Samantha Irby is a funny person, but she’ll tell you she’s not a happy one.
Even though her success is growing, she’s nervous about paychecks. Her work was published in The New Yorker’s Jan. 27 edition, but she wants to manage expectations.
“Not everything I do will be New Yorker quality,” she cautions. “I mean, enjoy the ride until you unfollow me in protest.” She chuckles, musing that her readers and The New Yorker’s might not have previously overlapped.
Irby, a comedian and author who began the blog bitchesgottaeat in 2009, is known for her blunt candor about her body, her health (emotional and physical), and sex with men and women. She has a social media following on Twitter and Instagram that tops 114,000, and her third book of essays, Wow, No Thank You, was released last month on the heels of 2017’s bestselling We Are Never Meeting in Real Life. Irby’s first book, Meaty, was published in 2013.
Of Wow, No Thank You, she says, “I think it’s better-written than the first two. I’m a tiny bit smarter. You can tell I’ve read more books.”
We Are Never Meeting in Real Life chronicles the start of a relationship that resulted in her marriage to school social worker Kirsten Jennings and a move to Kalamazoo in 2016. The book became a New York Times bestseller. Irby says her new book is a little lighter in tone.
In Wow, No Thank You, Irby explores life, love, and work living in “a Blue town in a Red State.” The new collection documents bad dates with new friends, weeks in Los Angeles taking meetings with “TV executives slash amateur astrologers,” while being a “cheese fry-eating slightly damp Midwest person,” “with neck pain and no cartilage in [her] knees,” who still hides past due bills under her pillow.
“I wanted to write something that was — maybe not happy, I’m not a happy type — but funny all the way through. I’ve exhausted the sad musings about my dead parents for the moment, so I don’t think there’s anything that would make you cry. I wanted it to be funny and light but still be me.”
Irby spent her February birthday, her 40th, partying with friends in Detroit and will soon be promoting her new book on a spring tour that will take her to both coasts. Irby’s writing, though, has transcended the page and blog posts.
Last year she helped write the first season of the show Shrill (starring Saturday Night Live’s Aidy Bryant), now in its second season on Hulu. Fans might remember the so-called “Fat Babe Pool Party” episode written by Irby, in which Bryant’s character Annie is stunned, in a good way, when she attends a pool party — in a blouse and slacks, no less — filled with women of ample sizes in all kinds of swimsuits.
Irby is currently in Chicago, working as a member of the writing team for the second season of Showtime’s Work in Progress. The show was created by and stars Chicago sketch comedian Abby McEnany. Its promotional blurb says, “Abby is a 45-year-old self-identified fat, queer dyke whose misfortune and despair unexpectedly lead her to a vibrantly transformative relationship.”
Though that storyline parallels Irby’s own story a bit, don’t expect Irby to talk about vibrantly transformative relationships. Readers instead can find a flash of straightforward sincerity buried inside the pages of We Are Never Meeting in Real Life when she writes about her relationship.
“This feels safe, and steadfast, and predictable. And secure. It’s boring … And it’s easily the best thing I’ve ever felt,” she writes.
Irby is also typically modest about her contributions to Work in Progress. “I’m happy to be in the room and just do my best to be funny and charming — we’ll see if I overestimate my contributions.”
Irby’s contributions to television may include a third TV show. A pilot script developed with Broad City’s Abbi Jacobson that’s based on Irby’s first book, Meaty, is in development with Comedy Central.
“It sounds exciting, but it’s been in development for four years,” Irby says. “We’re waiting to hear whether they like the pilot and if they want the show. So I have a potential show that maybe someday will be real.”
Irby’s self-deprecation infuses her honest, edgy musings, whether on food, poverty, city life, being a queer woman of color and of ample size, or coping with chronic illness. But Irby isn’t always the target of her own dismay. An essay on her challenges with Crohn’s disease — a painful ailment that causes chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract — appeared in the 2020 anthology Believe Me: How Trusting Women Can Change the World. The piece was reprinted on both Elle.com and Prevention.com. In it, Irby lays out her ongoing frustration and anger with one clinician after another who discounts and dismisses her reporting of her physical pain.
“Imagine having to convince someone, in an emergency room of all places, that you are hurting,” she writes. “How do you prove that it feels like your internal organs are in a vise, and why is your word not good enough? I’m an expert in one thing: me. You’re gonna have to trust that I know what I’m talking about.”
By the way, she has been pleased with the clinicians she’s found in Kalamazoo, a city that has surprised her with all it has to offer. Yet she feels she has yet to thoroughly explore these offerings because of her travel and her homebody nature.
What else is on the horizon? Maybe someday she’ll write a novel, she says, but “I don’t know if that’ll ever happen for me. Maybe I’m just a one-trick pony. Plus, I really love to get back in my own bed. I look forward to it as soon as I get up.”