Sheltering: Samantha Irby on TV Writing, Selena Gomez, and Making Her Agent Laugh
The Author of Wow, No Thank You. Talks to Maris Kreizman
On this episode of Sheltering, Maris Kreizman speaks with Sam Irby about her recently released book of essays, Wow, No Thank You. Irby talks about how her writing has improved, flirting via mixtape, being transparent about liking uncool things, and being fine with the “indoor programming” of quarantine. Please purchase Wow, No Thank You. at your favorite local bookstore, or through Bookshop.
From the episode:
Maris Kreizman: Welcome to Sheltering. I am so excited to be talking to one of my absolute favorite authors… of this lifetime? How about that? Sam Irby! Welcome!
Samantha Irby: Hi, Maris. I’m so happy to see you. You look so beautiful.
Maris: Stop! Sam, first maybe tell us how you’re doing and where you’re hunkering down in quarantine, and about the new book.
Samantha: I am at home in Kalamazoo, Michigan, which still feels weird to say, but I live in Michigan in the Eastern time zone. I am doing okay. I love that everyone has pivoted to indoor programming. I’m into that. I do get a little stressed out by the news, so I’ve been trying to not watch so much news, but other than that, I’m doing okay. And the new book is a collection of, if you already know my stuff, it’s the same but better. I feel like I have gotten a little better this time. I refuse to take a class or learn anything, but just by virtue of reading other people’s stuff, I have improved my own game. This one is all jokes. It’s all bits. No sad anything. It’s all good, funny stuff.
Maris: It sure is.
Samantha: I wish it wasn’t called essays because you’re like, ugh, essays, but really it’s just longform jokes. Loooooongform jokes.
Maris: I love it. One of the things that I love that you do in the book is you talk about your daily habits, like a reverse Into the Gloss. Tell me how your grooming has or hasn’t changed under quarantine.
Samantha: I would like a medal because I still bathe every day. First of all, I feel like as the leader of the sloths, I have to set a good example and be like, “Okay, people who leave your house, let me show you how those of us who don’t do it.” Even if I put my pajamas back on, I take a shower, and I try to do something. I have quarantine hair, so my hair is getting—I usually shave all my hair off. I had a professional barber for a couple of years now, so I leave it to him. Since I can’t see him now, it’s growing. So, I do take a shower every day, and I sometimes put on blush. I like a little healthy blush. I do all my skincare stuff because I’m at everyday skincare age. But I have been bathing every day to make each day feel like a new day.
Maris: Very important.
Samantha: Every day feels like Thursday afternoon, so I have to break it up with a shower. I’m like oh, yes, we’ve moved on the next day.
Maris: And tell me what you’ve been listening to and watching and reading, because your Judge Mathis newsletter is a highlight of my email inbox.
Samantha: I have been watching lots of Judge Mathis and trying to do it every day. I’ve been pretty good the last couple of weeks at getting it out every day. I’ve been listening to the new Fiona Apple, and the new Waxahatchee, which is so, so, so good. Those are both really good albums. I was listening to Mitski all day yesterday, who I love, and was really feeling that. What have I been reading? I feel like I’m always reading ten different things. I just started this book called The Return, which is scary, I can’t remember who wrote it, oh my god, I’m not going to come up with it, but The Return. It has a pink cover and it’s supposed to be terrifying. What else? I’m reading another thriller too, The Herd, it’s by Andrea Bartz. I love a thriller. I feel like those of us who love thrillers get a bad rap because they’re not intellectual or whatever, but give me a page-turning, like you-have-to-keep-going-to-find-out-the-next-thing, and I can die happy. Those are my favorite things. And TV, I just started rewatching Succession, because that’s my jam. I’m so sad though because it’s not going to come back for a long time, and that makes me sad.
Maris: Yeah, that is sad. I love that one of your—a great essay in the book is your ’90s mix. Tell me a little bit about that. I would like to curate my listening to make it sound like I only listen to the cool things, and you’re just like, Dave Matthews!
Samantha: Okay, I love him so much. It’s irrational. He did one of those, “I’m just a guy with my guitar in my garage playing a concert” kind of videos. I watched all of it, including the awkward alone banter that he was doing, and I like cried. Okay, here’s the thing. I’m not going to give you a dissertation, but I’m going to give you a mini dissertation on Dave Matthews. I feel like he gets judged by his fans rather than his voice, which is beautiful, his falsetto is so beautiful, and he sings very lovely songs. I love him so much. And also, not that I’m alone in this, but all my ’90s music, all of the music I listened to in high school—even though I didn’t love high school—it really stuck with me. I feel like being in high school in 1994, not a bad time for music. Grunge was really my shit.
But also, I do like a lot of embarrassing music too. And I did back then. A mix tape for me was always the way to show someone that I wanted to impress them. Like, I care about your opinion, here are a bunch of songs that I love and maybe you’ll love them too. If I can do that for people now, if I can just be like, “Listen, I think you’re so cool, can I mail you a tape?” That’s an incredible way to show someone that you want them to think you’re special. As much as I want people to think that I only listen to cool stuff, I feel like you have to be transparent about the stuff that’s not cool too. Because everybody has something. The other day I was listening to Selena Gomez, and I was like, you know, I’m maybe too old for this, but this new album is a jam, so I’m going to post it on Instagram so people know that I like embarrassing dance music as much as I love cool indie music no one’s ever heard of, except everyone’s heard of everything.
Maris: Tell me a little bit more about TV writing. You write about TV writing in the book, but I want to hear some updates.
Samantha: in the book I wrote about writing for a show, which was incredible. TV comedy writing, I haven’t done any other kind, but TV comedy writing is so fun because it truly—I just worked on this show Work in Progress. There’s one season out already on Showtime, I worked on season two. There’s a bunch of improv people in the room. Nothing is better than sitting in a room filled with improv nerds just trying to make each other laugh all day. It’s just people doing bits all day long. That’s all I want to be doing is making fun of stuff and nobody is taking me seriously. For me, TV writing has been an incredible experience because you’re sitting with people you probably—maybe I would have met them but probably not, and the goal is let me get that guy across the table to burst out laughing, while she is across the table trying to get me to burst out laughing. It’s so funny.
Book writing is just me in the middle of the night with my writing snacks getting deep into my head and then trying to pull myself out and be like, does this make sense? Whereas writing for TV, you’re just throwing things at the wall and seeing if they make people laugh, seeing if it sticks. That’s one of the things that makes TV writing that much more fun, is that you get the instant reaction. Because when you’re writing a book, especially when you’re trying to make a joke, I write it and it makes me laugh, and I read it again and it makes me laugh, and I send it to my agent who’s like, he’s very stoic, so I don’t know that I’ve ever made—. He commented on one of my tweets the other day and was like, “Sam, this made me laugh,” and I wanted to print out and frame the tweet because usually he’s just like, “Okay.”
With books it’s such delayed gratification. That’s the one thing about not touring, is not talking to people and seeing how things land and not reading in front of an audience. With TV writing there’s someone right there who, they respond to your joke positively, or you’re like, that was a bad joke. So, I loved it. The experiences are so different on a collaboration versus just me trying to make myself laugh at home. It’s been very cool. I don’t know that I want to do it all the time because competing for jobs and shit is hard, and I can’t do that. But if someone invites me to do it again, I will happily do it. I had a lot of fun.
Maris: I love it. And maybe your own series will be developed sometime soon?
Samantha: Oh, yes! How did I leave that out? I’m so busy being like watch these other shows, who cares about me? I have a show in development right now at Comedy Central based on Meaty, my first book, and I got to write the pilot, which is a thing that doesn’t happen for a lot of people, where you get to adapt your own work. It all at once is exciting but also like, do people want to see a fake version of me doing this stuff? Hopefully yes, hopefully people will watch it. I just finished the seventeenth draft of the pilot, and Comedy Central was like—if they let me make this show, it will be a coup, because it’s so disgusting and funny. It really is. The pilot, right out the gate, as disgusting as you think I am, it’s worse. They picked it up to pilot, so hopefully, if we ever get to leave our homes, we’re going to shoot the pilot and then of course they’re going to love it, and then they’re going to order the whole series, and then they’re going to let me make a whole series, which would be good.
But the pilot is, it’s almost like essay writing except structured a little differently, and I’m the only one laughing, and then I send it to other people. Abbi Jacobson is producing it, so I send it to her and I’m like, is that funny…? And she’s like yeah, let’s end it to them! We did several rounds of that, and then they were finally like, we like this! We’re going to give you a camera and a casting director, and you’re going to shoot a pilot. So, when everything opens up, hopefully we’ll get to shoot the pilot and then they’ll love it and then we’ll get to make a whole show. Which would be so crazy.
Maris: Oh, I hope so! Sam, tell me a little bit about the bookstores you had meant to travel to for this tour.
Samantha: Well, I was going to go to Women & Children First in Chicago, which is like my place. Although Chicago has a lot of really good indie bookstores, and I love them all so much, like The Book Cellar. This is never going to happen, but one day I would love to just go to all the independent bookstores in one town and see how many people I can get to follow me from one to the other. That’s a dream. I was going to go to Parnassus in Nashville, and I was going to go to Pages in Denver. Where else? Community Bookstore in New York. And I think in New York we were going to do the same kind of thing, where I go there and to Greenlight and to Word and to Books Are Magic. Maybe just sign at all of those, because truly, how many people need to listen to me talk in the same town?
That part does make me sad, that I don’t get to—I did a two-month tour when the rerelease of Meaty came out, and I had to ship books home because I have no impulse control. I remember I went to Moon Palace, which I was going to go to again on this tour, in Minneapolis, and at the end of the night I was just in the paperback section picking up books and picking up books, and I went to check out with them and the woman behind the register was like, “Um, is your suitcase empty?” And I was like, actually, no. I had to shove all these books in there. I was going to go to Powell’s. I love Powell’s. I’ve seen a lot of Powell’s but certainly not everything there is to see there. And I was going to go to Elliot Bay, Skylight, all of these places that I love so much. So, I’m sad that I don’t get to see all those people. Hopefully they’ll have me back, either if I write another book, or maybe we can do some kind of like, remember this book I put out a year ago? tour.
Maris: Yeah, you’re paperback original, so you don’t get that second wave.
Samantha: I know! I don’t even think I could do a hardcover book because I’m just like, I can’t be charging people thirty dollars, not for this. Fifteen is enough! Not for what I do. No way.
Maris: Sam, it’s always a pleasure. I do hope I get to see you in real life soon.
Samantha: You will! I will come to New York fully vaccinated, come to your house, and see you and Josh and Bizzy. If I see no one else, I’m going to come see you.
Maris: That would be an honor. Thank you!