If you'd like to see a very abbreviated list of what makes me (and other AV Club writers) laugh, check this out.
Today I chat with a very witty and forthright (IE Mom, Dad, there is frank talk in this interview) iwriter and comedian whose first book, People Are Unappealing: Even Me is out now. Her essays have also appeared in the anthologies Mortified: The Big Book of Angst, Have I Got A Guy For You, and Rock and Roll Cage-Match. As a performer she's appeared on Showtime's This American Life, NPR's Weekend Edition, NBC's The Today Show, and at the 10th annual H.B.O. Comedy Arts Festival. She hosts The Moth: Stories Told and teaches humor writing at Gotham Writer's Workshop.
How did the book version of "People are Unappealing" come about?
I'd written a solo-show called PEOPLE ARE UNAPPEALING and I was lucky enough to have a literary agent come to see it and say, "I think you could turn this into a book." And I said, "All right then." I was waiting tables fifty hours a week at The Olive Garden at the time, a reality that makes other pursuits - penning a book, for example - seem more doable. "If I can do this," you tell yourself, "I can do anything."
Do you think you'd approach writing your next book in a different way?
Yes. I'd try and buy a second computer just for book writing that wouldn't have access to Facebook. Honestly, I feel like PEOPLE ARE UNAPPEALING would've taken half the time to write - or alternately been twice as long - if I didn't spend upwards of two hours a day checking the "pages" of every ex-boyfriend and/or high school nemesis.
What was the hardest part about writing this book?
Staying focused (see above.) For me, writing a book was basically an invitation to find new and inventive ways of internet stalking.
hat will the next one be about?
I'm working on another essay collection tentatively titled PEOPLE ARE JERKS. It focuses on subjects as diverse as sing-a-longs, Facebook, arson, condom-popping clit rings and also hand sanitizer.
You share a lot of personal stories when you write and perform: is there anything off-limits for you?
Not if I think it's good for a laugh. To me, it's way more embarrassing that my parents still have to help me pay for health insurance that it is that I once masturbated myself into a wrist brace. Since, you know, the wrist brace anecdote reveals that I'm an over-achiever. The health insurance one just proves that I'm incompetent.
It seems like you come from an open family in general (you talk about your family's fascination with your dad's bathroom habits on the first page)--have you ever gotten in trouble for sharing something about them?
Not yet. Though I don't know how my grandmother's going to take to the fact that I tell the story of the time my brother found her vibrator stuffed into a tube sock.
What are some of the keys to a good Moth reading?
Rehearsal. You'd be shocked the number of people who think they can get in front of a microphone with little to no preparation and just see what happens. Know the story you're going to tell; know where it starts, know where it climaxes, know where it ends.
What is your piece in "Mortified: The Big Book of Angst" about?
I wrote a pornographic 50-page-long screenplay when I was eleven and it's what got featured in "Mortified." There's lots of "wild frenching" and "violent humping." Also, it involves Paula Abdul and lots of post-coital champagne toasts.
What type of cringe readings seem to yield the best performances?
Anything works, really, as long as the audience can sense from the performer that she is, truly, at a comfortable place with her subject wherein she's totally ready and able to laugh at herself.
Had you forgotten about the porno you'd written as an 11-year-old until an audience for embarrassing readings came about, or had you always remembered it and just wanted to find the right place for it?
I rediscovered The Porn before I knew there was a decent forum for it to be read aloud. That said, I still don't think I've found its most ideal platform. Really, I think it's meant to be a massive movie blockbuster starring, preferably, Tom Cruise and Christie Brinkley.
What lesson when you teach humor writing do your students seem to find most helpful?
Economy. Of. Words. Also, funniest word goes at the end of a sentence.
I read this blurb somewhere: "Sara Barron establishes herself as the Michael Phelps of complaining." What's your drug and how are you taking it?
Lexapro! 10 milligrams a day with a healthy gulp of water!
How did the "twat waffle" story come to be such Manhattan lore?
Page 6 and then Perez Hilton picked up the story, one of me being wronged by a couple of wonderfully wealthy and entitled celebrities I refer to as "Luigi" (a red-headed and Italian celebrity chef) and "Twat Waffle" (a famous vegan rock-star) respectively. The explanation for the latter's pseudonym gets revealed over the course of the story but in short I'll say that it involves twats. And also waffles.
In a fight between an actress who goes to a fancy restaurant but doesn't really want to eat vs. an egomaniacal chef who refuses to change his menu, whose side would you take?
Which writers make you laugh?
David Sedaris, Sarah Vowell, David Rakoff, Jonathan Ames, Lorrie Moore, Meghan Daum, Flannery O'Connor, Dorothy Parker. Oh. And both the Olsen twins. Their recent coffee table book "Influence" was WONDERFUL.
How does it feel to be the 227th person interviewed for Zulkey.com?
Erotic. Highly erotic.