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Comedian Samantha Irby Doesn’t Want the Che Diaz Treatment

Photo: Craig Blankenhorn/HBO Max

Samantha Irby knows how to write in many mediums. The No. 1 New York Times best-selling author has published several books of personal essays. She’s written for TV shows like Shrill and And Just Like That …, the Sex and the City reboot, and about what it felt like to almost turn one of her books of essays into a TV show itself. (Meta, in a very fun way.)

Whatever she’s writing, Irby brings a singular biting humor and sneaky charm that has you laughing out loud even at seemingly unfunny topics. On the latest episode of Into It, Irby talked about her latest essay collection, Quietly Hostile, what it feels like to have to cast yourself for a TV pilot, and finding the humor in intestinal distress. Read an excerpt of that conversation, below, and listen to the full episode of Into It wherever you get your podcasts.

When I tell folks about your writing, I say you take things that you would never think could be funny and you make them insanely hilarious. Like, you have a chronic illness, Crohn’s disease, but you can talk about your bowels in ways that are humorous. How do you do it?
I am the kind of person who, even when a serious thing happens or a bad thing happens, I’ve got five minutes of serious in me. And then I’m like, Okay, let’s talk about what’s funny about this. I am just a clown. Obviously, it’s a coping mechanism. It’s easier to have problems when you can make fun of those problems. It’s always been my tendency to be like, This is a terrible situation, but what is the little kernel of humor I can mine from this?

I want to talk about a specific chapter in your book called, “Oh, So You Actually Don’t Wanna Make a Show About a Horny Fat Bitch With Diarrhea. Okay! How do we set this chapter up? One of your previous books of essays had been optioned to become a TV show. FX was developing it, but before they gave you a full season, they made you write a show. And unfortunately, they went all the way to pilot before they pulled the plug. Is that correct?
Yeah, and then we did it again with Comedy Central, but at least that time we got to shoot a mini-pilot. One of the things that is my favorite but also makes me wanna cry in this essay is the list of things that happened while I was in the process of trying to make this show. This is not just a month of your life; these are years of your life going by while you are in Hollywood purgatory. And it’s like, Why? What am I doing? This is terrible. I think people loved the idea, but when it came down to, Are we gonna put this explosive diarrhea scene on television week after week? Ultimately, they were like, Yeah, no.

So the main character in this show that never made it represents you — an up-and-coming writer who also has a day job in a bakery. So it’s half workplace comedy, half Hannah Horvath trying to become a writer. What was it like having to pick the person who plays you?
The most uncomfortable experience of my life, right up there with getting my picture taken, but maybe worse. I have to clarify that these actors are incredible. But they were reading words I’d written, which is humiliating, and it was clear that some of them had studied how I talk and move. Watching someone imitate my hand motion was the most humbling and horrifying experience I’ve ever had.

If you got the chance again to make a TV show about your life and you were guaranteed at least one season, would you do it? Because it sounds stressful as hell.
No, I would not. And let me tell you, when we started this process maybe seven years ago, the internet was different. Or I wasn’t aware of how much people talk about TV shows. But I did not think about America tearing apart my actual life.

Then a couple years ago, I worked on the first season of And Just Like That … and got to see the backlash firsthand. I was like, These are fictional characters, and I feel like I’m going to cry. I cannot have anyone talk about the actual me this way. Nobody reads books, so I’ve been spared, but everybody watches and talks about TV.

Listen, just Google Che Diaz. The response, the backlash.
Seriously. I hope Sara Ramirez didn’t take it personally, but like the vitriol for a person who does not exist was unbelievable. Let me just work on other people’s shows so that no one ever does this to the TV version of me.

So then between writing for TV and writing books, which do you like better? 
They’re different. TV is so collaborative. What’s a non-loser way to say this? I’m still getting my sea legs with TV writing. The thing about TV writing, though, once you turn your script in, it goes to like 75 other people who change it and switch things around.

One thing about working on that show, it became obvious that nobody knows how TV works. In my episode of And Just Like That …, Carrie is in a hospital bed wearing pearls. And I got a message from a woman berating me and telling me how impractical it was that Carrie was wearing pearls in the hospital.

Let me tell you what’s impractical, the entire conceit of Sex and the City, baby. 
Like, give me a fucking break. But then I was like, Ma’am, my work on the show ended months before they had Carrie on that soundstage in pearls. Also, it’s a show. Either watch it or don’t.

Into It with Sam Sanders

Comedian Samantha Irby Doesn’t Want the Che Diaz Treatment