Today I chat with the fellow behind the wonderful website and now new book My Parents Were Awesome. He is a writer and comedian in New York whose stuff can be found about the web and onstage at the UCB Theatre. You can learn much more about what makes him tick here.
Congratulations on the book: how was your party? Did you have time to enjoy it?
Thank you! The book release party was amazing. The place was packed, and it was such an outpouring of support from my friends and family. Giulia Rozzi (a contributor) did stand-up, and blew the roof off. And Dave Itzkoff, Rachel Shukert, and Rachel Sklar all read, which was an honor. And my parents sat in the front after I'd asked them not to. So that was appropriate.
What was the most difficult part of turning the blog into the book?
Definitely the time crunch. Initially, we were supposed to be on shelves for the holidays (before it was changed to 4/11 in time for Mother's Day), so I only had about three months to collect and edit over 40 essays, which launched me into a sort of nervous breakdown. But it was worth it. Or at least it will be when I'm talking about it over champagne flutes with KLG and Hoda (fingers crossed).
Between your book/site, "Shit My Dad Says," Dads on Vacation and Postcards From Yo Momma, celebrating one's parents, ironically or not, seems to be an unlikely trend. What do you think is behind that?
I'm no expert (on anything), but I think our generation is one that was never necessarily expected to rebel. I mean, a lot of us were dicks to our parents when we were teenagers (that's the rule because teenagers are gross), but, unlike Gen X'ers and Boomers, we were smoldered with love and encouragement in a way that no prior generation ever was. We were constantly told how special we were, and today it's sort of reached an excessive boiling point, the way so many kids seem to assume now that they deserve baseless fame and fortune (see CJ Fam). Nevertheless, that sentiment of parents rallying behind their kids more than ever before is probably what has resulted in compassionate, appreciative children.
I can't help but notice that the "Hipstamatic" function on iPhones tends to recreate a photographic feel that we actually see in photos on the site. How much do you think people's enjoyment of the site is derived from sentimentality, and how much from a simple enjoyment of photography?
That's such a great point. Our generation (and our kids) won't experience nostalgia the way our parents and grandparents have, which might be why hipster fashion at its most mainstream, like American Apparel, bets on us dressing timelessly, as does Hipstamatic in the way we're photographed. People who appreciate aesthetics don't want to look back on their life in hi-res Facebook pictures where you can see visible sweat stains and acne scars (all of my friends have acne scars). We want to look timeless, which is what Hipstamatic encapsulates perfectly. And while there's definitely a major quotient of people who look at the site because they like photography, I think it functions as more than just a photo blog.
What do you think is the best representative essay from the book?
My friend, Jackie Mancini, who is the child of a divorce, does an incredible job connecting the dots between her biological father's life and her own impulsive, nomadic, thrill-seeking behavior. He was never the perfect father, and yet she's learned that, although their relationship is anything but ideal, she has grown to understand him as someone who, like it or not, makes up an enormous portion of her personality. Through pictures and nostalgic paraphernalia, Jackie writes about how she realizes that she'll never be able to escape her own DNA, and that, despite his faults, she has learned to cherish her dad for what he can offer.
What are some of your favorite photos from the site?
Do you have any delightful stories from your days interning at SNL or Conan?
I got to witness the Ashlee Simpson debacle firsthand, which was glorious. And I grinded on Justin Timberlake at an after-party when he wasn't looking, which made me feel weird, but whatever.
Who was your second-favorite Golden Girl and why?
Definitely Blanche. It's not just because Blanche is so saucy, per se, but more so because Rue McClanahan got so good at comic timing as the show progressed that I think she was on par with Bea by the last seasons. I don't think Rue was ever given the opportunity to show off her comedic chops so widely before Golden Girls, but there's a two-part episode when she stays up all night, writing a novel that she thinks is a literary masterpiece. By the time she enters the kitchen in the morning, she's completely delusional, and it always makes me laugh, the way she sees egg yolks in a bag and thinks she's hallucinating, staring at "little balls of sunshine." She just chews through the scenery. In fact, when Rue died, my mom texted me and said "Please don't get Rue tattooed on your other arm."
Have you heard much reaction thus far from the parents referenced either on the blog or the book? Is there a broad spectrum or are they happy to be "famous"?
From what I've heard, all the parents in the book are happy with how they're portrayed. I know a couple of people were hesitant at first, but I haven't heard of any negative fallout or anything like that.
Is there any sort of backhanded compliment, you think, in implying that one's parents used to be awesome but aren't anymore?
A lot of people bring that up, but I don't mean is as an insult. It's more of a call to arms, a reminder that we so easily overlook the actual lives our parents had before we were brought into the world and they poured all their concentration into raising us. But a lot of submissions come in emails that say "My parents are still awesome," which is really sweet and encouraging.
When's the next High School Talent Show? What can audience members expect?
My sister, Ilana, and I Iaid that show to rest last year after about three years so that I could focus on the book, and she could focus on her web series, Broad City. But we're both still UCB performers, so we end up doing "bit" shows often, and are both writing new stuff.
Do you have any advice for working creatively with one's sibling?
I come from a very rambunctious, Jewish, New York family, so we all know each other's business. My sister and I get along really well, but we also hold nothing back. She tells me things I don't want to know, but that's how it's always been. So, from my perspective, just being honest is always the best way to go.
In real life, who is one of your favorite parents who isn't your own?
Anne Altman, who used to produce and perform at East Coast stagings of the show Mortified (which was my first foray into comedy) became a single mom about a year ago to her son, John, and she exemplifies the whole "cool mom" thing without even trying. She just exudes nothing but love for her kid and talks about him all the time, the way I think a devoted parent should, in my opinion. I always tell her she reminds me of Kirstie Alley's character from "Look Who's Talking" -- she's this brassy, New York broad with a kid who isn't super rich or anything, but is just obsessed with her kid the way I imagine I will be with my own in, like, 100 years.
Can you direct me to your favorite pet videos of late?
How does it feel to be the 280th person interviewed for Zulkey.com?
It feels like I'm doing something right, since I'm on the same list as some of my heroes.