Essayist and humorist Samantha Irby started as a blogger (at bitchesgottaeat.com). Her new book, We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, wrestles deeply—and hilariously—with everything from Irby’s struggles with Crohn’s disease and anxiety, to the ridiculousness of dieting, and the ways white culture silences black women.
Is your humor a defense, or a way to metabolize the trauma, or is it something else?
If something is happening to me, my brain immediately notes the most absurd parts of it, or the parts I can laugh at. That has always been my coping mechanism, probably from childhood. It’s easy for me to find the comedic silver lining of situations. Something horrible happens, and I’m like, “I’m gonna write about it. It’s gonna be really hard.” But then I’m like, I can’t believe they cut off a $60 bra to hook up this EKG. I think that is naturally how I process things. Rather than looking at this huge tragedy, look at this other hilarious thing that’s happened to me.
At one point you ask: “Do black girls even get to be depressed?” Your work exposes so many ways in which white culture silences, and categorizes, and disbelieves black women. Can you talk about how your work could change this, moving women of color into a place of empowering speech?
I feel it’s just enough to see black people doing regular stuff. Like Hidden Figures is amazing, and it’s like, “Whoa, look at these black geniuses. Look at these heroes.” But I think it is deeply valuable to just see black people living regular, complex lives. I mean there are so many stereotypes about black women that can be chipped away at. It’s not always struggles with our fathers, abandonment by the fathers of our children. I don’t have it in me to march or rally, but I can talk about being depressed. I mean, the stigma on mental health within our community is still a thing we have to get over, but again, talking about it, and letting other people feel like they can talk about it, is sort of normalizing everything we go through. Also, making people laugh about it. It doesn’t have to be so serious, either.
You maintain an avid social media presence. Do you worry about trolls?
I don’t because I don’t do the kind of work that gets trolled too much. All of my criticisms and lenses are turned in on myself, and it’s like, really, you’ve got to be a special kind of asshole to go after someone who’s just makes fun of herself all the time.