an Alaskan got their own show now? 'Hey, Jim, loved your show.' 'Yeah, love yours, too!' There's 12 people up there and they've all got their own television show."

Touché, Jerry Carroll. Touché.

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