The Current

Actor Dax Shepard on vulnerability, and finding success through failure

American actor, writer and director Dax Shepard says we can learn more from people’s failures than from their successes — because there’s solace to be found in being honest about the hardships we face in life.

Shepard explores the messiness of being human in his podcast Armchair Expert

Dax Shepard hosts the podcast Armchair Expert, where he explores the messiness of human life with his co-host Monica Padman. (Amy Sussman/Getty Images)


Originially published on Feb. 1, 2021

American actor, writer and director Dax Shepard says we can learn more from people's failures than from their successes — because there's solace to be found in being honest about the hardships we face in life.

"If I had a singular enemy number one, it would be shame. It's something I've felt a great deal of [in] my life, and I think it's cancerous," Shepard told The Current's Matt Galloway.

"I think the antidote to shame is recognizing that we're all sharing in these missteps and in these failures, and I think there's just great comfort in knowing, yeah, it's hard. It is hard to walk through this life and not break stuff along the way."

Shepard, who previously starred in comedies such as Without a Paddle and Baby Mama, currently co-hosts the podcast Armchair Expert with actor and producer Monica Padman. The podcast garners an estimated 20 million listeners per month, according to Forbes.

Through the podcast, Shepard and Padman explore the messiness of human life — including some of the challenges Shepard has faced personally.

Last year, the 46-year-old opened up to his podcast listeners — known as Armcherries — about relapsing on opiates following a series of operations. 

'People were very supportive'

Shepard, who has been part of Alcoholics Anonymous for 17 years, said he often receives messages from people who are a few months into their sobriety. But when he relapsed, he feared he would no longer be a role model for those individuals.

"That was probably the cornerstone of my self-esteem outside of my role as a father and husband, so I very much bought into the idea that I would lose that if I were to admit that I had slipped," he said.

"Then a really close friend just said, 'You know, if the thing you like about that is that you're helping people, it's a lot more helpful that you slipped than that you've just stayed the course perfectly for 16 years. You know, that's a little unrelatable.'"

Despite worrying about what people might think, Shepard says the reaction was overwhelmingly positive.

"And once again, none of the [bad] things I thought were going to come [true] came," he said. "People were very supportive and loving and understanding."

Shepard and co-host Padman at the 2019 iHeartRadio Podcast Awards on Jan. 18, 2019, in Burbank, Calif. Shepard says his successful podcast was born out of what he thought was his greatest failure. (Joe Scarnici/Getty Images for iHeartMedia)

Growing up in Detroit, Shepard said he never would have imagined being where he is today.

Shepard said his dad wasn't around a lot when he was a kid, which influenced his outlook on masculinity.

"I used to be obsessed with guys who could do backflips on motorcycles, MMA fighters, Mike Tyson, blah, blah, blah," he said. 

But one day, he heard former pro skateboarder Jason Ellis speaking openly on a talk show about how he'd been sexually abused by his father as a child.

"We became friends, and I got to tell him that's the bravest I've ever seen a man be in my whole life. I mean, forget doing a double backflip on a motorcycle," he said.

"All the things that that could potentially threaten in this generic structure of masculinity, and yet I could recognize, like, that is the ballsiest thing I've ever seen or witnessed. And I aspire to be that guy, you know?"

Now, Shepard is making space for those kinds of vulnerable and honest conversations in his own podcast.

If I have anything to encourage people on, it's simply like, don't underestimate your failures, man.- Dax Shepard

But in keeping with the theme of honesty and openness, he admits he didn't reach his current success without some struggles along the way.

After working on his film CHiPs for two years, the movie just didn't work financially, he explained. But re-evaluating his career and identity in the aftermath of that experience is what led him to his podcast.

"It literally was born in what I thought was my greatest failure, and probably the end of the road for me in show business," Shepard said. 

"So if I have anything to encourage people on, it's simply like, don't underestimate your failures, man. You just don't know where it's going to end up with the long view."

Written by Kirsten Fenn. Produced by Idella Sturino.

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