Critically acclaimed writer, comedian and essayist Samantha Irby says the release of her upcoming collection of essays makes her feel as jittery as the first day of kindergarten — “and not in a good way.”
Irby, writer of the Bitches Gotta Eat blog and several bestselling essay collections including Wow No Thank You and We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, released her new work Quietly Hostile on Tuesday. The book is her first since working on And Just Like That …, the HBO Max reboot of Sex and The City.
Irby, who is known for her candid riffs on chronic illness, depression and people pleasing, told Erin Allen of WBEZ’s The Rundown Podcast that she’s mellowed out since penning her earliest works. She says writing her new book was less of an urgent need to get her thoughts out of her brain and more of a means to laugh at what’s going on in her life — like that time she toasted Panera sandwiches on the heated passenger seat of her car. (And yes, Sex and The City fans, she wrote about her time with And Just Like That …)
In addition to Quietly Hostile, Irby and Allen talked about the dreaded Chicago traffic, moving to Michigan and more.
Using humor as a defense mechanism
“I grew up super poor — we had nothing. My mom was sick. I was always wearing Salvation Army clothes. I discovered early on that if you beat people to the joke, you take the teeth out of it. So, if I’m like, ‘look at my Payless shoes, they have holes in them,’ then you don’t need to remind me that I have Payless shoes on because I just said it. And I think that became my defense mechanism early on.
“Also, I feel like people don’t say this enough: I like to be liked. And I want people to like me. When I meet someone … I like to just jump right in. Like we meet and we’re already knee deep in each other’s muck, so the easiest way to get there is just some humor.”
Having a bum knee, Crohn’s disease and society’s fear of pooping
“I have found that telling people about it makes life a smidge easier. If people already know what’s going on before I gotta be around, and that if I go to the bathroom, it might be two minutes or 20 minutes, then we don’t have to have an embarrassing talk where I explain why my auto immune system attacks itself.
“I also have a bum knee, and it’s made my leg a little deformed. So I have a limp. And you wouldn’t see it if I had pants on. You’d just be like, ‘Oh damn, Sam is slow.’ But I’ve written about it, and I would hope that before you got mad you’d think, ‘Oh wait, her knee is jacked up and her leg is weird.’
“And the other thing is, there’s nothing worse than having a poop problem because no one ever talks about poop. In order to be a person, you have to breathe air and get rid of your waste. And yet everyone’s afraid to talk about it. Everyone’s afraid to do it with other people around — and I just feel like talking about it. At least for me, having it be a regular part of the conversation just takes a little of the stigma away.”
Trying to master TV writing
“The thing that I liked the most about TV writing is that it’s collaborative. I don’t think I would ever want to write something for television alone. It’s got to be the kind of thing you bounce off people. My stuff, I just need me and a computer, right? But in writers’ rooms, everyone’s talking about what should happen. And I like that reassurance because I’m new to TV writing. It’s a form that I have not mastered. So I like to have some guard rails, some bumpers to keep me from looking like a moron.
“I often joke and say ‘no one reads books’. But when I say that I mean it’s because everyone watches TV. I have my core audience who know what they’re getting into. But that’s just a tiny, tiny, tiny sliver of the population. But then huge numbers of people watch a thing you made on television. It’s overwhelming, especially when no one understands how TV works and who’s at fault for the thing they hate.”
On moving to Michigan and Chicago becoming her mistress
“I used to live in Rogers Park … it’s one of the few less segregated sections of the city. When I moved [to Michigan], the mayor of Kalamazoo was a gay Black man. I thought, ‘Ok, that is all I need to know. I can live here.’ And this was pre-Trump, pre everything.
“But still, you’re getting the same six restaurants, one movie theater that’s not really that great. That kind of stuff was an adjustment. But the first time I drove back to Chicago … as soon as I hit Indiana, the traffic, the cars, the people, the noise. I was like, ‘I don’t think I can do this anymore.’ This makes me feel nervous. Now, when there are more than three people in a place I’m like, ‘This place is packed!’ Everyone else would be like, ‘No it’s not, shake off the Michigan!’ So not only have I adjusted, I’ve almost overcorrected.
“If I was rich, I would move back. Chicago is much better than Kalamazoo. But my work is not regular enough to go all in on living in the city. I still love it. It’s still home. So now Chicago’s my mistress. I dip in, I go to Au Cheval and I dip out.”
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. To listen to the full discussion click here.
Anna Savchenko is a reporter for WBEZ. You can reach her at email@example.com. Erin Allen is the host of WBEZ’s The Rundown. Follow her @erinallen_show.