The Rumpus Book Club chats with Samantha Irby about her new essay collection, We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, all that comes along with writing about your life, and reading great horror books.
This is an edited transcript of the book club discussion. Every month The Rumpus Book Club hosts a discussion online with the book club members and the author, and we post an edited version online as an interview. To become a member of the Rumpus Book Club, click here. Upcoming writers include Danzy Senna, Wioletta Greg, Carmen Maria Machado, and more.
This Rumpus Book Club interview was edited by Marisa Siegel.
Marisa: Hi, and welcome to our Book Club chat with Samantha Irby about her new essay collection, We Are Never Meeting in Real Life!
Eva Woods: This is so exciting!
Marisa: One minute till start time!
Adriana Mark: Yay!
Jordan K.: Hi all. Enjoyed this book!
Samantha Irby: Hi hi hi!
Marisa: Let me kick this off by saying I LOVED THIS BOOK. It was such a perfect mix of hilarious and real. I really did laugh AND cry.
Samantha Irby: I’ve never been in a chat room before.
Marisa: Not even in the 90s? AOL?
Samantha Irby: NOT EVEN IN THE 90s. What was I even doing!?
Jordan K.: Listening to De La Soul, right?
Marisa: I mean, probably cooler stuff than us kids hanging out in chat rooms.
Lynda: I laughed out loud and my heart hurt all at the same time so many times. Couldn’t put it down.
Samantha Irby: Yes, listening to De La Soul, on cassette, not being cool at all.
Samantha Irby: THANK YOU!
Marisa: I pretended to know what De La Soul was, but secretly was home listening to show tunes and Joni Mitchell.
Samantha Irby: It’s weird because you write a book in a vacuum, with only the feedback from the editor, so now that real people have it I’m like, “I can’t believe a person who isn’t getting paid to be into this actually likes it!” *sobs*
Samantha Irby: Oh man my mom had Barbra Streisand LPs; pleeeeeeeease don’t give me too many cool points.
Adriana Mark: Love your voice! Speaking of music, dying to know the other jams on the BONA FIDE JAMS Spotify list in “Nashville Hot Chicken.”
Samantha Irby: Mary J. Blige, Carl Thomas, Musiq Soulchild… best singalong music ever.
Samantha Irby: The best driving music is mid-tempo 90s R&B.
Adriana Mark: Teenager in the early 90s here.
Samantha Irby: Sprinkled with 90s alternative.
Eva Woods: Kind of, mid-tempo mid 90s R&B is the best music for everything.
Samantha Irby: YES.
Samantha Irby: There’s a theme, obviously? Only listen to music from your teens?
Eva Woods: Do you listen to music while you’re writing?
Samantha Irby: When I’m writing, I like sad music.
Lynda: Teens or early twenties—that’s the music that sets you up for the future and holds the biggest memories.
Eva Woods: Sam, what’s sad music for you?
Marisa: Like, what song do you put on when you want to make yourself cry?
Samantha Irby: My writing playlist: King Krule, Sharon van Etten, Portishead.
Samantha Irby: My NUMBER ONE CRYING JAM: “Blue Poles” by Patti Smith.
Marisa: Portishead is GREAT for writing. A+ choices.
Samantha Irby: Oh god. Beach House, Radiohead…
Marisa: We could totally write in the same room, woman.
Samantha Irby: I wrote this book while listening to a lot of James Blake.
Samantha Irby: WRITING CLUB AT MY CRIB.
Eva Woods: He’s like… weirdly good at Twitter?
Samantha Irby: He is!? You gotta find his NPR concert! He’s a dream.
Ann B: Hi Samantha. The book tour. How is that going to be for you? I mean, so many people.
Marisa: I was wondering that, too, Ann. If I ever actually wrote a book, the book tour would terrify me.
Samantha Irby: Hi, Ann! Well, I was in NYC all week and it was both amazing and super stressful?
Samantha Irby: Like, not to be trite, but I am SO SO GRATEFUL people read and buy my stuff.
Samantha Irby: And I wanna hug everyone and listen to their diarrhea stories.
Samantha Irby: But toward the end of the readings/signings, I just want to get away from the noise.
Samantha Irby: AND THE CAMERAS.
Marisa: NYC is an especially stressful place to start your book tour (and just a stressful place to be).
Samantha Irby: I’m no good in New York. It’s so busy and everyone is mean.
Eva Woods: I was so happy reading your book and impressed with how brave it feels to me to share about your love and relationships. Was it hard put that out there?
Marisa: You must hear SO MANY stories from people. I want to tell you my whole life.
Samantha Irby: Eva: I usually don’t write about things until I’ve processed them. Like, really, really worked them out in my heart.
Samantha Irby: I also don’t ever want to disrespect someone I still care about.
Samantha Irby: But once you open Pandora’s box…
Marisa: I was going to ask where your limits are with writing about your life. Is there a limit?
Samantha Irby: I feel like if I ever stopped being open people would be like “WTF WHO EVEN ARE YOU.”
Marisa: Are there topics and people you don’t/won’t write about?
Samantha Irby: I still have a real hard time writing about my body, and my complicated feelings about it, and being depressed.
Samantha Irby: I’d rather talk about every sexual encounter I’ve ever had in excruciating detail than talk about how I’ve had dreams about cake.
Eva Woods: You overcame that beautifully in the book.
Samantha Irby: Thanks girl.
Marisa: Have you read Hunger, by Roxane Gay, yet? Amazing writing about the body. (Of course it is.) And I keep thinking of your writing while reading Hunger. Lots of parallels in how you approach the body, even though they are such different books.
Samantha Irby: I just finished Hunger and when I tell you it wrecked me…? IT TOTALLY DID.
Marisa: I know. It’s like someone is seeing through my bullshit and just talking right at my truths.
Marisa: Which, for me, was also true of many pieces in We Are Never Meeting in Real Life.
Eva Woods: So how do you do it even when it’s hard? My method is: I don’t.
Samantha Irby: YES. My default is humor, and Roxane is so sensitive and smart, but while I was reading it I kept thinking about how much of myself I saw in it.
Marisa: Did writing Meaty make the second book any easier? Or was it just as hard this time around?
Samantha Irby: I dip a toe in the scary waters and see what response I get.
Samantha Irby: If people hate it I’m never writing about my body again, LOL.
Samantha Irby: Meaty didn’t really have an editor or anything? So this experience, with a large publishing company who has lawyers and copyeditors and a marketing team, was totally overwhelming.
Samantha Irby: It felt much more like a team effort.
Eva Woods: We Are Never Meeting had so many jokes per page it was amazing. I loved how you kept the hard stuff humorous but it didn’t feel like you were hiding behind comedy, which seems like a hard line to walk. Is that an impulse you have and is it something you intentionally don’t do?
Samantha Irby: I feel like my go-to coping mechanism is humor. It’s how I’ve always processed things.
Samantha Irby: But never in a clowny way that masks my feelings, you know?
Samantha Irby: I’ve been lucky that my natural response to most situations is to find the comedic silver lining.
Lynda: Is your book tour coming to San Francisco?
Eva Woods: I do know! I think I sometimes hide behind jokes but I’m trying not to so much.
Marisa: Is writing humor different than being funny in real life for you? Or is Sam-on-the-page the same Sam we’d meet at the bar?
Eva Woods: OOOH good Q Marisa; I also wanna know this!
Samantha Irby: SAN FRAN: nothing scheduled yet, but if there’s demand then probably!?
Samantha Irby: Oh no, I’m really funny IRL.
Samantha Irby: I am a people pleaser.
Samantha Irby: All I ever want to do is make people comfortable and make them laugh.
Samantha Irby: If you show me any interest at all my tail starts wagging.
Marisa: You seem like someone I would absolutely want to hang out with. But you are pretty much writing about all the stuff I think about: my weight, medical issues, dead and difficult parents, relationships. It’s all there.
Samantha Irby: Yeah! that’s what motivates me! Knowing that my people are out there thinking about the same shit.
Eva Woods: The relationship stuff was SO HONEST. I couldn’t think of another time I’d read about a woman going, “Yep sometimes love is just gross and dumb but I want it.”
Samantha Irby: I am just not a romantic person.
Samantha Irby: But I want someone to love me.
Marisa: And it’s so nice to have someone write it down! And just say the stuff we aren’t “supposed” to say. Which sounds trite but there is still so much shit women aren’t supposed to say.
Samantha Irby: And lying about it just feels so exhausting.
Samantha Irby: One of the reasons I started writing was reading Bridget Jones. Did you guys read that first book?
Samantha Irby: And I liked it but was also like, “This isn’t how women really are.”
Eva Woods: YES.
Marisa: I did but so long ago. I don’t remember loving it… I think I felt like it wasn’t real life.
Adriana Mark: Agreed!
Samantha Irby: And she was being celebrated as this fictional hero who said things women wouldn’t say and it rang so false to me.
Eva Woods: I loved it a weird amount, but then I went back and read it last year and kind of hated everyone?
Samantha Irby: RIGHT.
Samantha Irby: So when I’m writing I think to myself BE THE OPPOSITE OF THAT. Like, who does it help to paint a picture that isn’t true?
Marisa: Disclaimer: I know Eva in real life. Eva, I am SHOCKED you loved that book. Less shocked you don’t love it now.
Samantha Irby: Because lying about yourself can be a prison.
Eva Woods: I thought it was really funny!
Samantha Irby: HAHAHAHAHAHA it was!
Eva Woods: OH TOTALLY because you have to then be that person you made up.
Samantha Irby: Right! You can actually never meet anyone!
Marisa: Sam that is so wise. When I was a kid I would confess anything I thought was a secret, to my mom or to friends, because holding the information felt like a prison. That was exactly it.
Eva Woods: How have the people you write about in We Are Never Meeting in Real Life reacted to it?
Samantha Irby: So everyone has asked me what Fred thought…
Samantha Irby: And people are having MANY, MANY FEELINGS about that essay.
Marisa: I was going to ask what your partner thought, too. But also Fred.
Samantha Irby: And I don’t usually do this but I sent it to him before I sent it to my editor.
Samantha Irby: He loved it and was super proud of it!
Eva Woods: AWWWW.
Ann B: Applause!
Eva Woods: That’s so rad.
Marisa: I mean, that is perfect.
Samantha Irby: So my partner’s name is actually Kirsten.
Samantha Irby: And I wrote the piece about our sex life while on vacation. And I let her read it before I sent it in and she loved it.
Ann B: Where did “Maeve” come from? That name?
Samantha Irby: Okay, so:
Samantha Irby: As a “getting to know you” question she asked me, “Mavis Staples or Aretha Franklin?”
Samantha Irby: Naturally, I CHOSE ARETHA.
Samantha Irby: She argued that Mavis Staples was better, so I started calling her Mavis.
Marisa: She’s a Mavis chooser?!
Eva Woods: I’d also say Mavis tbh.
Samantha Irby: OMG EVA WHAT?!
Eva Woods: Sam, I feel like Aretha is the romantic answer.
Samantha Irby: STOP IT.
Eva Woods: Maybe you’re a liiiiitle romantic…
Samantha Irby: NEVER.
Samantha Irby: 🙂
Eva Woods: Someone told me I wasn’t romantic in a human way, but I was romantic about the world, and I fuck with that.
Marisa: Sam is totally romantic. It’s like how she pretends she didn’t love that cat. You totally loved your cat, Sam.
Samantha Irby: OMG I DID LOVE THAT CAT.
Ann B: I cried hard when Helen Keller… you know…
Marisa: See, that was the thing about this book. It was so honest the pretending was clear, because it was honest pretending.
Eva Woods: You can’t roast someone that deeply if you don’t love them.
Samantha Irby: Ann, I didn’t want to make you cry!
Eva Woods: Is it weird when people tell you that your writing made them cry?
Samantha Irby: And yes, I save my most painful barbs for people I love the most.
Marisa: OMG the first Helen Keller piece killed me. I was howling with laughter in my car in the parking lot of my son’s preschool. Where they all already think I’m crazy, because I’m the fat mom with tattoos and pink hair in this suburban, fancy neighborhood.
Ann B: Ask Lynda how I feel about cats.
Ann B: (Lynda on this chat.)
Samantha Irby: I love when people cry.
Marisa: I’ll ask! Lynda, how does Ann feel about cats?
Samantha Irby: I mean, you know what I mean.
Marisa: I have a cat who I love but who is also the epitome of evil. We just put him on Prozac. He’s a new man.
Samantha Irby: Helen was such a fucking asshole but I miss her so much.
Samantha Irby: Ooh Prozac!
Lynda: She loves them… hard… we used to live together with my kitty The Snapperhead… Ann is the best cat auntie around… and she makes up the best meow songs and sings to them…
Samantha Irby: If Helen would have taken a pill without murdering me I woulda tried it.
Marisa: Stop you’re going to make me cry right now. I have a lot of cat feelings (my first cat dropped dead in my living room out of the blue at eight years old; it was a bad scene).
Samantha Irby: I sing to the cat, too!
Samantha Irby: Oh god, Marisa 🙁
Eva Woods: I cried when Helen was sick. Because MAN loving something that can’t tell you what hurts seems like the WORST.
Ann B: Cats, man, they’re alien beings that make me sneeze. I love ‘em. And I, too, sing to them.
Marisa: So, he tried to murder us the first time, but now he kind of comes up to us looking for the pill? Like at the time we give it to him, he shows up waiting. Prozac addict cat.
Samantha Irby: Do you put it in something good?
Samantha Irby: Helen would’ve taken a pill in a steak.
Marisa: There is no greater statement about your work than that you made Eva Woods cry about a cat, Sam.
Lynda: I sing to them too… my cat now, Dieter falls asleep and drools when he is being sung to.
Samantha Irby: PUT THAT ON MY HEADSTONE.
Samantha Irby: We have new cats but they aren’t as great.
Eva Woods: Yeah, it’s true; it was wild. It was so tender and funny and sad.
Marisa: He turned his nose up at those pill pockets. We just toss it down his throat; we’re hardcore.
Samantha Irby: Wow o wow *tips cap*
Marisa: Sam, what do you like to read? Who do you consider your literary and/or comedic influences?
Samantha Irby: You’re about to find out that I’m an idiot. I love fiction, but especially courtroom dramas and basic-ass horror.
Eva Woods: AAAH I am a huge horror fan.
Eva Woods: What are your faves?
Samantha Irby: Hmm my fave comics: Mike Epps, Dave Chappelle, Paul Mooney, Mo’nique. Comedic writers? I mean, you gotta love Sedaris.
Samantha Irby: I also REALLY LOVE Carl Hiaasen. His books are hilarious.
Marisa: Oh! Our Managing Editor just did a great interview with Sedaris, and then he sent her this lovely, witty postcard.
Eva Woods: If I could steal any writer’s talent it would be Sedaris’s. It is legit amazing.
Samantha Irby: I am a big Stephen King nerd. Did you guys read Mr. Splitfoot by Samantha Hunt?
Samantha Irby: THAT WAS GOOD HORROR.
Eva Woods: No! I will though.
Marisa: I LOVE SAMANTHA HUNT!
Eva Woods: Do you also watch horror? Or just read it?
Samantha Irby: Just read it. The visuals terrify me. And the music. I GET SO TENSE.
Marisa: Did you read Night Film by Marisha Pessl? I feel like you’d like that.
Samantha Irby: Yes I did!
Samantha Irby: That was a jam!
Marisa: It was some fun, scary reading. And I feel like women don’t write that way enough.
Samantha Irby: SO GOOD.
Samantha Irby: Did you read that Caroline Kepnes book? Pretty sure it’s called You? That was fun and scary.
Eva Woods: This is great. I haven’t read much horror but I’m getting a great list to start.
Marisa: No! Which one? I’ll add to my “will read when my child enters real school and I can breathe again” list.
Samantha Irby: I know she’s polarizing but I LOVE Gillian Flynn.
Marisa: Me, too! Gone Girl is okay, but not my favorite. Her other books are SO good. When she blew up, I was like, I knew her before you did, world.
Eva Woods: I just started Gone Girl.
Marisa: She’s another writer who I feel like steps into spaces people are uncomfortable with women writers being in, and I’m like, yes, please, more.
Samantha Irby: I had to read that shit with the lights on.
Marisa: Dark Places was so terrifying. Yes, lights on for sure. Like, all the lights.
Eva Woods: I can’t wait. I love being scared so much.
Eva Woods: The first half of Room had me shaking.
Marisa: I won’t see the movie version of Room. The book was enough, thank you.
Samantha Irby: OMG I just read this book that was creepy/scary and I can’t think of the title.
Samantha Irby: SHIT YOU GUYS. There’s a young girl on the cover. It’s new.
Eva Woods: Sam have you seen the nosleep subreddit? While yes, it’s reddit, there’s some really good horror writing there.
Lynda: Totally agree on the movie version of Room—I’ve been tempted but the book was more than enough…
Samantha Irby: Is it like, mini horror stories?
Eva Woods: Yep!
Samantha Irby: Kirsten’s kids read those aloud at night and I’m like “GOODBYE, DEMONS.”
Eva Woods: Ahahahah that’s wonderful.
Samantha Irby: They are blonde and blue-eyed. Nu uh. Get your children of the corn ass outta here.
Eva Woods: I’m a single mom who is doing dating and it’s weird af. How do you two handle the family blending thing?
Samantha Irby: So I didn’t meet the kids for over a year.
Samantha Irby: I take children very seriously. Maybe because my childhood was such trash? So I didn’t want to meet them until we knew it was real.
Marisa: Oh that is so real. My childhood was… I had (have) a great mom who made sure we had childhoods that had good stuff in them. But I also lived with an abuse coke addict dad, so, yeah. And I am obsessed with giving my own kid a happy childhood without, well, abusive drug addicts.
Samantha Irby: Right! Like, kids don’t ask for this shit!
Samantha Irby: Mindy Mejia wrote that book I was talking about!
Marisa: Is it Everything You Want Me to Be?
Samantha Irby: MARISA YES IT IS!
Eva Woods: Excellent sleuthing Marisa!
Samantha Irby: Living with kids is wild. They’re so hilarious.
Eva Woods: Did you want kids before you met Kirsten?
Samantha Irby: Boy and girl, eleven and nine. All they do is fight.
Eva Woods: Hahaha I have an eleven-year-old and she’s bonkers. It’s a fun age.
Samantha Irby: And they’re only here every other week, so as soon as I feel overwhelmed they bounce and I get some recovery time.
Eva Woods: Oh that’s cool! Then you get your grown-up by yourselves time, too.
Samantha Irby: AND I CAN TURN THE GODDAMN TV ON.
Samantha Irby: THIS SCREEN TIME SHIT IS BULLSHIT.
Samantha Irby: I’M THIRTY-SEVEN, MAN; GIVE ME MY TV.
Eva Woods: Haha me and my kid are watching Master of None right now; I’m a terrible parent.
Eva Woods: What TV shows do you recommend to people?
Samantha Irby: Oh god Eva, have you watched the Thanksgiving episode!?
Eva Woods: Nope it’s next!
Samantha Irby: EVA IT IS SO FUCKING GOOD!!!!!!!!!!!
Samantha Irby: Many exclamation points good.
Marisa: I don’t even know what that is. I’m so behind on life.
Samantha Irby: I’m currently obsessed with Fargo.
Eva Woods: Yessssssss! It’s Aziz Ansari’s show, Marisa.
Eva Woods: OMG so my ex-husband worked on it.
Marisa: I did just watch the Netflix Anne of Green Gables show, because I’m still a twelve-year-old.
Samantha Irby: And the new season of House of Cards just dropped.
Eva Woods: Fargo, I mean, and it’s SO GOOD and he RUINED IT.
Samantha Irby: OH NO UGH.
Eva Woods: Men are awful; what ya gonna do?
Samantha Irby: How could he ruin it? That’s criminal!
Samantha Irby: It’s so, so good.
Samantha Irby: Master of None is GREAT.
Eva Woods: It’s a brilliant show. With his name on the dang credits.
Samantha Irby: Patiently waiting for Insecure to come back.
Adriana Mark: Love Insecure!
Eva Woods: Omggggg Insecure is amazing.
Marisa: We’re watching The Leftovers and tonight is the series finale and I think it might break my heart by being bad, like LOST.
Samantha Irby: The last episode of Girls made me mad.
Eva Woods: It’s too soon to talk about LOST.
Marisa: It will always be too soon to talk about LOST. Like, my blood pressure rises.
Samantha Irby: I liked Divorce, too!
Eva Woods: On Twitter we’re talking about comfort movies—Sam, do you have one of those?
Lynda: How about The Affair? Anyone watching that?
Samantha Irby: I LOVE THE AFFAIR!
Marisa: Yes, Lynda! We love The Affair. I’ve heard other people don’t. They’re wrong.
Samantha Irby: Comfort movies: Love Jones, A Few Good Men, Death Proof.
Lynda: In the middle of season 3 right now. OMG these people are all so fucked up.
Samantha Irby: Season 4 better be good. Season 3 was meh for me.
Eva Woods: Death Proof as a comfort movie is hilarious and perfect.
Samantha Irby: Ahahaha I love that final car chase!
Samantha Irby: I also watch The Ides of March a lot.
Samantha Irby: Clooney, Gosling, Phillip Seymour Hoffman!
Marisa: We have five minutes left. Ask Sam your burning questions now!
Eva Woods: OH, WAIT OK! I wanna know how you write when life is hard? I can’t do freaking ANYTHING when life is serving me bullshit.
Samantha Irby: I usually gotta let some time pass before I can write. Like when something FUCKED UP goes down, it might take a few months to write about it.
Marisa: Do you write every day, or in bits and pieces?
Samantha Irby: Bits and pieces, most days.
Lynda: What are you working on now?
Samantha Irby: Currently: I’m the new book reviewer for Marie Claire magazine, so I’m reading 1287 books and writing about them.
Lynda: When something fucked up goes down do you write about it—like journaling to revisit later once it has been processed?
Eva Woods: WHHHAAAT. Book reviewer is SO COOL.
Samantha Irby: I’m also working on the second draft of the pilot for the TV version of Meaty I’m developing for FX.
Eva Woods: OMG.
Marisa: Oh, I meant to ask about that!
Samantha Irby: We have a pilot! We’re fixing it up!
Marisa: Can you tell us who is playing you?
Samantha Irby: LOL IF I KNEW I WOULD. I hope it’s Forest Whitaker.
Eva Woods: AAHHHH that’s a good answer.
Marisa: Hahahaha that would be amazing
Eva Woods: I’d be Judi Dench.
Samantha Irby: OMG YES.
Samantha Irby: I love her.
Eva Woods: She has so much good disdain. I really identify with it.
Samantha Irby: I’m hoping it’s an unknown.
Eva Woods: When do you get to watch it?
Samantha Irby: It’ll be hilarious to hear someone imitate me talking.
Eva Woods: It’s going to be wild when they get fictional with your life.
Samantha Irby: We haven’t finished the writing yet, but when we do we’ll hopefully get to cast and shoot it!
Marisa: We’re going to have to do another chat/interview when that comes out, so we can talk about what it’s like to watch yourself on TV.
Eva Woods: Are you feeling weird about it?
Samantha Irby: I WROTE DIARRHEA INTO IT.
Marisa: You are the best.
Samantha Irby: Right now it still feels like a dream? But yeah it’s gonna feel SO WEIRD.
Eva Woods: I would hide behind the couch tbh.
Samantha Irby: Oh yeah, I’d never watch it. Or read reviews. I don’t read reviews of my stuff NOW.
Eva Woods: Really!? I would not be able to resist it.
Samantha Irby: Eva I’m so sensitive.
Eva Woods: That’s so smart and not self-destructive dude.
Eva Woods: Yeah same but I’m an emotional cutter? So I would, then be destroyed
Samantha Irby: I can’t get the words out of my head.
Marisa: Okay we have to stop, even though that makes me sad.
Samantha Irby: Aw okay; this was so fun!
Eva Woods: Thanks so much, Sam! I loved the book!
Eva Woods: And this was dope.
Adriana Mark: Thank you!
Lynda: Me, too, and I hope you come to SF!
Samantha Irby: THANK YOU EVA AND MARISA AND ADRIANA AND LYNDA AND ANN.
Samantha Irby: I hope I do, too!
Marisa: Sam, thank you so much! For the chatting, and for writing this book. Your honesty is so… necessary.
Samantha Irby: Stop making me blush!
Samantha Irby: Thank YOU for reading it. And picking it! SUCH A GODDAMN HONOR.
Marisa: Have a good night, everyone! Fingers crossed The Leftovers finale is better than LOST.
Samantha Irby: PRAYING FOR YOU.
Marisa: Also, I knew I wanted this book for the club the moment I saw it was coming out.
Samantha Irby: !!!!!!
Marisa: I just didn’t know if we could get it. So, thank YOU for saying yes!
Samantha Irby: My pleasure. This was a dream.
Feature photograph of Samantha Irby © Kirsten Jennings.