'Not Taco Bell Material' Review: Carolla's Arrested Development Yields All-American Success Story

Adam Carolla earned his low self esteem the hard way.

The podcast king lived in one depressing home after another, from his parents' antiquated shacks to bachelor pads lacking ventilation, air conditioning and other core amenities.

"Not Taco Bell Material," the comedian's second book, uses Carolla's former homes to connect the chaos and disillusionment of his formative years. His parents couldn't even feign interest in their son's hobbies, while his extended family snuffed out his modest ambitions.

But Carolla's growing cadre of pals, from neighborhood chums to selfless celebrities like Jimmy Kimmel, provided him with enough emotional support to let him forge his own future.

Oh, and along the way Carolla's chums blasted fecal water at hapless fast food clerks, lit their own farts and spent countless dollars on neighborhood strippers. It's the kind of material that forged Carolla's image as an unapologetic male, the kind stereotypes were made to mock.

But Carolla isn't a shock jock, nor does he need grossout humor to sell product. He's a fascinating case study of a man who, by all accounts, should be living in yet another dive collecting government handouts. Instead, he refused to live down to his family's expectations and created a career based on his unique ability to tell a tale.

And "Material" is just that, a series of detailed stories culled from his colorful past, told with both clarity and comic enthusiasm. Those looking for narrative clarity with be stymied by the chronological hiccups here, but they may be laughing too much to mind.

The book tracks Carolla's teens years through the dawn of his entertainment breakthrough in his early 30s. We meet the lifelong pals who are part of his current social circle, the family members who refused to embrace his initial successes and the studio drones who dared to stand in his way.

He accepted a series of dispiriting jobs, from closet renovations to drywall work that left him barely able to make ends meet. In between, he blew off steam with his pals and realized he craved a better life, one where he used his wit as well as his muscle memory. 

Carolla provides some celebrity dishing along the way. He recalls an embarrassing improv stunt which caused a fellow entertainer - a pre-"Friends" Jennifer Aniston - considerable pain. And his "date" with Dixie Chicks' singer Natalie Maines set the stage for a practical joke that rivals the greatest gags found on both "Punk'd" or "Candid Camera."

Older readers might doze off during some of Carolla's boyish pranks. He's a grown man who puts farting on the same artistic plane as a Chaplin-esque pratfall. And it's hard not to wish for more clarity on his transformation from self-described loser to the confident soul seen on "Celebrity Apprentice" and "Dancing with the Stars."

Still, "Material" vibrates with Carolla's inimitable voice, an instrument which keeps getting stronger and more mature no matter what childish antics are being relayed. The author's knack for metaphors enlivens even the pedestrian passages, and his understanding of human behavior allows him to draw bigger themes out of otherwise ordinary high jinks.

The comedian's fans may already have heard some of the stories detailed here, either via Carolla's podcast or his days co-hosting the syndicated radio show "Loveline" with Dr. Drew Pinsky. The printed page gives them greater clarity, allowing Carolla to not only flex his vocabulary but engage in related diatribes (dubbed Tan Gents) that reflect his energetic thinking.

"Not Taco Bell Material" proves Carolla's wit isn't a function of a modern audio format. He's a natural born storyteller with a personal journey as hilarious as it is inspiring.


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