Editor's note: Periodically, The A.V. Club enters its gleaming, sterile laboratories to taste-test new and bizarre foodstuffs it finds on the open market, from Vosges' Bacon Chocolate bar to Brawndo: The Thirst Mutilator to Jones Soda's holiday ham drink. The results are posted weekly at avclub.com/blog. Recently, The A.V. Club considered taste-testing the KFC "Famous Bowl," that inexplicably popular, remarkably grotesque heap of food that comedian Patton Oswalt memorably described as "a failure pile in a sadness bowl." Then it occurred to us that we should just have Oswalt do our dirty work for us—especially since he admitted he'd never actually sampled one of those failure piles for himself. So we dared him to. Here are the results.
I am writing this under appreciable mental strain, since by tonight, I shall be no more. When you read these hastily scrawled words, you may guess, though never fully realize, why I must have forgetfulness or death.
Would that I could forget that fateful evening in the autumn of 2006 when I first heard the shrieking, beckoning clarion call of Kentucky Fried Chicken's Famous Bowl. I was fast-forwarding through the commercials of a Tivo'd episode of The Venture Brothers. The commercial for the Famous Bowl came on. I thought it was a Tim & Eric sketch.
It wasn't. Kentucky Fried Chicken had filled a bowl with gravy, mashed potatoes, corn, breaded chicken, and finally, cheese. Shut-ins, people afflicted with Prader-Willi Syndrome, and manic-depressives also do this. If you're trying to make a fortune in the food and beverage industry, those are the three demographics to shoot for—the Famous Bowl is one of the bestselling items on the KFC menu.
KFC calls it their version of the shepherd's pie. Shepherds in Kentucky must be full of rage and slathered in confusion. They must hang their fat, skin, and muscles from bones carved with runes of surrender.
I must've watched the commercial a dozen times. It looked like a self-shot (but well-cut and -lit) video that someone would make as they prepared to commit suicide. I couldn't take my eyes off it. I didn't think the implosion of society would be so funny.
So I wrote a bit about the Famous Bowl. I'm a comedian. I'm obsessed with love, crime, America, and the apocalypse. The KFC Famous Bowl is all of these, and it also kind of looks like the future-food you'd see people eating in '70s science-fiction flicks.
I also like science fiction.
And boy, did the bit work. I love doing it. I put it on an album and did it on Late Night With Conan O'Brien. And it took on a weird life of its own. People keep telling me about the Famous Bowl, in all its permutations. Someone told me KFC added a biscuit to the bowl. I heard desperate whispers about newer, more sinister products that were being tried out at the ominous-sounding "test market store" in Louisville—including something called "The Megaleg," which I fear will be part of some future A.V. Club Taste Test.
Somehow, KFC got wind of it. The creator of the Famous Bowl had my bit quoted to him in an interview in Fast Company magazine. And yesterday, KFC sent a Patton Oswalt bobblehead to my management company. I'm not kidding. The fact that it looms over the official Colonel Sanders bobblehead in stature means… something. Are they mocking me?
But I have a shameful secret.
I've never had a Famous Bowl.
The A.V. Club asked me to try one and write about it. I said yes. I bought one and ate it. It was a mistake.
First off, when I went looking for a KFC in Los Angeles, I realized I hadn't been in a KFC in decades. I remember, as a kid, how fun they were, with the corn on the cob on a stick, and the way KFC chicken tastes so goddamn awesome the next day after spending the night in the fridge.
The franchise I visited, on Hollywood Boulevard near my old apartment, looked like it had withstood assault by bullets, flamethrowers, Baseball Furies, and a hundred hook-handed whores. Everything inside the store—including the employees and customers—looked like it had been rubbed with sad ham. And they were offering a new product for kids—"fun meals" that came in colorful cardboard containers that opened like laptop computers. A generation of children are growing up associating computer use with fun, grease, and food. I will flee to the mountains before I see how porn gets folded into that equation.
The Famous Bowl has a black plastic bottom and a clear plastic top that fogs appealingly from the jungle heat of the beige glop inside. Here's where, in a quirky indie-film moment, I'd eat a sporkfull and realize… "Hey, this is pretty good!" I had considered that reaction as I drove the Famous Bowl home. It sat on the passenger seat next to me like a sullen runaway I'd picked up on the interstate. I wanted us to bond somehow. I wanted to eat my words. I like when things work out unexpectedly.
The Famous Bowl hit my mouth like warm soda, slouched down my throat, and splayed itself across my stomach like a sun-stroked wino. It was that precise combination of things, and so many other sensations that did not go together. At all.
The gravy, which I remembered as being tangy and delicious in my youth, tasted like the idea of blandness, but burned and then salted to cover the horrid taste. The mashed potatoes defiantly stood their ground against the gravy, as if they'd read The Artist's Way and said, "I'm going to be boring and forgetful in my own potato-y way!" The corn tasted like it had been dunked in fake-corn-flavored ointment, and the popcorn chicken, breaded to the point of parody, was like chewing a cotton sleeve that someone had used to wipe chicken grease off their chin.
The cheese had congealed. Even in the heat and steam of the covered Famous Bowl, it had congealed. I stabbed it with the tines of my spork and it all came up in one piece. I nibbled an edge, had a vision of a crying Dutch farmer, and put it down.
I managed three or four more spoonfuls, trying to be fair. I am not the healthiest eater, but this was a level of crap I hadn't earned a belt in yet.
Afterward, I had the weirdest feeling. I'm trying to imagine this feeling amplified, as if I'd finished the entire bowl:
My mouth was laced with the various "flavors" of the Famous Bowl. My stomach was bloated and uncomfortable with the fist of starch I'd just put in it. But I didn't feel like I'd eaten. It's like when you see some loud summer blockbuster, or hear an overproduced pop song—you're left with the sensation of seeing, hearing, or in the case of the Famous Bowl, eating. But in the end, that's all they are—sensations.
There was nothing of consequence or value for me to digest, no taste or memory left on my teeth or tongue to savor and think about.
It's goddamn horrible, this Famous Bowl.
The end is near. I hear a noise at the door, as of some immense slippery, living mound lumbering against it. It shall not find me! God, that gravy! The window! The window!
Patton Oswalt's final comedy album before his recent Famous Bowl-induced tragedy was 2007's Werewolves And Lollipops. It includes his pre-tasting thoughts on the Famous Bowl.