Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard are the kind of beloved celebrity couple who are constantly proving their “realness” to the world. Their cute fights, about things like Dax’s propensity for ugly chairs, happen on Ellen; they frequently give “candid” interviews, saying things like “monogamy is tough.”
This authenticity would be much easier to believe—charming even!—if it weren’t so plainly performed for their fans. Their wedding, a civil ceremony to which a very-pregnant Kristen wore black: so lovely. Smugly releasing the photos on morning TV? Less lovely. Refusing to marry until the gay marriage is legal? Cool, I guess. Proposing to your heterosexual partner on Twitter immediately after the Supreme Court passes marriage equality? Ugh, could we not. Great that Dax “speaks openly” about addiction, and Kristen “speaks openly” about her depression—if only “speaks openly” weren’t a euphemism for saying just enough to be relatable and of the moment without chewing on controversy.
So how surprising (how charming even!) that there exists a single artifact of public authenticity between the pair—an almost unbearable two hour and one minute long conversation between the couple on the first episode of Dax’s podcast, Armchair Expert. (Podcast tagline: “I am endlessly fascinated by the messiness of being human”).
We open with Kristen, who is somewhat concerned that the podcast is taking her away from Michaels, where she needs to procure garlands. “That is a yarn store,” Dax clarifies, for anyone who, like Dax Shepard, has never been to a Michaels.
Michaels is a craft store, Kristen explains. “If you need yarn, then where is the best place to go,” whines Dax.
“Do you want to hear my impersonation of you,” he sneers. “WAHH. Wah Wah Wah.” We are less than four minutes in and he is whining like a baby.
Over the next two hours we learn many things.
Kristen likes doing good deeds, like rescuing dogs. In high school she traveled to Brazil to deliver babies, though how a teenaged Bell helped bring new life into the world is unexplained. Dax liked getting into fights, like the time he plowed his car into “upwards of 20 pigeons,” while sparring with his wife on the way to a date. He is continually surprised that she continues to put up with his regular need to pick fights with strangers.
“When I’m helping people I get a real boost,” Kristen says. “In some ways you could argue it’s very selfish.”
“Everything is selfish,” says Dax.
Unspool the inner workings of any marriage and what comes out is some dark shit. But analyze the blackened ooze of the Bell/Shepard pairing and what you get is remarkably baseline: a man too busy idealizing his partner to hear what she wants. Shepard is quick to pay tribute to his wife’s inherent goodness, but Kristen’s qualms skew ordinary. Contrary to the lies of their Samsung commercials, Kristen does most of the housework; she does a lot of dishes. “I wish that you would just be quiet and help me,” she tells him. Dax, however, is too busy considering his audience.
“I do wonder if sometimes people are like shut up, you’re in a normal relationship,” Dax, tells Kristen.
“You’re acting like we’re giving people a comparison hangover, when I think we’re just giving people hope” Kristen replies. Sure, it’s something like that.