Sammi Skolmoski (@skullmoski) is a comedy and fiction writer and fiber artist born, living, and probably dying in Chicago. She is the managing editor at Featherproof Books and a contributor at Reductress, the Hard Times, and others. Her first book, a translation of several screenplays by the Dardenne brothers, comes out this year.
This week, Skolmoski and I talked fiber art, Luc Dardenne, and her top-ten pastas.
In all types of writing, I like working with small units of text, so with comedy that results in a lot of one-liners, etc., where the whole joke is right there in as few words as possible. My default style is very dry, but I’m a big fan of stuff that is so stupid that it loops back around to smart. I originally pitched this as an essay premise to a few places, but I am glad it was rejected and can live as is. Since I don’t perform, Twitter is the perfect receptacle for the li’l self-contained bits I can’t sell.
So you’re a regular ol’ writer, but you also write comedy. Which started first? How did you make the transition?
It was less of a transition and more of a simultaneous evolution outward from the same source. I majored in journalism in undergrad and found straight news reporting excruciatingly boring, so I found ways to entertain myself or add style wherever I could — leading with a one-liner in my broadcast copy, writing my practice reviews from the perspective of a deranged character, etc. In my Writing for Broadcast class, we all had to write copy that another student would read aloud as if they were the anchor, and that’s when I realized I loved writing jokes that someone else had to deliver. It was a natural progression for me to start making up the news altogether. At the same time, I was the head writer on a radio show, so while I was required to develop my “regular ol’” writing in school, I was also required to develop my comedy writing at work. So, yeah, they’re all interconnected.
Do you think Twitter has been a good platform for your brand of comedy?
I don’t have the impulse to perform comedy (at least not in a way I’ve encountered yet), so Twitter is kind of a low-stakes way for me to participate in the comedy world, outside of my writing. What’s the worst thing that could happen — nobody sees my tweets? Nobody would see them if I kept them to myself. And a few people do see them! And I am not yet at the level of Twitter where scary people yell at me, so it’s a win-win. I hope this answer ages well.
The AMA asked me to tweet something that they could use in medical schools to show the effects of marijuana on the human brain.
So you’re also a fiber artist. Do you incorporate your humor into your art at all?
I do a lot of things, and they are all equally essential to me, which can be frustrating. I feel like I am grocery shopping, and I have to simultaneously push eight carts around the store with me, each with its own list and bum wheel, whereas people who are so sure of their purpose — “Comedian!” “Fiction writer!” “Painter!” — get to navigate through the store with ease, as you’re supposed to, as I wish I could, with only one cart and one list to work toward.
Anyway, my work is primarily dye- and stitch-based work, which is very meditative. I work in what I call “stations,” where my studio is rotational between every open project, and I sort of swivel and work on all of them at once, so my visual art is weirdly tethered to my comedy writing. It’s also important to me that my visual work is funny — not, like, belly-laughing, but funny the way something dark and dry hangs itself on you. A lot of people in the art world seem very afraid to let “fine art” be funny, but that is my absolute favorite intersection on earth!
You have a book coming out this year. Huge deal!
Thank you! I am thrilled to be a part of it, but when I envisioned my first book, I assumed it would be my novel, not a translation of scripts from working-class Belgian French into English. I can’t even say that would have been my last guess, because I never would have guessed it. I’d be lying if I said I was passionate about it, but the press I work at is putting out this two-volume set of the journals and screenplays of the great Belgian filmmaker Luc Dardenne, and a lot of things went wrong in the first half of the process, yada yada — I was around, and it needed doing. Now that I think about it, though, it is extremely on-brand that this is my first book. Life is so weird.
My favorite thing in the world to do is make my Very Italian Mom laugh. I did this for her.
Please tell us the story behind those spaghetti portraits.
Around the holidays, my family’s favorite restaurant — like, my parents went on their first date there — was closing after 41 years, so I made an appointment at a J.C. Penney portrait studio for the day after our final meal there in hopes of gifting my mom a picture of me immortalized with the gnocchi I always ordered. Unfortunately, I ate the leftover gnocchi, all of it, minutes after I got home. I live next door to the restaurant, it happened that fast. I was too embarrassed to tell the J.C. Penney automated system that I had eaten my concept, so I rescheduled the appointment at a different location with a new angle centered around me loving spaghetti. Spaghetti doesn’t even crack my top-ten pastas, but I really didn’t want to tell them what happened to the gnocchi.
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