H. Jon Benjamin, the actor and comedian famous for voicing characters from the titular sexy superspy on Archer to the titular schlubby burger-flipper on Bob’s Burgers, proves that he is more than just a pretty voice.
Funny people are not all funny in all ways. Some are funny on the page but shrink when it comes to performing. Others have that certain spark on stage or in front of cameras but would be lost without a script. Still others can write and perform their own material as stand-ups but are hopeless when it comes to embodying other characters. However, H. Jon Benjamin can do it all.
He’s proved himself hilarious time and time again — both as the voice behind animated characters and in live action roles (e.g. the Wet Hot American Summer series). But with his “attempted memoir” Failure Is an Option, Benjamin is letting us see the man behind the comedy, and it turns out that guy is still very funny. Though Benjamin certainly does not take himself too seriously, he does takes the title of his book seriously, positioning each of his essays as “The Time I Failed to…” One might think this conceit could wear thin, but as failures often make for the funniest stories and the best forms of life education, we end up getting plenty of lessons and laughs.
For example, Benjamin admits to his failure to differentiate the voices of his two most famous characters: Sterling Archer and Bob Belcher. He takes us back to his childhood, to visit occasions when he “failed to stop a burglary” at a friend’s house, during which he inadvertently suggested the burglar check out his own family’s house as well. He takes us through an epic fail of a vacation with the mother of his child (yes, much to the dismay of those who’ve fetishized Archer, the man with the Sterling voice is not gay), and the time he failed to stop his baby from sampling some dog leavings in a public park. We also get stories of his occasional failure to get along with his parents, including an incident when Mom and Dad insist on bringing him to a local specialty restaurant to which his father refers several times as a “gem in the rough” — which turns out to be a P.F. Chang’s. And the book builds to a truly epic tale (with which fans of Aisha Tyler’s Girl on Guy podcast may be familiar) of him losing continence in a rental car and then — wracked with shame — leaving it for a valet to experience.
The Gay Angle
Though H. Jon Benjamin seems largely straight — or at the very least motivated primarily toward the ladies when it comes to mating, the book has plenty of gay moments. Many of them are awkward, but they’re not in that offensive “No Homo” frat boy way. Benjamin reveals how he was often mistaken for gay during his schooldays — due to an intense love of disco and a willingness to ride a tandem bike (that ended up with him getting jumped by some bullies). He talks of his attempt at a threesome in college with another guy and a girl — whose mutual attraction for one another more or less left him out in the cold. He discusses in great detail an occasion when he was inspired the hire gay escorts to perform live sex acts as part of a comedy show and ended up getting majorly hustled by his hustlers. And, in my favorite LGBTQ experience of the book, Benjamin recalls a time when a young Frenchman mistook him for Bruce Willis and could not be dissuaded of that fact. At the end of the night, the Frenchman kissed Benjamin (which he describes as “the first time I was passionately kissed by another man”); he even reveals that considered going home with the stranger, if only so there would always be a man walking around the planet talking about the time he slept with big butch Bruce.
If you’re a fan of (or even ever found yourself chuckling) at the extensive list of comedies in Benjamin’s resume, you’ll find plenty to enjoy in his attempted memoir. This review was based on the audiobook (Penguin Audio, $21), which is very enjoyably ready by the author, but Failure is an Option is also available in print (Dutton, $20).
Last modified: July 25, 2019