The first thing I need to talk to Samantha Irby about is The Bachelorette. Irby loves the show so much that the first chapter in her second book of super-funny essays, We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, is a faux application to be on America’s favorite public courtship ritual. She’s a shoo-in, obviously (“Age: 35ish (but I could pass for forty-seven to fifty-two easily; sixtysomething if I stay up all night”), although she’s not a fan of the “Whaaaa-booom”-ier aspects of the current season.
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But over the phone, Irby tells me, if she had to choose, she’d rather been on Real Housewives of New York. (“I would be the friend, like the poor person without botox or whatever.”) Why? “They have beautiful apartments and go to the beautiful places that you want to go and drink in,” she explains. “But they also are petty and mean and terrible.”
If Irby’s hilariously contrary prose is to be believed, she is also mean and terrible. “I know where they keep the euthanasia solution,” she whispers to an orphaned kitten being cared for at the veterinary clinic where she works. In fact, the cover of her book is the exact representation of her if she were a cat, she says: “Wet and gross and kind of sweaty looking, and also hissing.” In the 20 essays that make up the book, she comes across as an irascible, curmudgeonly hermit who would love nothing more than the world to become a sinkhole and swallow everybody up, leaving her and her television set in peace.
However, the jig is up. I can tell that Irby is actually warm as pie. She’s a great conversationalist, with a laugh that can go non-stop for about 20 seconds. (And, by the way, that kitten? She ended up adopting it.) So I can’t help but ask how much of her written persona’s withering attitude is real and how much of it is plied for laughs. “A lot of it is humor,” she says, “but my first thought is always the worst. And then, because I’m not a terrible person, I process those bad thoughts with humor.” She tells me about thinking uncharitably about a guy at the gym that morning who gesticulated to her to take her headphones out, before she finally took them out (“You know, what if he can’t breathe?”). But all he said was “Good for you.” “I don’t need a 147-year-old man to be telling me ‘Good job,'” she laughs. “So in my writing, I turn that up to a 10.”
We might be making merry over it now, but her suckerpunch wit and handy processing habit were honed thanks to life experiences that in any other situation, it would feel shitty to laugh at. Her father, an alcoholic, died just a few days before she turned 18. Before that, he persuaded Irby’s chronically ill mother to move out of a nursing home and into his house, so he would have access to the state funding allocated for her care. Her family had little money, relying on “WIC vouchers, money orders, and rolls of quarters for the laundromat.”
“People are always like, ‘You’re so open, is that hard?'” she says, “and it isn’t. Once I started writing about myself honestly and getting grateful feedback, that made it easy for me.” In one essay, she jokes that because her parents are both dead, she can pretty much talk about anything she wants—and that bears out in her ultra-personal, fancy-free writing. From calling herself a “champion masturbator” to describing a horrifically humiliating incident in which she had to void her bowels by the side of a road during a snowstorm—Irby has Crohn’s disease, which she also manages to make a source of humor—it seems like there’s very little that’s off-limits.
Irby’s 10-laughs-a-minute style has earned many fans, beginning with readers of her blog, Bitches Gotta Eat. Her first book of essays, Meaty, followed, as did the news last year that FX had bought a TV series based on her debut—to be executive produced by Broad City‘s Abbi Jacobson and Inside Amy Schumer‘s Jessi Klein. When I ask about a likely date for that project, Irby tells me they’re still working on the script for the pilot. “But at what point do we interview Jon Hamm for a role? I mean, Jon Hamm’s probably not going to be on a diarrhea show, but maybe.”
How does this TV fanatic feel about taking her culty writing to a wider stage? Irby admits she’s a little nervous: “I feel like everyone is always talking about shows, and I feel like especially with what we’re trying to do, like put diarrhea on television,” she laughs, “I feel like my people will be into it, but a lot more people pay attention to TV than books.” But, you know, Irby will get over it. “With enough time and distance, I can find most things funny,” she says. And she’s going to help everyone else find life as side-splitting as she does. Plus, she has a mission: “I wanna represent for everyone who doesn’t poop right.”