The comedian is a running gag, but all Carrot Top wants is a little love

The life of a human punch-line is not an easy one, especially when you’re a comedian. But this is the fate of prop comic Carrot Top, who’s emerged as Gen-X’s answer to Rodney Dangerfield.

Just like his collar-tugging elder, Carrot Top gets no respect, despite selling out more than 200 shows a year with a routine built around C.T. inventions like a Dr. Kevorkian bathtub toy (a rubber ducky with an electrical cord). During a January Tonight Show appearance, Albert Brooks joked, ”It must be tough for Carrot Top — if American Airlines loses his luggage, he has no act.” Even cartoons take jabs at him. A recent episode of King of the Hill featured Celery Head, a comedian who plays the guitar with a slice of cheese. And in the Mike Myers farce Austin Powers, the comic shows up on the nefarious Dr. Evil’s business plan. ”All I know him as is a reference,” admits Peter Tolan, the former Larry Sanders Show exec producer who tosses Carrot Top’s name into a show when a script calls for an ”I don’t know how he made it” mention.

An even funnier punchline: Carrot Top, 29, has made it. Ten years after a Boca Raton, Fla., college sophomore named Scott Thompson started filling a bag with silly props — like boots with a kickstand for drunk cowboys — his popularity on college campuses has become mythic. ”Looking at the comedy food chain, he’s at the top, probably right below George Carlin,” says Pollstar’s Randy Wheeler. And Carrot Top’s first movie in his three-picture deal with Trimark, Chairman of the Board, opens in October.

Yet the lava-haired comedian has what you’d call the fears of a clown. ”I’ll have a sold-out show,” he says, ”then I’ll turn on Letterman and he takes a shot at me.”

Some jokes are okay with Carrot Top, as long as he’s in on them. Recently he appeared on Sanders as a surprise and unwanted guest at a roast for the show’s host. If he’s going to be mocked, Carrot Top says, ”I want to be there.” That’s also why he happily appears on Live With Regis & Kathie Lee and is a staple on Politically Incorrect. ”Bill Maher wanted him,” says PI segment producer Chuck LaBella. ”No matter who you put him with, he’ll be funny. He doesn’t even have to say a word.”

For all of his success, Carrot Top just wants to be accepted by his idols. There is hurt in his voice as he tells how Letterman and Rosie O’Donnell won’t book him, though he counts other comics as fans. ”Don Rickles, Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner, Al Franken…these guys love me,” he says.

Until he’s elected head of the Friars, Carrot Top may want to take solace in the words of Jonathan Groff, head writer for Late Night With Conan O’Brien, which likes to use Carrot Top’s cartoonish face as a sight gag. ”If you call yourself Carrot Top and carry a bag of crazy props, you’re asking to be used as a cultural icon, i.e., a punchline,” says Groff. ”He should be happy, because he’s accomplished his purpose.”