Samantha Irby On Writing Honestly And Avoiding Loose Change

Samantha Irby
Samantha Irby visited the WBEZ studio in June 2017. Jason Marck / WBEZ
Samantha Irby
Samantha Irby visited the WBEZ studio in June 2017. Jason Marck / WBEZ

Samantha Irby On Writing Honestly And Avoiding Loose Change

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Samantha Irby said working 14 years at the front desk of an animal hospital in Evanston made her never want a pet. Too expensive. Too much work.

Despite her reservations, she took home a cat in bad condition after her coworkers encouraged her.

“I’m trying to cheat my way into heaven, if it exists, however I can,” she said.

Irby is the author of We Are Never Meeting In Real Life. She’s also a comedian and creator of the blog bitches gotta eat. She spoke with Morning Shift host Tony Sarabia about her writing style, how her past shaped her voice and her money-related pet peeves.

On how she talks to people “the way people won’t talk to people”

Samantha Irby: People often feel like they have to give you this glossy packaged version of themselves, and I tried that when I was younger and it is exhausting. It’s really hard to sort of keep up a front.

So my way of talking to people about myself, about our shared experiences is just to be honest and assume that they are as miserable as I am and they can’t say it. … I think people appreciate hearing from someone — either on a person-to-person basis or like reading my stuff — hearing from someone who’s like, “This is what it is. This is what you’re getting. I won’t demand anything extra from you if you meet me where I am.” And the response I have gotten from people has always been pretty positive.

On finding her writing voice

Irby: Both of my parents died separately when I was 18. They were older. They had both been sick before then. And I think when you don’t have a safety net it’s scary — but it is also kind of liberating because there’s no one who’s going to pick up the phone and have any expectations of you, demand to know why you didn’t do what they think you should be doing. I mean, people are always asking how I can be so honest and I’m like, “Well, half of it is that I know there’s no Thanksgiving dinner to go home to where my mother is going to glare at me over the turkey about talking about diarrhea on the internet.”

So I think because I don’t have anyone to answer to, that gave me a freedom. Once I started writing, I could be really open and honest without worrying about embarrassing the people who pay my phone bill or who are helping me with my health insurance or my student loans or whatever. So on the one hand it’s like, “Oh man, no parents,” but on the other hand it’s like, “Well, the lemonade out of these lemons is that I can say whatever I want and no one’s going to yell at me.”

On people who might be put off by her writing style

Irby: I don’t think I am politically incorrect in the ways that would be offensive to me. I don’t use a lot of ableist language. I don’t say bad things about marginalized groups of people. Things like that that I hear, that I’m like, “Ehhhh.” I don’t do that.

People that don’t like little salty language, they don’t like explicit bedroom talk. I just think then this is not for you. … Ultimately I write jokes. I’m a people pleaser. I want people to laugh. I always want for my work to be useful in some way. If the way is that it makes you laugh, then that’s great. If you’re getting something else from it — if it’s freeing you, if it’s opening up a part of you — I think that’s amazing.

I don’t think that it has to be for everyone. I feel like there are lots of people who don’t appreciate what I do. I think there’s lots of stuff for them … and I feel like if that was an underserved audience, I’d feel worse about it but it isn’t.

On her pet peeve: loose change and dirty money

Irby: The sound of metal on metal is, like, a thing for me. Fingernails on the chalkboard? No effect. But little metal things clinking together makes my teeth do the grinding thing. And then it’s so dirty. And then it turns green if it gets wet. … I don’t even know the science behind why money turns green, but it’s disgusting.

Nothing else — no clowns, no spiders — any of that I can handle, but there is something about loose change. If someone walks by with loose change jingling in their pocket it makes me want to die. …

When people have money on a table and they’re eating next to the money on the table, or people when they pay for a sandwich with cash and then touch the sandwich and then eat it, I mean, I just have a visceral reaction to it. I mean if you handed me $20, I would take it but I wouldn’t then go touch my face.

On success after growing up with a certain level of poverty

Irby: Nobody makes — I shouldn’t say nobody, Stephen King probably makes tons of money, John Grisham — people who write, you know, books about butts with cats on the cover are not raking in tons of money. So I’ve always had jobs. I haven’t had a job since July. My job now is writing, which is terrifying, because there’s no direct deposit every other week. Still, every week I’m like, “Oh, no one put anything in, huh?” You know, I have not felt this uncertain since I was a kid because making money depends on what I can think up and produce, and all those things take a long time before you get paid for them.

I think I will never not feel like a poor person. When you grow up with nothing, especially when you grow up adjacent to wealth — like Evanston’s nice. We grew up in Section 8 housing but I grew up in Evanston, so I was with a lot of people who had the things that matter to kids. Like they had the name-brand jeans, backpacks, everything. … My friends would be like, “I got this new CD,” and I’d be like, “I’m still taping things off the radio and then replaying them.”

So I don’t think I’ll ever not feel like that person. I always am trying to play catch up. And so now when I get money from writing and stuff, I’m like, “I should get a better computer.” I don’t even have a really nice computer. I got the cheapest computer that I could! So now I should get a better one. I don’t know that that feeling is ever going to go away. I suppose if somehow I earned millions of dollars, then I might be able to relax, but even then I’m like, “Should I get a magazine subscription because it’s cheaper than buying magazines at the newsstand?”

On money pressures when you’re married with two kids

Irby: That is one of the hard things for me about being married. I feel like I’ve just come to this time in my life where I can kind of do what I want, and now there’s somebody who not only is interested in what I’m doing, but is like, “Hey, maybe don’t buy that because we need this thing for the house that’s not going to bring you as much joy as an iPad, but it will help our lives together be better.” And I am still coming to grips with thinking about the house first. I’m like, “You know a new washing machine isn’t going to fill me with the same hearts and rainbows that a new TV will,” but I’m trying to learn.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. Click the “play” button to hear the entire segment.