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Samantha Irby Is an “Endless, Bottomless Well of Anxiety”

The Evanston-born, Michigan-based comedian on her new book Wow, No Thank You and long-held love for Judge Mathis

There are few things that will make you feel more insufferable than having to dial someone up who referred to phone calls as “a crime” in her new book. But when I did so on a now-distant February evening, Samantha Irby springboarded from topic to topic with the same giddy ease as she does in her latest collection of essays, Wow, No Thank You, out March 31. A lot has happened since her last book, including getting married, leaving Chicago, working on the Hulu show Shrill, and learning how to live as a homeowner (“What’s a property tax?” she asks in the book).

As though writing a third book wasn’t enough, Irby has also blessed readers’ inboxes with recaps of Judge Mathis, detailing the antics of the plaintiffs and defendants and picking apart their courtroom outfits, wild arguments, and the contents of what she calls their Accordions of Truth™.

Photo: Ted Beranis

What made you start writing the Judge Mathis recaps?

I’ve been a fan of Judge Mathis for a long while. I’ve been to, like, seven tapings or something absurd. I was watching his show and just as a gag I tweeted — which, really? I mean, flush me down the toilet for getting an idea from Twitter — “Would you be interested if I wrote a recap of Judge Mathis every day?” And so many people responded yes.

The cases are bonkers. It’s a parade of people, suing each other for low-stakes things. Oh, you want to sue him because he messed up your ex-boyfriend’s car or whatever? Great.

I sent the first one out and got a good response. And, much like a child, if you give me even the smallest bit of encouragement, I will continue. I’ll probably die doing these or until he finishes his show.

Does the good judge know you’re writing these?

I don’t know. My loose plan is, while I’m in Chicago for these next few weeks, I’d love to go see another taping. It’s probably been like 10 years since I’ve gone to one. I feel like the way the universe works is someone is going to give me the opportunity to interview him, or someone is going to get my stupid, stupid recap in his hands and he will say something about it. My sister-in-law is a lawyer and an administrator at the law school [University of Detroit Mercy] he graduated from, so I feel like that’s my way in. She’s gonna give him a fake award and tell me when they’re giving it to him. I’m gonna skip up there and be like, “So, Greg — can I call you Greg? — I’ve dedicated a giant chunk of my life to watching you and reporting on you.” And he’s going to be like, “What’s a newsletter?”

I feel like there’s probably a more direct way of doing this.

I could probably ask somebody to call somebody, but that would feel gross to me. Whereas, it would feel like kismet if I stalkingly arranged to be someplace where he’s getting a fake award. I mean, they can create an alumni award that they’re responsible for giving to people for years. The first-ever honorary Gregory Ellis Mathis Award, and then every year thereafter find someone distinguished to give it to.

You’re releasing your third book of essays and it feels as though you’ve lived 13 lifetimes in between each book. How are you able to continue to generate so much material?

I am an endless, bottomless well of anxiety, which turns lots of little things into big things. In addition to just being sort of anxious all the time, I have had big changes happen that feel significant enough to write about. In this book, I moved to Michigan. I got married. There’s another story about losing a cat and trying to get a dog. I worked on Shrill.

But if I don’t have 12 essays that are different enough, either, I will go out and do something to write about, which, so far, I haven’t had to do. Like, oh God, do I need to take a class to have something to write about?

You also talk about working with [comedian and Broad City co-creator] Abbi Jacobson in your book, along with writing for Shrill. Have working on these projects or with high-profile people changed your relationship with your own work process?

No, because everybody waits until the last fucking second and does their work at the last minute. Don’t let any of these people fool you. Everyone does everything the night before it is due.

When I was working on Shrill, Lindy [West, author and show creator] and I lived together. We both had book collections simmering; she was working on The Witches Are Coming. I was like, It’s gonna be so inspirational; Lindy and I are going to have coffee and sit in our sun-dappled kitchen and work on our stuff together. And, no. We watched many, many dozens of episodes of Catfish.

What else are you working on right now?

There’s a show on Showtime called Work in Progress starring Abby McEnany, a Chicago improv person. I’m writing for season two; I’m in the room right now for that. And then, I’m not 100 percent sure, but I’m probably going to lie down very still in this dark room for like, three weeks after.

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