Samantha Irby on oversharing and the art of confessional writing


Samantha Irby is not shy about her shortcomings.

The blogger and author of the essay collections “We Are Never Meeting in Real Life” and “Meaty” writes both openly and hilariously about dealing with Crohn’s disease, awkward dating experiences and bad habits. She treats every subject — her love of junk food, reality TV and her difficult childhood — with the same tender and foul-mouthed frankness.

In one essay, she details the side effects of an ill-advised diet program: “When I wasn’t burning calories from breaking a continuous stream of putrid wind, I was sweating on the toilet as three ounces of food karate-chopped their way through my intestinal tract.”

She’s currently on a book tour promoting the recently re-released “Meaty.” When she was in Los Angeles, The Times caught up with Irby — who is as laugh-out-loud funny in real life as she is in her writing — to talk about it. This conversation has been edited.

You wrote a book called "We Are Never Meeting in Real Life" and you are currently on a cross-country tour meeting all the people who read it in real life. Do you feel like you cosmically wished this upon yourself, somehow?

I would say yes, except I'm going to shift the blame a little bit to my editor, because I wanted to call the book "Everything is Garbage." But she was a little apprehensive about it, and I was like, I'm not an expert. I've never really done this before so I'm going to go with what you say.

She came up with a list of things, and “We're Never Meeting in Real Life" was on there and I was like, yes, that sounds like me. So it's sort of half on her and half on me that I am now forced to weather people making that joke a million times. But yeah, I am ready to to move on to the next thing and like call it something realistic, like, "Don't look me in the eye or talk to me."

You've been on the road to promote the re-release of "Meaty," your first book of essays. What is it like having to revisit all your old work?

Excruciating. Reading the first pass I was skimming, trying to spare myself humiliation. Reading something from years ago is just like reading my high school diary or something, where I'm like, “Oh man. I can't believe that I thought that. I can't believe that I wrote that.” But this time it's like everybody's reading it.

And then they were like, “Yeah, we want you do to an audiobook.”

Oh God.

Yeah, and I did that, and it, um, I just wanted to like peel my skin off like an orange. I was like, “I can't believe I wrote this.” The first thing I thought was, “Why didn't we let this die? Why didn't we pretend I never wrote this?” Yeah, it was excruciating.

Samantha Irby reading to a standing-room-only crowd at Book Soup.
(Jessica Roy / L.A. Times)

Is there anything you've written about where in retrospect you're like, thinking, “I wish people didn't know that about me?”

All of the “I pooped my pants,” that kind of stuff, I never regret it. The only things I do regret are any sort of vulnerability or sadness where I feel like I've conceded something to someone else. So when I write about getting my heart broken, and that person is still alive and can maybe read it and know how much they hurt my feelings.

But really, I never regret it because part of why I keep doing this is because I get feedback from people that's like, “that thing you wrote really helped me.” If my talking about getting my heart hit by a bus is helpful, then I’m cool with it. But I do think that was part of the hard thing about reading “Meaty” again. I was like, oh man, there are so many thinly veiled bruised feelings and that is hard.

But any of the, like, “I fell out of this” or “I pooped on that,” no regrets. No regrets.

So you’re more like, “OK, that was embarrassing and terrible, but it was still pretty funny”?

In the moment I'm not always like the first person to laugh. Sometimes things happen and I'm like, “Somebody please throw me off a building.” But if you give me like an hour, I can usually find the humor in most things. I'm very good at synthesizing some horrible things into something that's like, OK, that was hilarious.

I feel like what you do is a lot harder than what I do. You share such intensely personal things. I won't even mention on Twitter that I have a husband. I don’t want people to know about me.

I feel like journalism is a little harder than what I do. Because my subject matter never changes. For me, once I started with the oversharing, the telling 90% of everything, I can't stop now, you know what I mean? I can't all of a sudden be like “No, the door is closed.”

Also in general, I just am a pretty confessional person, because it feels freeing to me. I am the kind of person who walks into a room and says, “Oh my God, I’m sweating, I can't wear deodorant because I'm allergic to it, and I have to take a dump, see you in 10 minutes.” The freedom in that is worth more than the embarrassment.

But also I’m kind of shouting my stuff into a little echo chamber. You have to choose to click on my blog, you have to choose to buy my book, so it feels safer — you chose to buy this book so I think you're going to be OK with knowing all my business. So there's a little bit of safety in my particular brand of oversharing.

I don’t know that I’d call what you do oversharing, because if people want to read it, it's not oversharing. It's only oversharing if people are like, “shut up.”

That's true! The people I'm telling it to want to know it. But then I don't know what to call it? My confessional? My stories? Maybe just my stories. Stories is a good way. Because everyone wants to hear a story, right?

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