BOOK REVIEW: ‘Not Taco Bell Material’

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NOT TACO BELL MATERIAL
By Adam Carolla
Crown Archetype, $25, 336 pages

I have to admit, the reason I was so attracted to Adam Carolla’s new book, “Not Taco Bell Material,” is because of his preceding one, “In Fifty Years We’ll All Be Chicks.” Just the title told me I would be in for something, as Monty Python might put it, “completely different.” Mr. Carolla is best known for several accomplishments, not the least of which is having the “Guinness World Records Most Downloaded Podcast.” He is co-writer and co-host (with Jimmy Kimmel) of “The Man Show,” and a radio and TV advice program called “Lovelines” (think, Dr. Ruth meets Howard Stern). Additionally, you will occasionally find Mr. Carolla sharing his salty musings on “The O’Reilly Factor.”

The timeline of Mr. Carolla’s autobiography progresses through at least a half-dozen scrape-by North Hollywood dwellings of his early childhood to incredible success in a house the author renovated with his expertise as a carpenter in Vista Del Lago. Mr. Carolla nails it: “Five miles away from where I grew up, but a million miles away from my first house.”

The best illustration of Mr. Carolla’s eking-out-an-existence life is the story he relates about a high school pie-eating contest. At the “Go!” signal, Mr. Carolla’s competitors began inhaling pie as fast as they could get it past their tonsils. But young Carolla just sat there. The crowd of fellow students tried to jeer him on, but the most Mr. Carolla would do was nibble around the edge of the pie’s crust.

When another contestant won the competition, Mr. Carolla nonchalantly picked up his pie and began to leave. The teacher monitoring the event tried to grab the pie away, but the hungry young man took off running. Within minutes he was at the kitchen table in his mother’s house, savoring every bite. The “pie-eating” part was more important to the famished student than the “contest” part.

As scarce as decent, tasty food was around the Carolla household, scarcer still were compliments. Even after achieving incredible fame and fortune, no one, not even his favorite step-grandfather, would give Mr. Carolla as much as an “Atta-boy.”

But, ever growing and ever learning, Mr. Carolla took this in stride. He didn’t let it steal any of the joy of his success or tweak for a minute what it all meant in the greater scheme of things. “If you found these pages motivational and took away the idea that if, like a younger me, you have dreams but no support — or even anchors in the form of family and friends telling you to shut up — and no record of success, that it’s still okay to try, well, then I’m gratified. [J]ust put your head down and keep moving forward. But there are no guarantees in life.”

Mr. Carolla offers photos of pretty much every “dump with a dirt lawn” he ever inhabited, some no more than poorly renovated garages. Also portrayed are assorted high school buddies from Tijuana road trips and death-defying drinking and drugging excursions, all of whom could populate a feature film shot on location in Loserville. How none of his entourage ever ended up in an iron lung from jumping off a three-story-high roof into a swimming pool while totally “wasted” is proof positive that even nonstop party animals have guardian angels. (Cautionary note: Anyone wishing to avoid learning about beyond-the-pale depravity should bypass Chapter 7 “Ray’s Apartment.”)

The book’s title comes from a variety of employment opportunities explored by the book’s author. Mr. Carolla went after whatever job he could to make his monthly rent and daily party funds. Living off the government’s dime was not part of Mr. Carolla’s makeup — and if barely minimum wage was not to be had at Taco Bell, he would find himself in front of a deep fryer at MacDonald’s.

Eventually, Mr. Carolla settled into carpentry as a trade, which has served him well in his current, $1.6 million mansion — it was sorely in need of renovations and restoration.

So, what was the impetus for Mr. Carolla to turn from a hard-partying carouser to a nose-to-the-grindstone performer and pundit? The author credits an interview of his favorite band he heard one night on the radio. The lead singer of Boston talked about the lyrics to one of their hits, “Peace of Mind,” specifically:

“I understand about indecision, but I don’t care if I get behind.

“People living in competition, all I want is to have my peace of mind.”

Mr. Carolla writes, “It struck a chord with me and made me realize that I had to try to do something creative with my life. … I came to the conclusion that I was basically good at two things: working with my hands and being funny.” From this epiphany, Mr. Carolla set himself on the road to comedy success.

Perhaps the most telling of all the tales in “Not Taco Bell Material” involves Mr. Carolla’s good friend Zeb, “the only guy with whom I’d had a creative kinship.” Once he achieved success himself, Mr. Carolla tried several times to hook Zeb up with writing and producing jobs in Hollywood, but for reasons the author could never fully grasp, Zeb refused to grab hold. They came from equally unhinged families “where success was not considered an option. Yet I managed to break that cycle by changing my mind-set.” Zeb never did.

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