Voice actor and stand-up comedian Benjamin structures a free-wheeling memoir of his rather uneventful life around the many failures he has experienced.
The author, who voices the title characters of Archer and Bob's Burgers, grew up in a middle-class Jewish family in Worcester, Massachusetts, where he watched a lot of TV and recorded interviews with himself. He bounces lightly through his childhood in chapters such as “The Sleepover (and How I Failed to Have One)” (cold tent) and “The Teen Years (How I Failed Hosting a Bar Mitzvah Party)” (the DJ played AM oldies). Then he moves on to stories about failing to move to France, get a graduate degree in Holocaust studies, sell a TV pilot, and ride a motorcycle. Every time Benjamin starts to get into potentially heavy emotional territory, he leaps out and moves onward with a joke. The most effective chapters of the book are those that give a sense of the author’s trials and tribulations as he recognizes his shortcomings and goes on with a shrug. These chapters are interspersed with brief intermissions, most of which are padding. Benjamin also initiates long—and increasingly annoying—interchanges of letters with scholars, asking them to explain how failure expressed itself in history, to which they respond with polite confusion. He inserts a sophomoric collection of line drawings of failed sexual positions and a more successful set of failed pickup lines: “Do you work out, or are you just naturally tense?”; “Has anyone ever told you you look like my mother?” Benjamin's descriptions of self-humiliation can get uncomfortable for readers, as in the case of a protracted chapter involving diarrhea, a rental car, and a hotel.
More a collection of gags than a thoughtful examination of a life, the book is best experienced in bits and pieces in order to avoid the impression of being trapped in an elevator for hours with a stand-up comic.