Let’s Keep It Real: Samantha Irby Interviewed by Greg Mania

The writer and comedian on her new essay collection.

Wow No Thank You

We live in a nesting doll of horrors, each push notification adding at least thirty points to our blood pressure reading. But, no matter how seemingly bad things get, there is respite in the gift that is Samantha Irby. You may know her through her mega-popular blog, “Bitches Gotta Eat,” or her daily Judge Mathis recaps on Substack, or, from her previous two books, the latter of which became a New York Times-bestseller. She also penned the beloved fat babe pool party episode of Hulu’s Shrill last year and Comedy Central has claimed the TV rights to her 2013 debut collection, Meaty

Now, the writer and comedian has released her third collection of essays, Wow, No Thank You (Vintage). It details life at forty, marriage, and living in a small town after being a city-dweller all her life, delivered in the signature wit and laugh-out-loud humor readers fell in love with in the first place. It is the New Testament for the amiable misanthrope who relishes SVU marathons over potlucks, a love letter to the great indoors, and a cleverly disguised survival guide for anyone who lives with the day-to-day struggles of chronic illness and mental health challenges (the book is dedicated to the antidepressant Wellbutrin).

It’s been almost two years since I was fortunate enough to make the leap from fan to friend after meeting Irby IRL at the book launch for the rerelease of Meaty in Brooklyn. I can say with confidence: meet your heroes. And then interview them about what it’s like to be triumphantly vulnerable, hilarious to the point where you don’t care if you’re cackling in the middle of a crowded subway car, and possessing a level of brilliance that guarantees your mark on endless hearts.

—Greg Mania

Greg ManiaI love interviewing you because I can keep it real with you. I don’t have to conceal the fact that I wrote ninety-five percent of these questions on my phone while waiting in line at the Burger King drive-thru. My first question is: how are we supposed to spend two thousand words pretending to be smart and not talk about the onion cheese at Trader Joe’s or the mildly offensive memes we like to send each other that the turbo woke would definitely eat us alive for?

Samantha IrbyI honestly don’t know how to pretend to be smart, especially in this age of instantaneous fact checking! Which is why I don’t try, and I definitely don’t talk about anything I have no idea about. Have you ever watched something where the person was trying to talk about something that was clearly out of their realm of knowledge and you can just see the hamster on the wheel inside their brain slowly crawling and creaking along while begging to be murdered? That makes me want to die! And it’s a punishment I would never put on anyone else. World history? Sophisticated art? Never heard of it. I do love memes, though. I have so many saved on my phone that the memory is almost full. It’s a problem.

GMI remember that the initial title for this collection was Dying is Fine Dying is Fine. And then—correct me if I’m wrong—it became Dying in Time. How did you get to the equally perfect title, Wow, No Thank You?

SI It has always been “dying is fine” in my heart because, well, isn’t it? We live in fucking hell. But that shit is too dark for normal people to buy and let’s be real: I need your mom to buy my book and she probably won’t if it’s some nihilist joke bullshit. So officially it had to be called something else. My editor went through the book after I’d turned everything in (late) and started pulling out funny phrases that I’d written that might double as decent titles, then I went through them and picked the one I’d be the least embarrassed to spend the rest of my miserable life repeating and this won. It was the phrase “wow, sir, no thank you,” but I took the sir out because truth be told? I need your dad to buy this shit, too!

GM You detail life as a former city-dweller now living among people who can tell the pH of soil just by looking at it … and know what soil pH even is. How do you feel about the possibility that people in your small town might read your book?

SI Well, they read the last one and haven’t yet driven a Ford F-150 through my front window, so I’m not too worried about this one. The reality of most things is that no one really cares about anything. I mean, unless you’re doing something truly incendiary or screwing people over? No one cares about you! Sometimes I go down the rabbit hole of thinking, OMG, are people going to get mad at me? Then I remind myself that Twitter isn’t real life and most people don’t give a shit about anything. There are actual murderers and predators just going to the grocery store or whatever. What the fuck do I, a doughy creative who writes funny books for sad sacks of shit, have to worry about? Also, no one reads books!

Samantha Irby Credit Ted Beranis

Photo by Ted Beranis.

GMYou know that I live in New York City and am, by all accounts, a city person. If I could use Postmates for someone to come and brush my teeth for me I would. That’s not to say I’ll live here forever because this bitch is EXPENSIVE. What are some tips you can give me if I do decide to settle down somewhere with trees?

SI Get sturdy boots. Memorize lots of recipes for dried beans. Purchase a lawnmower. Figure out how to make your own Thai food. Recognize poisonous leaves. (I think?) Practice saying “y’all” until it sounds natural. Start taking daily allergy medication. Learn to fight a bear.

GM You included some recipes in the rerelease of Meaty three years ago and you have a kid-friendly one in this book. These recipes are not just entertaining and easy to follow—especially for someone like me, whose favorite food group is delivery—but actually delicious. You also frequently post bombass-looking food you’ve made on your Instagram. Would you ever release a fun cookbook filled with anecdotes and recipes for the functioning depressive like me who wants to cook but doesn’t always have the mental wherewithal for something complex?

SI Absolutely, yes. But: did you know that recipe writing involves science? I’m not doing that shit! Can you imagine me, a total fucking idiot, pulling out scales and beakers and test tubes to try to come up with some recipes that won’t murder people at first bite? So, if I made a cookbook I would want to partner up with an actual cook who knows what the fuck they’re doing and write jokes about their recipes. That could be dope, right? They could expose their fanbase to some bad jokes and I could introduce mine to chicken piccata or whatever. Let me ask Alison Roman if she’d ever consider destroying her career by letting me fuck it all up. I’ll report back.

GM Do you ever write an essay that doesn’t make the cut? If so, what do you do with your dead darlings?

SI Oh, no. I do not waste my time in this way. Some of my lesser material used to end up in my blog, but my life is so boring that if I’ve got something juicy to reveal or something spicy to say then I want to get paid for it. It’s not even that, it’s just that while all of my days are stupid and kind of fun, not all of the stuff that happens is worthy of telling another person. Sometimes I will have a little nugget of an idea, but if I can’t figure out how to make it into a fully formed thing I just abandon it in the drafts. I was working on this essay for this current book called “Is It Ever Really Worth It to Be Friends With a Man?” that was funny but I couldn’t figure out a format that I liked that wasn’t just a pro/con list so I just dropped it. But now that I’m thinking about it maybe I’ll do something with it? Although maybe it never came together for a reason! Anyway, long story long, if I write a 5,000-word thing I’m fucking using it.

GMI write a lot about my boyfriend and just hope he still talks to me when whatever he’s mentioned in comes out. Do you run things by your wife or do you trust yourself to write something that you know is funny but at the same time respectful of others?

SII only let my wife read things that mention her directly, and I do not change anything based on her feedback because I’m honestly pretty good at keeping a respectful distance between the truth and my version of it. I would never write anything that was actually embarrassing or revealed more than she is comfortable with, but I do give her the courtesy of reading it before I send it in to my editor just so nothing comes as a surprise, because that shit is cruel. On occasion she’ll say something like “I’m not that bad!” but the reality of it is that SHE IS.

GM Now that you’re a bona fide screenwriter, have you thought about translating your knack for storytelling into novel form?

SII have three chapters of a novel chilling in my Google Drive, just waiting for me to figure out how to map them out and come up with a secondary conflict to resolve at the end. I don’t know if I’ll ever finish it, or, if I do, whether or not I’ll try to get it out into the world. But if I do I’m going to have some smart readers that I trust read it first. It’s a cold world out here for shitty novels!

GM You are truly doing it all: from writing the beloved fat babe pool party episode of Shrill to profiling Lizzo for TIME. What is something you haven’t done yet that you want to do?

SI SLEEP FOR THREE STRAIGHT WEEKS WHILE HEAVILY SEDATED.

GMYou now have a trinity of essay collections and they all go together, not just in terms of voice and tone, but visually, too: same font, every chapter title in cursive handwriting, and a furry friend featured on the cover. Are you someone who believes in trinities, or will you pivot in a new direction for your next body of work?

SI I don’t believe in anything but high fructose corn syrup and shame, so I wish I could say that this was part of some grand artistic plan on my part but that would be a fucking lie. This is boring but let’s keep it real: I don’t get to pick this shit! Unless you are self-publishing your diaries and handing them out to people on the train platform (I wish I could do that!), there is a team of people in New York who make all these kinds of decisions for you and kindly ask you what you think about them with the understanding that your opinion absolutely does not matter so don’t rock the boat, baby. There are editors and designers and salespeople who all get a vote and if I don’t like it I need to go start my own printing press and try my hand at being my own publicist, otherwise this kitten and this bunny are going to be what it is! And honestly, that’s fine! 

I did not go to school, let alone learn how to market books, so if someone in a skyscraper on Broadway says that green is the color and the font is whatever they want it to be then I’m cool with that. My worst fear is for someone to be like, Yeah, well, the book flopped because that dumb bitch insisted on putting a damn wombat on the cover, and have any failure actually be my fault. It’s sweet of you to think that, one, I’ll have another body of work, and two, refer to this shit I do as a “body of work,” but if I come up with another twelve-plus essays’ worth of raw nightmare fuel and a publisher is willing to buy it? They can put whatever the fuck they want on the cover. Suckling pig, here we come!

Greg Mania is the author of Born to Be Public, forthcoming from CLASH Books on August 25, 2020. Follow him on Twitter: @gregmania.

Wow, No Thank You is available for purchase here.

Adrienne Truscott by Erin Markey
Truscott 01