'Failure Is An Option' Urges People To Let Go Of the Constant Grind Towards Success
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
For all of you failures out there, you can do worse - so reads the dedication of a new memoir urging us to let go of the constant grind towards success. H. Jon Benjamin is an actor and comedian. He voices the characters of Archer on the FX show of the same name and "Bob's Burgers" patriarch Bob Belcher on Fox. And he is now the author of "Failure Is An Option: An Attempted Memoir." He joins us from our New York bureau. Hey there.
H JON BENJAMIN: Hey, how are you?
KELLY: I am well. Thank you. I can't let that subtitle just go by - "An Attempted Memoir."
KELLY: Are we to infer that you have embraced your own advice here and haven't quite (laughter) pulled off this memoir thing?
BENJAMIN: There are elements of memoir, but I would not call it a traditional memoir. I did go back into my personal history, but there's a lot of other sort of forays into comedy bits. And, you know, I think the personal stories that I tell in my life I think sort of do add up to say that you can fail and fail and fail again and continue to move forward. And it's not a prescription for success at the end of that - not a rainbow I guess but a dark cloud. But I hope for the best for the reader.
KELLY: There is - there's one chapter in here where you describe a particularly poignant scene with your son in a park. He's crawling around, and another mom wanders over. You want to tell us the...
KELLY: ...I would say the sanitized version of this story?
BENJAMIN: (Laughter) Well, there's no sanitary version of what he did, I don't think. But he - I - it was early on in my care of him, and we did go to a New York City public park. And he had just started to crawl, and he did crawl off as I was having a conversation with a few women mothers who were in the park with their kids as well.
BENJAMIN: And then I was approached by another mother saying, is that your son?
KELLY: Words you just never want to hear in the park.
BENJAMIN: Yeah, is that your son?
KELLY: It's not going to go anywhere good.
BENJAMIN: No. I looked up. I took my eyes off for - I don't know - a minute or so, and he was next to a tree. And she told - informed me that he was eating poo - poop.
KELLY: Dog poop.
BENJAMIN: I hope. I don't know. It was - it's New York, so it's hard to tell. So yeah, that was a big failure.
KELLY: Well, it wasn't an absolute parenting failure from the point of view of - your son is still alive and with us. He survived this incident.
BENJAMIN: He survives and eats poo to this very day, yes.
KELLY: (Laughter) How old is he now, the poor thing?
BENJAMIN: He's 15 now.
KELLY: You also come at the parenting thing from the other angle. I have to say my favorite chapter was Chapter 20, "How I Failed To Have A Chinese Dinner While Visiting My Parents In Arizona."
BENJAMIN: Yes. That was a momentous trip.
KELLY: What happened?
BENJAMIN: Well, I'm something of a foodie I guess, and I'm a big Chinese food fan. And my parents told me there was this Chinese restaurant that they had found in Tucson where they live in the winter. And they - my mother mentioned specifically that it was this little gem in the rough. Like, not a huge Chinese population in Tucson, but they were able to find this little Chinese restaurant that they loved and they were going to.
KELLY: A real foodie treasure, all right.
BENJAMIN: Yes, yes. And when I arrived - we drove, and we pulled around the corner into this sort of - kind of quiet area in north Tucson, and it was a huge P.F. Chang's.
BENJAMIN: So I thought we might pass it, but we pulled in.
KELLY: Oh, I see. So you thought there might be a...
BENJAMIN: I thought maybe there's a little...
KELLY: ...A lovely, little Chinese foodie chain...
BENJAMIN: I thought there was a little gem in the rough.
KELLY: ...Like, behind in the back.
BENJAMIN: Right, maybe down the block past the huge Ming dynasty plastic horse gates.
KELLY: The whole gates, the whole neon, the whole P.F. Chang - OK.
BENJAMIN: So that - yeah, that was that story.
KELLY: And you write - I could so relate to this - something to the effect of, I know that a better son would have let this go, and I just couldn't.
BENJAMIN: Couldn't, and it, like - I would say it destroyed at least half the trip, I think, yeah - a lot of resentment back and forth, although I was right.
KELLY: May I be annoying, Jon Benjamin, and point out you've written this whole memoir about failure, failure is an option. You do actually have quite a successful career as an actor, as a comedian, now as a writer.
BENJAMIN: It's true. It's a contradiction. I think the stories that I tell or at least all the relatable ones are kind of about failures, you know, that I hold my own, that are part of who I am, my nature as a failure as opposed to my more evident success as a actor or voiceover artist. So I spend most of my time in that world.
KELLY: That's H. Jon Benjamin talking about his new memoir, "Failure Is An Option: An Attempted Memoir." Thanks so much for speaking with us.
BENJAMIN: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.