Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group
If at Birth You Don't Succeed

If at Birth You Don't Succeed

My Adventures with Disaster and Destiny

Zach Anner

Henry Holt and Co.




“Hilarious and inspiring, Anner has made a life filled with fans, love, and Internet fame—reminding us that disability is no match for dreams.”—People (Book of the Week)

“Zach Anner is way more than an inspirational figure for anyone who has ever felt impossibly different: he’s also a great f**king writer.”—Lena Dunham

Comedian Zach Anner opens his frank and devilishly funny book, If at Birth You Don't Succeed, with an admission: he botched his own birth. Two months early, underweight and under-prepared for life, he entered the world with cerebral palsy and an uncertain future. So how did this hairless mole-rat of a boy blossom into a viral internet sensation who's hosted two travel shows, impressed Oprah, driven the Mars Rover, and inspired a John Mayer song? (It wasn't "Your Body is a Wonderland.")

Zach lives by the mantra: when life gives you wheelchair, make lemonade. Whether recounting a valiant childhood attempt to woo Cindy Crawford, encounters with zealous faith healers, or the time he crapped his pants mere feet from Dr. Phil, Zach shares his fumbles with unflinching honesty and characteristic charm. By his thirtieth birthday, Zach had grown into an adult with a career in entertainment, millions of fans, a loving family, and friends who would literally carry him up mountains.

If at Birth You Don't Succeed is a hilariously irreverent and heartfelt memoir about finding your passion and your path even when it's paved with epic misadventure. This is the unlikely but not unlucky story of a man who couldn't safely open a bag of Skittles, but still became a fitness guru with fans around the world. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll fall in love with the Olive Garden all over again, and learn why cerebral palsy is, definitively, "the sexiest of the palsies."



...Well, Why Don’t I Start?

It’s 8:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning and I’m bouncing on a trampoline surrounded by a film crew, shouting jokes into a camera. Soon, the doors of the Jumpstreet trampoline park in Austin, Texas, will open to a flood of children on their way to the best birthday parties ever, but for now it’s empty and cavernous as my friends struggle to steady their cameras and boom poles while catapulting me up into the air like a rag doll. I’m thirty years old and being professionally silly is what I do for a living&mdashor at least part of it.

I’ve been a comedian, hosted travel shows, explored world religions, started improv troupes, given keynote speeches at conferences around the country, and had a milk shake named after me called the Handicappuccino. I was also briefly an Oprah protégé and the subject of a John Mayer song (sadly, it wasn’t “Your Body Is a Wonderland”). Not bad for a guy in a wheelchair who almost flunked out of kindergarten and whose only degrees are a GED and an honorary “Ducktorate” from the Disney College Program.

But on this cold February morning, I’m a fitness guru and we’re filming an episode of my YouTube series Workout Wednesday. The theme of this ridiculous installment is “Bouncing Back,” and I’m shouting every random esoteric pop culture reference I can think of to sell my audience on the idea that the greatest failures can also be catalysts for triumph. For me, that’s been true from the start.

When I was born, instead of waiting to become an angelic, full-term bouncing cherub, I showed up two months early to my own birthday party as a three-pound, seven-ounce screaming hairless mole rat of a boy, kept alive by a series of tubes that would later become known as the Internet. I take full responsibility for this kerfuffle. Even though my mother was involved in the process, she’d gone through the whole ordeal with my brother a year earlier and he’d turned out great. There’s no denying it: I was a crappy baby who failed his way into this world and I’ve been making the best of it ever since.

As a result of my untimely birth, I have cerebral palsy, which I guess, if you wanna get technical about it, is a neurological condition that can affect motor skills, speech, and mobility to varying degrees. In my case, it means that my movements resemble that of a marionette whose puppeteer is having passionate maritals behind the little red curtain. I use an electric wheelchair because I have no sense of balance and muscle spasticity has arched my spine like a cat’s, while my legs are really just for show. I also have a lazy eye, but I believe that has less to do with the CP and more to do with the fact that as a baby I was operated on by an ophthalmologist who’d previously performed surgery only on giraffes. With my eyes unable to track, I never read, and I can’t type, so I never thought I’d write a book, yet here you are, reading the first pages of my memoir like a champ. As it turns out, I’m somebody who was born in the wrong month, but at the right time to tell his unlikely&mdashthough not unlucky&mdashstory.

My success is as much a product of the age we live in as anything else. I gained notoriety thanks to a viral video, I got to work for Oprah thanks to the format of reality TV, I traveled the country using suggestions from the Internet, hell, I even met my girlfriend on Twitter. We’ve worked together on this book over Skype and Google Docs, while she was living in Berlin and I was six to nine time zones away in the United States. If I had been born only a few decades earlier, I might have been some mysterious recluse confined to a decrepit mansion who writes poems about what grass must feel like. Instead, I’ve lived a vibrant life and get to share my story with you.

In the following pages you’ll read about all my career peaks and my many romantic valleys. You’ll get a behind-the-scenes look of what it’s like to work at Disney World and also what it’s like to narrowly avoid self-castration. I hope you’ll find these stories relatable, humorous, and meaningful, because if not, there’s just a lot of really embarrassing shit in here. Some of these stories would have been too personal and painful to share if I didn’t think they had the potential to help other people feel a little more comfortable in their own skin. For better or worse, I have now published all the things that up until this point I was too ashamed to tell my mother.

My life didn’t really make a whole lot of sense to me before I started writing this book. How on earth did I get my own TV show from the most powerful woman in the world before I had my first kiss from a girl? How did somebody who couldn’t get a job cold-calling people for magazine subscriptions end up in the entertainment industry? How did a kid who was unable to legally obtain a driver’s license blossom into a man who was trusted behind the wheel of the Mars Rover? And how did a guy who regularly falls off toilets make friends who would literally carry him up mountains? What I’ve learned from taking a bird’s-eye view of my life so far is that the good fortune I’ve had has come from seizing not just my moments but my mistakes. I might not be able to tie my own shoelaces, but if there’s one skill I’ve perfected, it’s the art of finding the humor and the purpose in every failure. I’ve accepted that we’ve all got crap to deal with and problems that we’re fighting not to be defined by. At the end of the day, we all want the same stuff: fulfillment, love, support, comfort, and a hot-air balloon with laser guns attached to it. The most important thing is that we appreciate the crazy ride we’re on.

The “Bouncing Back” Workout Wednesday episode ended with my friends launching me into a trampoline wall in an epic wipeout. As I lay there, sweaty and bruised, the only thing I had energy left to do was nurse my whiplash and go get some breakfast tacos. But then my friend and cameraman Chris Demarais came up to me with a twinkle in his eye and said, “You know, this place has a mechanical bull. Would you be up for filming another one?”

I considered my exhaustion and the risk of injury, anticipated the impatient line of gawking eight-year-olds, and decided to grab the bull by the horns.

“Sure,” I said. “Just let me catch my breath.” Because I knew that no matter how this shook out, getting creamed on a trampoline and riding a mechanical bull is a pretty badass way to spend a Sunday morning.


Copyright © 2016 by Zach Anner


Praise for If at Birth You Don't Succeed

Praise for Zach Anner

“Cerebral palsy couldn't stop Anner from becoming a celeb, traveling the world, and Friending Oprah (for starters).”Cosmopolitan

“Zach makes you want to be a better person, with his humor and his heart and everything he's had to deal with from the time he was born. I've never met anyone like him, and I've met a lot of people.” —Oprah Winfrey

“A laugh-a-minute read…. If At Birth You Don’t Succeed recounts his journey from being what he calls a “crappy baby” [with cerebral palsy to] the host of his own travel show and an improbable workout guru. If there was ever a book that showed the importance of laughing at yourself, this is probably it.”—MentalFloss (#1 A Best New Book for Spring)

“Zach Anner is a truly inspiring and hysterical human being with a warped sense of humor (and body). He’s also an exceptional writer and his memoir is an absolute joy.”—Rainn Wilson

“I love Zach Anner and I love his memoir. If everyone were a little more like Zach, the world may not be abetter place, but it would be funnier place, which is a great step forward.”Reddit Co-founder Alexis Ohanian

“I think I speak for everybody when I say...I want to see more of Zach.” —John Mayer

“Comedian Zach Anner takes readers on his wild wheelchair ride through 30 years of dealing with cerebral palsy—‘the sexiest of the palsies,’ as he likes to say. He rides a Mars Rover, wins an Oprah contest to create his own travel series and discovers he’s not only datable but desirable too. Hilarious and inspiring, Anner has made a life filled with fans, love, and Internet fame—reminding us that disability is no match for dreams.”—People (Book of the Week)

“Zach Anner is way more than an inspirational figure for anyone who has ever felt impossibly different: he’s also a great f**king writer. Wise and funny, with unfailing insight into the booby trap known as the human mind, you will hang on every word as you watch him turn his considerable intellectual gifts into a life worth envying. I like that this book has no genre, and neither does this special man.”—Lena Dunham

“A characteristically hilarious and candid book about growing up with cerebral palsy, winning a reality TV contest with Oprah’s OWN channel and becoming an unlikely-yet-inspiring fitness guru and YouTube celebrity with more than 10 million views.”—What’s Trending

“Zach Anner is the living definition of ‘giving better than he’s gotten.’ Life dealt him a difficult hand but he managed to beat the house with humor, heart, and a fearless punk attitude. Required reading.”—Patton Oswalt

“Wonderful. . . Anner’s comedy is the peppy, uplifting sort you’d expect from someone who Oprah says ‘makes [her] want to be a better person,’ such as his elaborate Olive Garden metaphors for the nature of life. . . . Anner remarks wryly that being expected to act as an ambassador for the disabled ‘is a tightrope walk, which is hard on four wheels.’ Maybe so, but with this book, he makes it look easy.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Funny, empowering…An inspirational memoir with a seasoned, infectious sense of humor…[Anner’s book chronicles] his three decades of life (so far) with cerebral palsy, a permanent condition that hasn’t prevented him from living his dream as a comic, a media sensation, and a motivational speaker.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Forget the travel show, Oprah. Give him a sitcom.” —The New York Times

“Our favorite lovable, optimistic, and absolutely hilarious YouTube star in a wheelchair.” —The Huffington Post

“He’s a unique, creative kid with a smart, edgy sense of humor.”—Arsenio Hall

“Meet Zach Anner...He’s handsome, smart, and funny [and] has won...legions of online fans.”—Tara Parker-Pope, The New York Times

“Zach Anner... Internet folk hero.” —Vulture, New York Magazine

Reviews from Goodreads

About the author

Zach Anner

Zach Anner is an award-winning comedian, show host, and public speaker. In 2011, he won his own travel show on the Oprah Winfrey Network, Rollin’ With Zach. He also hosted the Web series Have A Little Faith for Rainn Wilson’s media company SoulPancake, and Riding Shotgun and Workout Wednesdays on his YouTube channel, which has over twelve million hits. Zach lives in Buffalo, New York, and Austin, Texas, and spends most of his spare time in his underwear, thinking about how he can change the world.

Zach Anner

Jon Risinger