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Sam Irby on her new essay collection, parenting and her forthcoming pilot with Abbi Jacobson

Sam Irby on her new essay collection, parenting and her forthcoming pilot with Abbi Jacobson
Photograph: Kirsten Jennings

Sam Irby is becoming a new Sam Irby—sort of. Since the success of her first essay collection, the Evanston native has fallen in love, gotten married, become a step-mom and moved to Kalamazoo, Michigan. If Meaty (2013) is a celebration of the lifestyle singlehood can afford, then We Are Never Meeting In Real Life (2017) grapples with the compromises one makes—or, more importantly, the compromises one refuses to make—in a serious relationship. Irby has grown up, yes, but that doesn’t mean she’s above diarrhea talk.

We caught up with the notorious over-sharer and Chicago live lit scene vet in anticipation of the new release (available May 30). While you’re at it, grab tickets to see Irby at her book release party on June 8.

The book is about a very specific transition in your life. It ends at the cusp of getting married and moving to Michigan—the book is about your growing up in a lot of ways. And so much of it is about your ideal relationship. You’re sort of hellbent on keeping your lifestyle, maintaining those guilty pleasures.

Now that you’ve been married about a year, have you made any sacrifices you hadn’t considered when you wrote the book, or changed in any way you hadn’t foreseen?

Not many! I mean, no.

That’s amazing.

I don’t know, maybe I’m going to sound like an asshole, but I feel like when you meet your person—and if you’re honest about who you are and what you need—your person’s going to be like, “Alright, that’s cool with me.” I pretty much do whatever I want. But luckily for both of us, what she needs already fits around what I already do.

This is superficial—though, sometimes I think superficial things can fuck up your relationship the most—but she doesn’t care about TV. So I never have to worry about what she wants to watch. She’ll just watch whatever I’m watching, or go make jam or whatever healthy things she’s doing. She likes going camping; I will never camp again in my life. She doesn’t even ask. She was just planning her summer trips and vacations and things she wants to do. She doesn’t even ask me if I want to go to Fisherman’s Island with her, because she knows I’m going to say no. So that time I can go see my friends, or pretend like I live alone again. So, it works.

How did being so incredibly open online affect the beginning stages of your relationship with her?

She knew what she was getting. I think in the back of my mind, back when my blog was first becoming a thing and I was dating people, but a few people had the fear of, “Are you going to write about me? Is this who you really are?” [My writing] is me turned up to a 15. But when you meet me in real life you’re like, “Oh, she doesn’t swear as much. She’s nicer.” It’s hard to fool people when you’re so honest.

It’s definitely scared some people off, and at some points I’ve thought it was a mistake to talk about myself in such a public way. But ultimately, it’s said a lot of things that I don’t have to. Like, I cannot put up the front that I read the newspaper every day. Or that I’m that interested in world issues. I can’t label all of the things on a map, and if you read my writing, you’d never think I was that kind of person.

Ultimately, then, it works to your advantage.

Yeah. There’s a lot of stuff I don’t have to say. And, because I don’t try to create too flattering a persona—You know, I’d never want to meet someone and have them be sorely…

Disappointed.

Yeah! So it’s creating a balance of all my awful, real stuff, and then maybe you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Oversharing is your whole “thing” as a writer. You overshare, and that’s how you get to your moments of realization and clarity. But how does that work now that you’re a parent?

I don’t think of myself as a parent!

Have you had to talk to the kids about your work? ‘Cause they’ll grow up and inevitably read your stuff.

So, this is funny but also real. I always stress to the kids that I care about them and I’ll buy them things to get out of my face. This is going to sound wild, but I always say to them, “I’m your mom’s wife. I’m not your mom.” They have a dad, they have joint custody, and I don’t ever want to compete with their parents or eclipse their parents. Also no one’s consulting me about their education or what vaccines they should get. So I’m kind of living my life parallel to them. I don’t ignore them—we talk and we do things together. But a parent is someone who’s like, “Yes, give them that tetanus shot.” And that’s not going to be me. They call me Sammy, they don’t ever have to call me Mom.

So about them reading my stuff. We have my old book in the house. They’re 9 and 11. They know I write things for adults. I’ve never caught either of them sneaking around with copies of my books or anything. I know that they know that when they’re older, if they choose to, they can read them. I’m not worried about them reading them.

There are parental controls on their computer, and so they can only use Google images. And they’re very wide-eyed and impressed that there are so many pictures of me.

That’s really cute. Their only peek into your world is just a whole bunch of photos of you.

Yep. So I feel like, as long as they continue to be impressed by the fact that I have work out in the world, that’s fine.

And that’s just another example of how at the point that you met your wife, she knew what she was getting into. She already had kids.

Right. And I’ll never write about them specifically. It’s not going to be the thing where they get older and go back and read my stuff and I wrote, “The girl child was being a real bitch.” That’s not for me. Even in my friendships, not everything has to go on the internet or in the book. I always tell people I’m going to write about them.

Sometimes they know that if I suggest we go do some wild shit, they know I just want to write about it. But I do get permission from everyone, even if I’m using a pseudonym. But the kids are off-limits. Which is terrible, because they do and say a lot of really hilarious shit.

Tell me about the status of your Meaty pilot with Abbi Jacobson (Broad City) and Jessi Klein (Inside Amy Schumer).

So, we just turned in the first draft of the pilot a couple weeks ago, and last week we had a conference call with the network and got notes back on things to change. It’s weird—I love how no one puts the cart before the horse. We deal with each step as it comes, which keeps me real grounded. This week, Jessi, Abbi and I are going to have a call and go from there.

How does that writing process work? Are you writing the pilot yourself?

Yeah! Jessi and I are writing it together and Abbi’s consulting. I’ve never written anything with anyone else ever. I don’t have a huge ego about my writing. I didn’t go to college, I don’t have any professional writing courses under my belt, so I’m very much deferring to the experts all the time. My go-to is to be embarrassed and apologetic. With Jessi, I’m going into this totally cold—I’ve never written a show before, so my ego is stuffed down at the bottom of my shoes. Which is perfect.

Where’s the line between being a humor writer and a comedy writer for you?

Even when I think about bad things, my way of processing things is to make it funny. It’s totally organic for me. If I have enough time and perspective from something, I’ll start seeing the ridiculousness of it. With the show, there’s some seriousness of it threaded throughout, but ultimately we want to make you laugh.

My style is certainly not slapstick, and we all agreed on that. Jessi’s a master—if I send her a scene to get her feedback, it’s a real awestruck kind of feeling.

That’s kind of a dream, to be writing your first pilot ever with someone like Jessi. How could it get better than that?

Yeah! It’s so cool. I’m super intimidated. They’ll be like, “What do you think, Sam?” And I’m like, “Pshhh…I don’t think anything, I think what you think!” It’s interesting to really pull myself out and think of it as a show about a person who’s very similar to me. I don’t think about this character being me. I’m like, “Wow! This person has had the exact same life as me, and I get to create it, but it’s not me.

Do you have anyone in mind to play you?

No. I feel like it would be great if we could just find some upstart who needs a break. In my mind, if I could picture the actor’s face, I’d be writing it for someone. Also, I don’t even know how casting works. Do you just tell people you like them and they’re like, “OK”?

My dream, of course, is just to get everyone I know on board and paid. Let’s just go find someone in Chicago who’s so similar to me. If we could shoot it in Chicago, that’d be cool. I know a lot of people and I want to get everyone a paycheck. That’s my real dream. Let’s get some black people some money. Let’s get some women some money. Let’s pay it forward.

See Irby read from We Are Never Meeting In Real Life at Women and Children first on Thursday, June 8. We Are Never Meeting In Real Life is available wherever books are sold on May 30, 2017. This conversation has been edited for clarity.

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